Click baity? For sure. But if I’m being honest, one of the biggest reasons I started CrossFit in 2008 was to get ripped like the actors in the movie 300. Unlike magazines that are going to sell you on eight-minute abs, here are five real-life myths and the truths about “getting abs.”
MYTH: Sit-ups and crunches are the best exercise for abs.
TRUTH: While isolation exercises like those can help strengthen the abdominals, we know compound exercises like squats and deadlifts are actually better for the entire core. While the rectus abdominis are what most people think of when they think “six pack,” there are other muscle groups such as the transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, serratus anterior, and more that contribute to one’s “abs.”
MYTH: As long as I exercise a lot, nutrition doesn’t matter.
TRUTH: There’s a saying that “abs are made in the gym, but revealed in the kitchen.” In other words, you can’t out-exercise a poor diet. Specifically when it comes to “having abs,” you must focus on nutrition to reduce the amount of belly fat in front of your abdominals.
MYTH: You can target fat loss.
TRUTH: Not true. Just by exercising one part of your body more does not mean fat gets burned from that area. (see Myth #1)
MYTH: Abs don’t run in my family so I’ll never get them.
TRUTH: This one may be partially true depending on how much you really want abs. Genetics definitely play a role here, especially in terms of shape, size, and how easily your abs are shown at different body fat percentages. So while we know reducing body fat will eventually reveal the muscle behind it, different people may need to get to dangerously low body fat percentages to be worth it.
MYTH: People with six packs are in the best shape.
TRUTH: While it may be aesthetically pleasing to see someone with abs, it actually might mean nothing about their athletic ability, especially when it comes to functional fitness where so many other factors come into play (cardiovascular endurance, stamina, strength, agility, etc). While it may be a correlate to fitness, it definitely is not a causative factor. Keep in mind the opposite isn’t true either. I’ve seen plenty of fit people who don’t have much in terms of ab definition. (see genetic variation myth above).
At the end of the day, the best way to think about “getting abs” is through nutrition. As for exercise, doing compound weight lifting movements like squats and deadlifts, plus high intensity interval training will give you the best shot at this goal. But ultimately you also need to remember everyone is different genetically and you’ll need to find out if it’s worth this aesthetic goal if other things like mood and performance in the gym are suffering from low body fat.