I can’t tell you how often I hear someone at the end of the workout say something like “I need to do more abs; I want to get a six-pack.” The truth is that passing on a six-pack is a better way to get a six-pack than doing 600 sit-ups. The key to abdominal definition is the visibility of the abdominal musculature, not the strength of the muscles. You can do one million sit-ups, crunches or whatever exercise you want and it will have no effect on abdominal definition. When people ask me the best exercise for abs I tell them table push-aways. It usually takes a few minutes for them to get it. It’s not a joke, it’s the truth. If you want better abs, eat less and train more but, don’t just train your abs.
The idea of working the abs to get abs is one of the oldest misconceptions in training. This goes back to the old idea of spot reduction. Spot reduction has never worked and will never work. The research has been done over and over and the answer is always the same. You can’t decrease the fat layer on a particular area by working that area. That means that the guys doing sit-ups to lose abdominal fat and the lady sitting on the adductor (inner thigh) machine are both wasting their time. Good total body work is, was, and always will be the key to fat loss.
Want better abdominal definition? Finish every workout with some hard interval training instead of extra sit-ups or crunches. Interval training or what is currently called High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is the real key to fat loss and the resulting definition. Interval training burns more calories than steady state aerobic training and, because it is a sprint program, you get a sprinter’s body.
Abdominal training may potentially reduce the diameter of the waistline, but will do very little to reduce body fat. The truth is there are lots of good reasons to do abdominal work or core training as we now like to call it. A strong core is one of the keys in the prevention of back pain. A strong core will help you look better and improve performance in a host of sports, but sit-ups or any other abdominal exercise will not reduce body fat. The fact of the matter is that doing hundreds of crunches will lead to back pain long before they lead to visual abs.
A good abdominal or core program is a lot more than crunches. Most of your core work should be isometric exercises like front planks, side planks, resisted tubing or cross-cable holds and suitcase carries. One of the major functions of the core musculature is the prevention of motion. What does that mean? It means that the abdominals are great stabilizers. Work on the stability function, not on flexion and extension.
Michael Boyle is a strength and conditioning consultant with the Boston Red Sox and founder of Michael Boyle Strength.