Everyone wants fantastic abs. Most people would agree that it is the most sought after muscle group because it looks fantastic on everyone. Well, unless they go too far. I would argue that some of the bodybuilders look stupid with the definition that they achieve but I still admire their dedication to the cause.
There are 2 tricks to great abs. Exercising your abs and more importantly, diet. Of course things like youth play into this in a large degree but it is very possible to maintain great abs well into your late life. It just takes some dedication.
The exact path to great abs is basically the same path that every other exercise has and honestly, especially if you are a bit older, you have to be very dedicated to a plan and stick with it if you ever hope to accomplish this.
There are a ton of people out there that are selling a new ab product or some new method of working your abs and the jury will forever remain out about how to best achieve this. I'm sure that the trainers and the people marketing this stuff worked very hard to get abs of steel and you will have to as well. However, there are a lot of programs out there that sell lies and some of these exercises can be murder on your lower back and spine.
Ab exercises burn belly fat
Short answer: No it doesn't. You can not target fat burning anywhere in your body without liposuction and that is scientifically proven over and over again. If anyone tells you that you just need to "feel the burn" by doing 100 crunchers in a row in order to burn belly fat they don't know what the hell they are talking about. In fact, building your ab muscles when you have belly fat will actually have the initial reaction of making your belly look FATTER because it will push the fat further outward.
This doesn't mean that just because you have a spare tire that you shouldn't work your abs... you should do... but just ignore the magic advice because it is all false.
What? Are you telling me that the major exercise I have been told to do is bad for me? You are a quack! Well, don't take my word for it, take Dr. Steward McGill from Waterloo University's peer reviewed study that shows that traditional military situps place the equivalent of up to 340kg of pressure on the lower spine and lead to back problems and even herniated disks. Don't know what a herniated disk is? Well, you don't want to find out, trust me.
He also discovered that the traditional exercise only works a small portion of the abs and puts an undue amount of pressure on the upper spine particularly at the front of the neck. Basically, there are a lot of spinal reasons to not do these.
Do planks, or ab-wheel rollouts instead (you get to do a lot fewer of them too.)
We've all seen this monster at the gym and normally he has really great abs so it must be the right thing to do, right? Well this is just as bad as a traditional situp and introduces more gravity to fight against and even more weight thereby placing even MORE undue stress on the spine. Also, this exercise has the wonderful addition of placing massive amounts of pressure on your hip flexors. In worst-case scenarios people have actually torn their hip flexors from their attachment point on their upper legs.
Don't believe me? Try some of them, your hips and legs are going to be far more sore than your abs are, because it is just an adaptation of an already bad exercise.
Twisting ab machine
Most larger gyms will have one of these things because it makes the dubious claim of targeting your obliques and if you have visible oblique muscles you are in a totally different realm of fitness, right?
This machine DOES in fact work out your obliques just like the "Russian Twist" exercise that it is based on. However, what they don't advertise on the machine is that it also puts you in an unnatural motion on the lumbar spine, which is a naturally stable area that is not anatomically meant to twist.
People like this machine because it is "easier" than the alternatives. I know that is the reason why I used it and now that I am getting up there in years I am starting to have lower back problems after years of using it. You can't undo spinal damage folks so you really should be scared of accomplishing this.
So I've given some information here that is probably going to break people's hearts because I have just told you that the most common exercises should be avoided. What can you do? Unfortunately there is no easy answer to this.
The fact of the matter is that it is very difficult to isolate ab muscles in a manner that isn't going to potentially put other, very important parts of your body at risk. I like ab-wheel rollouts
However, this exercise, done improperly runs a lot of the same risks that other ab exercises do but to a far lessor degree because your spin is not being compressed by the ground. I, and many doctors and kinesiologists would argue that done correctly, this is far less dangerous than the other exercises.
To play it safe, learn how to do some planks correctly without putting stress on your spine and lower back.
I will focus on how to do both planks and ab wheel rollouts in a later article. For now, I think it is very important when working out to remember that your spine is actually a very delicate part of your body and one of the few ones that after hundreds of years of scientific innovation we do not know how to repair. Therefore, it should be paramount in importance to look out for it.