Getting six-pack abs isn't easy.
For many fitness buffs, a defined six-pack is the ultimate goal in a body honed to its physical peak. Unfortunately, the road to this often elusive endeavor of fitness is riddled with performance pitfalls and nutrition nightmares.
Be sure to steer clear of the following five mistakes that may be sabotaging your goal of losing belly fat and getting six-pack abs.
1. Trying to out-train a bad diet
You've heard it before, and you'll hear it again: Abs are made in the kitchen.
It doesn't matter how many hours you spend exercising. If you're not conscious of what you're eating, you won't see any progress. Alter your diet to lose fat by eliminating trans-fats and minimize saturated fats, simple carbs like cookies, candy or cola and added sugar.
Your focus should be on clean, nutrient-dense, whole food, such as lean proteins; complex carbs like carrots, zucchini, and peppers; fiber and healthy fats. Abs, arguably more than any other muscle group, require a two-pronged approach: consistent training to develop the muscle and a well-tailored meal plan to shed the obscuring layers of fat.
2. Believing that crunches and sit-ups are the answer
Without a doubt the biggest training mistake when it comes to trying to achieve a six-pack abs is doing a bazillion crunches. Yes, they're better than nothing. But your efforts would be far better spent learning more effective core exercises.
Planks, for example, recruit a much higher percentage of muscle activation than the sit-up or crunch. One way to maximize this is to focus on your breathing. Breathe in fully, on the exhale, slow the breath down and imagine a corset being pulled tight around your entire torso and hips. Do this in any and all plank variations.
Need some ideas for plank-based exercises? Try my video "Plankapalooza" on my app @thecoreexpert available for iOS and Android. Train smarter, not harder and focus on achieving peak contraction. Crunches are not your solution to six-pack abs.
3. Too much steady-state cardio
Rather than spending those 45-minute-to-an-hour sessions on the treadmill or elliptical at a moderate level, consider adding HIIT — high intensity interval training — three to four times a week to your workout schedule.
Numerous studies have shown HIIT to be superior to steady state cardio for maximizing lean mass and fat loss while being comparable to or better than steady-state cardio for cardiovascular health. Steady state cardio is a purely aerobic workout that is slower or less intense than a HIIT and achieves 50% to 70% of the maximum heart rate at a low-to-moderate intensity — like jogging, for example.
High intensity exercises elevate the body's need for oxygen during the effort, which creates a shortage of oxygen, making your body ask for more oxygen during the recovery. As a result, the body keeps losing fat long after you're done with your workout.
This effect is the primary reason why HIIT is more practical for individuals who want to achieve their fitness goal as soon as possible, offering an ideal six-pack enhancing method. And numerous studies show high-intensity training significantly reduces total abdominal fat — which includes both the abdominal subcutaneous fat as well as the abdominal visceral fat.
4. Poor technique
To enhance any muscle definition, the muscle must be worked correctly. For example, one thing I often see is overarching while planking. Planks have become one of the most popular core exercises, namely because they strengthen and build endurance in the entire core, not just the abdominals.
Unfortunately, they are often done incorrectly. The most common mistake is to overarch — or drop — your back. This reduces the engagement of the abdominal muscles and puts strain on the lumbar vertebrae, often leading to lower back pain.
To correct these mistakes, take a step back and build up your core strength by doing modified planks on your forearms and knees. From there, progress to the regular forearm plank and eventually the more advanced versions.
Be sure to engage every muscle in the body for maximum output and optimal performance. Core muscles must be worked correctly in order to recruit the smaller stabilizing muscles, as well as the larger abdominal muscles. Think quality over quantity.
5. Not enough sleep
Not only is sleep important for muscle repair, but it's also the number one cause of stress in the body. When the body is stressed, it releases cortisol, a stress hormone. This hormone tells the body to store fat as protection — especially around the mid-section.
Aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night by practicing good sleep hygiene: Turn off all electronics two hours before bed and try to maintain a consistent sleep/wake cycle. A great day always starts the night before.
I know it might be challenging to dial in and maintain the precise diet and exercise plan required to reveal those sculpted abs. But knowing what NOT to do can save you precious time and energy — something from which we can all benefit.
5 mistakes to avoid if you want 6-pack abs:
— Trying to out-train a bad diet.
— Believing that crunches and sit-ups are the answer.
— Too much steady-state cardio.
— Poor technique.
— Not enough sleep.
Jessica Schatz, CPI-MT, CYT, BC, known professionally as "The Core Expert™?," is a certified master pilates instructor, yoga teacher, meditation leader and integrative wellness & biomechanics coach based in Los Angeles. With over two decades of fitness experience, Schatz started contributing to U.S. News' Eat+Run blog in 2021.
From professional athletes, to Hollywood stars, to stay at home moms, Jessica's proven method has empowered people across the world to embark on their own wellness journeys. Her notable clients include fashion mogul Ashley Olsen, NBA star Wesley Matthews, the companies of Hamilton and Wicked, Broadway Star Olivia Bowman-Jackson and more.
Jessica's approach is rooted in Pilates and draws upon elements of Yoga, bio-mechanics, mindfulness and holistic nutrition to create core strength in body, mind and spirit. She is frequently invited to speak at retreats and conferences, and she's a popular contributor to health and fitness publications, television shows and podcasts. Jessica has been interviewed by Parents, PopSugar, Eating Well, The Doctors, Slate, Byrdie, Spry Living, Martha Stewart Wedding, and others.
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