Some may say they are a sign of vanity, some may say a sign of malnourishment. Others may say they are the ultimate sign of physical fitness and ‘hot’. Whatever your take on it, when developing the physique we leave no muscle behind.
During the years I’ve encountered an inordinate amount of misconceptions and myths about abs training, so in this article I’ll introduce you to the most popular abs exercise – stomach crunches – and explain what they can and can’t do, and how they should be performed to maximum effect.
Let’s start with what stomach crunches can’t do…
Myths about stomach crunches
You can never fault the enthusiasm of someone who tries, but, the knowledge of some people is way out of whack with reality. For instance, some people believe that simply by doing stomach crunches they can turn abdominal fat into the hard six pack – which is a complete fallacy perpetuated by godforsaken glossy magazines, and sticks around like the turd that won’t flush.
Abs are only visible if you have low enough body fat, and you cannot choose where you burn body fat, it gets burned where the body decides. What I’m saying is, no matter how many stomach crunches you do, if you have abdominal fat – you will continue to have abdominal fat until you a: eat less calories to lose fat, and b: burn even more calories with more training. Until then, your budding six pack stays hidden.
Abdominals are small muscles, so while training when will burn some calories, it won’t burn many. You need to train the big muscles like the legs, lats, glutes, hamstrings and so forth. That is what burns the most calories.
Another myth about crunches is that like Christian Bale in American Psycho you need to do hundreds – or a thousand – of them a day to have great abs. This is completely overboard. In fact, it’s psychotically overboard.
The abdominals are no different to any other muscle group in the sense that to grow they need progressive overload – more resistance (weight) – and limited reps and sets and rest and nutrition. Abs training of more than 3 times a week, with reps of more than 15 and sets of more than 5 for each session is too much.
Another myth is you have no abs until you train them. Believe me, if everyone had low enough body fat, you would be surprised at just how great some peoples abs are – even if they didn’t train them.
Whenever someone asks me how to get abs, I always recommend they lose as much body fat as they can – because first of all, until they do, it doesn’t matter how good they are, they won’t be seen. And secondly, if only they lost the fat they would probably have good enough abdominal development to satisfy themselves without having to train them – at least, without training them much. (Isn’t that the dream?)
Ok, enough myths. Now to the practical part…
How to perform stomach crunches
I’ve already said no more than 15 reps, 5 sets, and no more than 3 times a week. But, to make your abs bigger (and appear deeper cut) you need to apply progressive resistance. You can do this by crunching against bands, cables, or holding a plate on you chest or behind your head as you crunch. Remember – abs are muscles like any other and the same rules apply more or less.
You can perform crunches with your feet raised up on a bench, or your feet pulled in with the bottom of you feet flat on the floor, knees pointing upwards. And if you aren’t holding any weight, you can have hands by your sides, on your chest, behind your head or to the sides of your ears – again, whatever you feel like.
However you decide to do crunches, the important thing to remember is you are not performing sit ups. Crunches differ in that you keep your lower back on the floor, and use your abdominals to complete their only function – to draw the body to the legs, or vice versa, in effect ‘crunching’ them. Give a good solid crunch on each rep, and lower yourself slowly. You can go all the way to the floor on each rep, or you can keep constant tension by not going all the way back – which makes for one very strenuous abs workout.