Almost every movement we do engages our core, so why is it that so many people struggle to achieve A-class abs? If we shoulder press a weight, our abs engage. If we balance on one leg, our abs contract. If we lift weights too heavy for us and turn to poor form in order to redeem the situation, which muscle group comes to the rescue? Yep, the old faithful core!
Mistakes that people make in a bid to get amazing abs:
1. They think that lifting weights will bulk them out and they want a lean look.
2. They obsess over ab specific workouts.
3. They do long bouts of cardio at a steady rate.
4. They eat too much/ too little/ foods which upset the digestive system.
5. They forget to increase the load of resistance to progress the muscle.
6. Everybody has abs, the hardest part is stripping back the layers of fat to show them off. 20% gym, 80% diet.
7. They focus entirely on the abs and forget to strengthen the back.
1. Lifting Weights and Bulking
There is a relatively common misconception that lifting weights will cause muscle bulk (I’m talking particularly to the ladies here) and so people avoid it because they want a lean, flat stomach to show off their abs. The thing about this is, the stronger your muscles become, the more energy they require. This speeds up your metabolism and helps you burn fat, which will strip back those layers to reveal your amazing abs!
Do not be scared to use resistance training in a bid for top class abs! It is key if you want to see fast muscular adaptations while dropping those unwanted pounds of fat!
2. The Obsession with Ab Exercises
We get it, you want awesome abs so you work them hard with specific exercises. This is great, but you need to combine specific exercises with compound (full body) exercises if you want to make the most of your workouts! The likelihood is that you are neglecting your transverse abs (deeper layer of muscle) needed for core balance and holding your intestines in.
Luckily there are many ways that you can mix things up and there is something to suit everyone.
Yoga and pilates classes are brilliant for core stability and strength. Another option is gymnastics. I know this may sound scary if you are novice, but most gymnastic centres now offer adult gym classes and freestyle classes. Even if you just practice handstands and walk the balance beam, you will be engaging your core to stabilise your movements. If you don’t fancy trying this in front of others, you can buy a wobble board and practice handstands against the wall at home. Nobody will know your secret ;).
If you want to achieve an incredibly ripped look with deep definition between your abs then you need to be working those compound exercises. Squats and deadlifts are amazing for engaging abs and the heavy resistance will do wonders! The bonus of this is that you will be working towards overall muscle strength, which will ensure that you achieve a well-proportioned muscular body.
Check out yesterday’s article for bodyweight exercises to build muscle.
3. Long bouts of Cardio
I am not in any way suggesting that cardio is bad! If you want a lean physique to show of your hard-earned abs then you will definitely need to be combining cardio and resistance training. However, the best way to burn fat is with interval training. If you are spending 30-60 minutes doing the same cardio routine and not seeing fast results, this is why! You need to mix it up!
For example, if you enjoy using the treadmill, try running at a moderate-fast tempo (depending on how fit you are) for 5-10 minutes. Then rack up the incline and slow to a fast-walking pace for 5-10 minutes. Changing things up will help you burn fat, the incline will tone your legs and it will be easier to stay motivated because you can think ‘ In 3 minutes I can slow down/ go back to a flat running surface’ instead of ‘ I’m tired already and still have 20 minutes to go’. You may also find that after using the incline when you return to running on a flat surface it will feel easier and you can increase your speed from the last interval!
4. Eating too much/ too little/ the wrong foods
You eat too much because you are working hard in the gym and ‘deserve’ a feast. You eat too little in a bid to starve yourself to get a tiny core. We are all guilty of doing at least one of these at some point during our training and the problem is, that each one is encouraged by the other. You eat too much and then starve yourself because you feel bad. You starve yourself and then binge on junk because if you don’t eat soon you may eat your own arm. It is a vicious cycle. It is also easy to avoid once you know what/ how much you should be eating.
Our calorie counter will help you to establish the intake you require for your body size, lifestyle and training regime.
In terms of what you should be eating, the best foods to reveal those sexy abs are turkey (high in protein, low in fat), salmon (filling and packed with fatty acids), eggs, almonds (great sources of protein and ideal snacks), leafy greens (low in calories, antioxidant and packed with vitamins), yoghurt (good source of calcium as you should be keeping dairy levels low) and quinoa (I am a massive fan of this, a great alternative to rice, filling, tasty and high in protein).
Avoid processed foods high in LDL (low-density lipoproteins), simple carbohydrates, foods high in dairy and try to avoid eating excessive amounts of acidic fruit. These foods can cause bloating, digestive upset and slow your metabolism. How are you going to burn fat if your digestive system is full of fast-food? And how will anyone get to see those sculpted abs if you are blown up like a balloon?
5. Forgetting to Increase Resistance
Would you consistently bicep curl 5kg and expect drastic improvements? No. So if you do the same ab routine day in and day out, you will reach a plateau. Your body can’t increase muscle strength to adapt to the demands placed on it if the demand is consistently the same. By all means, you can begin the exercises without a weight to kick start your regime. But once it is no longer challenging, you have to move on. Resistance bands, free weights and exercise balls will help you to do this. No pain, no gain!
6. 20% gym, 80% diet
Eat little and often to avoid bloating and digestive upset. Yes your fitness routine is important to get killer abs, but nobody will see them through layers of body fat. All of your hard work in the gym is wasted if you don’t eat a healthy, balanced diet.
7. Forgetting to Train Back
In a bid to improve the core, it seems crazy to think that most of us forget to strengthen our back too! I mean, you very rarely see somebody who trains only triceps and gives the biceps a miss!
Ensuring that you strengthen your back in equal measure to your core is important for many reasons. It reduces your risk of back injury (those with strong abs and weak backs often have issues because of bad posture/muscle alignment), it improves your posture and therefore your abs look more lean than if you are slumped over and muscular backs are just as sexy (if not more sexy) than good abs. Trust me ;).