Common Ab Myths Debunked

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Of course you recognize the importance of strong abs. But also making them aesthetically perfect turns out to be pretty difficult for most. That’s maybe because many still cling to those typical abs myths. Let’s put the six biggest of those myths in a row, to get rid of them for good.


Fitness websites, coaches and especially self-proclaimed Instagram gurus are all too happy to sprinkle memes like ‘Abs are made in the kitchen’. But that statement doesn’t hold true unless you finish your workouts in the kitchen.

The rectus abdominis and obliques are muscles, and muscle mass is built by training the muscle. More precisely: by regularly exposing the muscle to hypertrophy-oriented strength training  according to the principle of progressive overload, in combination with sufficient nutrition and sufficient recovery. Abs are in that respect no different from all other muscle groups.

Of course we understand the meaning behind ‘Abs are made in the kitchen’: you can train your abs as often and well, but as long as there is a layer of fat over it, you will hardly see them in the mirror. But that also applies in principle to all muscles. As a man you get muscle definition at fat percentages between 10 and 15 percent.

However, the belly is, in the man, the zone where the last remnants of fat always remain. In men, the abdominal muscles usually only become visible at fat percentages between 10 and 12 percent, in women between 15 and 22 percent. And for the real washboard effect you have to go even lower. Which percentage exactly applies to you depends on your muscle size and on your genetics.

The bottom line is that you need to train your abs, just like any other muscle group, to get them visible — ‘just’ getting lean is not enough.

And what about growing abs and burning fat at the same time? Wel, it’s possible, in specific cases. Body recomposition, as it’s called, is generally reserved for beginners, returners and for people who are very overweight.

And hopefully there’s no need to tell you that you can’t burn fat locally, only on your stomach for example. That really is a fairy tale (see also point 5).


Regularly performing heavy lifts with high core engagement (squatsdeadlifts, and the push press, for example) will work your abs, but not enough to grow them significantly ii ] . Unless your genes are very favorable to you, you will really need to build in some specific exercises for your abs and obliques, just like you specifically train your other muscles. Not just for the aesthetic effect, by the way. The fact that your abs do a lot of work during squats and deadlifts means that these exercises, in turn, benefit from strong abs. Training your abs directly therefore contributes to a better squat and deadlift.

By the way, don’t worry that your belly will expand when you build abs. The rectus abdominis is a fairly flat muscle, which is also tightened by horizontal and vertical tendons. Those tendons are the dividing lines you see. It is through those lines that a six- or eight-pack is created optically.

According to coach Mike Isreatel, you need a minimum of 6 sets of direct abdominal exercise each week to grow your abs. But the growth window is very wide; if you’re serious about working your belly, you can do up to 25 sets weekly, with a maximum of 10 sets per training session.


From one extreme to the other. Targeted abs training is a plus, but we see no reason to do that every day, as is all too often preached. We do see a reason not to do it, namely the same reason you don’t train your chest, back and legs every day: recovery. After an intensive workout, your abs often don’t have enough rest for 24 hours until the next workout.

The dogma of daily training may have arisen from the assumption that abdominal muscles recover faster than other muscles. They probably do: smaller muscles recover faster than large ones i ] . Muscles with relatively many Type I muscle fibers (slow) compared to Type II muscle fibers (fast), such as the abdominal muscles, also have a shorter recovery period. But faster recovery still does not mean that you can train a muscle group intensively every 24 hours.

The exception is intermediate to advanced bodybuilders who follow a high frequency/full body protocol (for example, 5x a week full body). With such programs you train each muscle group more or less daily, but always at a low session volume (maximum 2-5 sets per training). And because more advanced bodybuilders recover faster than beginners, they should in principle have recovered enough within 24 hours to train the muscle again, even if it concerns large muscle groups such as back and legs.


Another persistent myth that apparently assumes that abs are a special muscle group. Abs, like all muscles, need enough stimulating reps to grow. That’s roughly five reps in a set just before muscle failure. To create enough of those reps, you need to train your sets with sufficient effort (i.e. close to muscle failure) and do multiple sets (your training volume). For smaller muscle groups, such as the abs, it is common for you to use between 10 and 20 reps. This way you prevent injuries and you can create a good mind-muscle connection. Larger muscle groups can be achieved through compound exercises, train harder (6-10 reps). As long as you do enough reps to get close to muscle failure.

For abs, it is sufficient to do sets in the range of 10 to 20 repetitions. Sets of more than 20 reps are therefore not necessary in principle. The only argument for doing some long sets as well is that they might provide some muscle growth via a route other than mechanical tension, namely metabolic stress, a mechanism that would mainly fuel sarcoplasmic muscle growth. Scientific research on this point is still scant, but if you want to do a very long abdominal muscle set twice a week, for example, that’s fine. It may give you some extras. This also does not apply specifically to abdominal muscles: using different rep ranges may be beneficial for each muscle group.

Where does the myth of many reps for abs come from? Perhaps it is simply the result of the fact that many train their abs non-weighted. If you want to ‘feel’ something, you have to train in absurdly high rep ranges. So forget the unweighted crunches and sit-ups (for the most part anyway) and reserve space for exercises from this list.

But maybe that myth is also related to another myth, which is that many repetitions burn fat. We like to devote a separate section to that.


We don’t feel called to write yet another internet article about the fact that you can’t burn fat locally. We’d like to point out once again though that strength training in itself is not intended to burn fat: don’t lift to lose fat.

Strength training is meant to build muscle. The calories you burn with strength training (there are relatively few) are at most a small bonus when you’re cutting.


Finally, another myth where all logic is lost. In the cut you want to lose fat and at the same time keep your built up muscle mass as much as possible. “Built up” means that you have trained your muscles during a bulking phase in order to make them grow. So it’s crazy that you should build your abs in the cut. In fact, most of the times you can be happy if you don’t lose any muscle mass in the cut!

Of course you hope that your abs will become (more) visible in the cut, but that visibility is caused by losing fat.


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