Ok I get it. I have a marketing background so I know how it works and have written my fair share of them: headlines that grab your attention and make you want to invest time in reading further – and usually buy something as a result. (Note here that if people did a little less reading and a little more smart training, they wouldn’t need to spend so much time reading). So again I got an email from a reasonably good blog on the best exercises for abs. Now once and for all people, “best” is relative to your goal and even before that, to your ability in performing fundamental movement patterns. While it’s great to look good, the main job of your abs is to help stabilize your spine and effectively transfer energy from your lower and upper body. If you are at all deficient in that you are at risk of incurring an injury due to inefficiencies and compensations. You’re not moving well. Address that BEFORE you focus on how your abs look and you’ll get better, more sustainable results that translate both in better looks and in better performance. Find an FMS in your areas to get help with this. <Rant over.>
So lets say that you’ve now addressed movement dysfunctions and asymmetries and are moving well. You’re likely seeing some improvements in your athletic performance and even lessening of aches and pains as a result. So now we can consider your other goals: appearance or functionality? Let me set the record straight:
- Your abs don’t own the fat that sits on top of them. You can’t decide from where you’ll lose fat by working that area ‘harder’. Work your whole body.
- To see your abs you need to have less fat. To lose fat you need to burn more calories than you eat. Put the fork down and move.
- Nutrition will be at least 80% responsible for any appearance related goals. Eat well.
- Countless crunches will make very little impact to your abdominal appearance or functionality. Your abs DON’T work in isolation so why are you training them that way? Appearance of work doesn’t mean it’s working.
- Feel ‘the burn’ doesn’t mean you’re getting any closer to your goal. You aren’t burning away your ab fat.
- Having ‘strong’ abs isn’t as important as having abs that fire at the right time to stabilize your hips and spine. Train your abs to contract fast (note that this is the same for other stabilizer muscles like your rotator cuff).
- Training smart is the best way to work your abs to perform the job they are designed to do. Full body movements are more effective and efficient in training any body part than any isolation movement if you’re looking for anything but puffy “looks only” muscles. Train smart.
- Doing 5 perfect repetitions will always beat doing 30 crappy ones. If you need more volume, do more sets. Focus on form.
OK, “So what?” you might still be thinking, waiting patiently for what to do for better abs. Here are my top tips for getting better abs (obviously assuming you’ve already addressed movement pattern issues):
Top 7 Tips for Better Abs
- Fix your eating habits.
- Learn how to do a real, full tension plank – and do them anytime, anyplace. 20 seconds while you are making breakfast, lunch and dinner is better than none at all.
- Learn how to do a full push up – and do them anytime, anyplace. 1-5 perfect pushups while you are making breakfast, lunch and dinner is better than none at all.
- Incorporate more full body movements into your training program (deadlift, squat, pull-ups/chin-ups, pushups, mountain climbers, etc.).
- Substitute at least 2 of your regular ‘cardio’ workouts for more intense interval sessions.
- Practice perfect form in all movements. Bad form will just make you better at doing things badly.
- Fix your eating habits.(Yes, I know it’s the same as #1. It’s that important.)
And as a little BONUS dose of reality. Consider this: talking about having better abs, reading magazine articles (or just looking at pictures) about great abs, remembering how your abs used to fit into your clothing before kids, exercising a lot and not seeing any changes and drinking wine/eating pizza or cupcakes…well none of these things are working for you are they. Doing nothing gets nothing. The good news: there’s so much that YOU can do to improve your abs. But you need to actually DO it.