Why Your Ab Training Is Messed Up
It’s easy to get ab training wrong. Why? Because there’s a whole lot of misinformation out there about getting a “six pack.” Actually some of this advice is valid – if you are a guy. But for women, ab training should be different.
How you should train abs is actually a lot different than how you should train other areas of your body.
Want better glutes? Train them heavy and train them often.
Want nicer arms? Same thing.
But if you want a smaller waist – training abs heavy with high frequency may be the worst thing you can do.
Heavy, high volume ab training may actually make your waist bigger.
If your goal is a smaller, flatter stomach, what should you do?
As with every body part:
- think about what you want to achieve (a smaller waist), and
- implement the right strategies to get your desired look.
I want to emphasize these steps because most women don’t strategically choose exercises. They just do what everyone else does or what they’ve learned on the internet.
That’s a big mistake. In fact, let’s look at three ab training mistakes women commonly make (but you won’t after reading this article!).
Common Ab Training Mistakes
1. Training Your Abs Heavy
I’d go as far as saying, women don’t need to do weighted ab training at all. Why? If you train your abs with heavy weights, you build muscle. Think about this for a minute.
If you build muscle, you build size. If you build muscle under fat, you build even more size.
And let’s face it – most of us have some fat on our midsections.
Building extra muscle there won’t burn off the fat, but it will build density that can make our waists look bigger, especially when we have a layer of fat sitting over the muscle. This is because the muscle underneath fat pushes that fat out further giving us a bigger midsection.
A good clue if you are training your abs too heavy is soreness. Soreness happens because of muscle damage you get when training, and muscle damage is necessary for muscle growth.
So if you are one of those people who likes to “feel” their workouts the next day, remember soreness in your abs might not be a good thing.
Think about where you want to build muscle. Everyone has some muscle under the fat on their midsection. Rather than building more muscle and density there, the best way to reveal your abs is through a smart exercise and nutrition program.
2. Training Your Abs Often
I had a new client start a while ago who told me that her previous trainer had made her train abs every session, and she couldn’t figure out why her midsection was bigger despite getting leaner everywhere else.
It’s because she was building muscle there and, as discussed in the previous section, muscle equals size.
If you train a muscle frequently, it will grow. So for the same reasons you don’t want to train your abs heavy, you probably shouldn’t train them frequently either.
Your abs already get a lot of stimulus from other training. Exercises like overhead presses, push ups, pull ups, squats, and deadlifts all involve your core. If you are following a good exercise program, you don’t need to start doing even more ab training.
Training your abs three to four times per week is not going to get you better abs, but eating clean seven days a week will.
3. Training Obliques
Obliques run up and down the sides of our midsection. It’s an area that most women train without understanding the implications for their physique.
Two of the most common oblique exercises that I see women doing in the gym are:
- Standing side bends holding a weight, and
- Side bends on the reverse hyperextension machine.
Remember think strategically about where you want to build muscle and size.
The ideal female figure is an hourglass shape. With the hourglass, the shoulders and hips are generally equal proportions. The midsection (the waist) is the smaller measurement because it is the cinching in part of the hourglass.
If you build muscle running up and down your sides – which you’ll do by training your obliques too much – you destroy your curves and that hourglass shape.
When your obliques are well developed it gives you a straight up and down appearance in your midsection – you’ll look boxy rather than curvy. If you build up your obliques but still have fat on your stomach, it will make your love handles look even bigger.
Learn From Others Who Have What You Want
Bikini competitors are strategic about where they build muscle.
Bikini competitions are all about having the right proportions and this includes having a small waist. They will be docked points if their abs are too developed and blocky.
Realistically you and I will never look like a bikini competitor – but that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from them.
Let’s look at how bikini competitors train.
When it comes to bikini competitors, Amanda Latona is queen. To date, she’s had over 25 first place finishes in fitness and bikini competitions. She’s known for her glutes, but she has the whole package – otherwise she wouldn’t win so often.
Here’s what she says about her ab training (from her Facebook page):
“My ab training doesn’t involve a lot of weights. I’m doing 3 exercises about 15-30 reps 3 sets (this is what keeps my stomach flat for bikini without being boxy).”
You can see from her photo that she’s definitely not boxy.
Comparing her photo with someone who has more developed abs you can see the difference between the “curvy” and “boxy” look.
Most of us will never have abs that are anywhere near as lean as these two ladies but these photos demonstrate my point – think about what you are trying to achieve with your ab training and choose the right strategies.
So How Do You Get Abs?
Most women want lean, flat abs but not necessarily overdeveloped, blocky looking abs.
So pick the strategy that corresponds with your goals. You can probably do a few sets of abs every week without overdeveloping them but don’t train them heavy. Understand why you do the exercises you do.
If you want a strong core, there’s other things you can do.
The side bends definitely have to go. I cringe whenever I see someone doing them in the gym – so please just stop.
I don’t want to rehash what’s been said a million times but I find myself frequently having this discussion so it bears repeating here:
Abs really are made in the kitchen.
Your abs are only going to show through when you lose enough weight. Not before that no matter how much you train them.
One of my clients recently lost 11 cm off her waist. She did it with two 30 minute training sessions per week, walking more, limiting carbs and increasing her protein intake.
Without a doubt, the reason she has done so well is her diet.
No crunches, weighted ab training or side bends required.