By Nicole Nichols, Managing Editor and Fitness Expert at SparkPeople
Want toned abs and a flatter stomach? If all the DVDs, workout gizmos and "belly-fat-burning" pills, books, and diets out there are any indication, we're obsessed with slimming down our midsections, and for good reason. A flat stomach not only looks great; it's also a boon to your health-especially when compared to abdominal obesity, which is correlated with several health risks).
But are all these abs-training products really getting us any closer to the abs of our dreams? If not, it's probably no fault of your own. So much inaccurate information has been circulating for so many years, that there are few muscles more misunderstood than the abs. I've seen so many mistakes firsthand that I figured it was time to clear up the confusion.
When it comes to training your abs, there is a right way and wrong way to do it. Are you guilty of any of these top abs-training mistakes? Find out!
If you think of crunches when you think of working your abs, you're not alone. Crunches are a great way to target the abs, but there are more effective ways to work out! For one, crunches mainly work just one of the muscle groups in your core: the rectus abdominus. And they only work it from one angle. You can train your abs without every doing a single crunch, and if crunches are your go-to abs exercise, it's probably time that you do! Need some crunch-free workout ideas? Check out my 10-minute Crunchless Core Workout and this No-Crunch Workout with a ball, as well as SparkPeople's core exercise demos.
#2: Doing Too Many Reps
There is no need to do 50, 100 or thousands of crunches each day. Many people do more, thinking it will help them spot-reduce (lose fat) from the belly, but that is a myth. In fact, if you are doing your exercises correctly, 8-15 repetitions are all that you need to target those muscles and get results. Here's an easy rule: Train the abs like you would any other muscle, which typically involves 1-3 sets of 8-20 repetitions per exercise.
#3 Having an Abs Routine in the First Place
Do you have an abs routine? Whether it's a DVD, a piece of equipment, or just a series of exercises, doing the same exercises each time you work your abs will only get you so far. Your abs routine will become, well, routine, and you won't be challenging your muscles anymore. Change up your workouts and mix up your exercises regularly, including a variety of moves to work your abs in different ways (see mistake #7 below).
#4 Not Focusing on Form
If you're doing an abdominal exercise and you're not really feeling it, I'm going to tell you a cold, hard truth: It's probably not because you're super strong and fit. More likely, you're not doing it properly. The key to really working your abs is to focus on your form, by deeply engaging your abs throughout each movement. This is commonly described as "pulling your navel towards your spine," or "scooping" the abs inward and it will help you engage more muscle fibers (especially the transverse abs), making each repetition more effective. And did you know: Mentally focusing on the muscles you're trying to engage during any exercise (abs or otherwise) actually does make a difference in how well you execute the move? Try it next time and you'll notice a difference!
#5 Believing in Belly Fat Burners
Can specific foods, nutrients, diet pills or supplements really target belly fat and help you melt it away? Probably not. There is some research to show that certain nutrients may help people lose more belly fat, but most of this "research" is sketchy at best-poorly controlled, poorly designed, and not well replicated. It'd be nice to think that you could just eat an exotic berry or pepper-or pop a pill that contains them-and melt away the inches from your waist, but don't fall for this hype. The person telling you that any food or product can burn fat from your belly has one goal in mind: selling you something. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
Confession: I Don't Have a Six-Pack
How to Tone Your Lower Abs
Can You Train Your Abs Every Day?
SparkPeople Fitness Expert Nicole Nichols is an ACE-certified personal trainer and AFAA-certified group fitness instructor. You can learn more about Nicole and her workout DVDs here.