13 Ab Myths Busted

Certain body beliefs are only going to take you further away from your goals.

We’re setting the record straight on habits that will strip you of your six-pack.

By Chelsea Boissonneault

When you think of Brad Pitt in Fight Club, his Hollywoodized “rough and tough” look is nothing but a distant, slightly fuzzy, memory. What everyone remembers about his days as Project Mayhem founder, Tyler Durden, are his abs. Whether you’re aiming for a lean look like Durden’s or a stomach that apes a stack of bricks, you need to get your facts straight before you hit the gym, eat that snack, or pop that supp.

MYTH 1: Doing crunches will define my abs and burn fat

Truth: Heads up: if you’re looking to give yourself a sensational six-pack, you’re going to have to put in double the effort. Working your abs can increase your core’s strength and endurance, but it won’t burn that bothersome belly fat that’s keeping them hidden. You’ll need to reduce your calories, and up your cardio, if you’re looking to budge that pudge.

Myth 2: When I’m doing a hardcore workout, it’s important to breathe whenever and however I can

Truth: It might seem a little silly, but it does matter when you give your body an oxygen boost. Whether you’re doing crunches, sit-ups, or another abs-amplifying exercise, it’s important to exhale at the right time — that is, when you reach the top position or finishing point — and inhale as you lower to help fuel your muscles. Try sharply exhaling during the motion, and using a slow count of three to inhale as you return to the start.

Myth 3: Probiotics have literally absolutely nothing to do with my abs

Truth: Upping your intake of probiotics helps to promote healthy bowel function, which reduces bloating and makes your waistline look leaner. A 2010 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a daily dose of probiotics, over the course of 12 weeks, decreased the belly fat in participants by 4.6 per cent! Probiotics have also been found to reduce internal inflammation and lower levels of that pesky stress hormone, cortisol.

Myth 4: My abs don’t care when I go to bed. I should just hit the sack when I’m tired

Truth: Getting your eight hours a night isn’t all about beauty sleep: it’s also an easy way to lower your body fat percentage. Researchers at Brigham Young University found that those who slept for less than 6.5 hours a night or more than 8.5 had increased body fat, while those who snoozed for seven to eight hours saw a decrease. These scientists also found that waking and rising at the same time every day were strongly linked with lower body fat.

Myth 5: Chicken breasts are the top choice for

abs-building protein

Truth: While not as conclusive as other abs-enhancing ideas, there is some evidence to suggest that adding fish to your diet will improve your weight-loss results and lower cholesterol levels. Preliminary studies have also indicated that a daily fish oil supplement can help lower your overall body fat when combined with exercise. When selecting your brand of fish oil, it’s important to choose a wild source (rather than a farmed one) to ensure minimal processing.

MYTH 6: The more I work out, the faster I’ll bring out my abs

Truth: Sweating up a storm by working out for several hours each day might seem like the ideal way to sculpt your abs, but creating a sustainable routine is actually the best answer. If your accelerated plan is too tough, you will likely lapse and end up undoing all of your hard work. Plus, your abs are a group of muscles, just like your quads or biceps, so you should treat them the same way and avoid overdoing it. Studies from the University of Arkansas also found that doing shorter workouts at a higher intensity reduced abdominal fat by 20 per cent over a three-month period, so try to build regular (and realistic) activity into your week.

Myth 7: Dehydrating yourself is a great way to get your

abs to pop

Truth: H2O is an essential liquid for us – up to 60 per cent of the human body is water, after all — but it can also be a great diet ally. Research has found that we often mistake thirst for hunger, so next time your stomach growls, try drinking water. It’s calorie-free, keeps you hydrated, and that sloshy feeling of liquid floating around in your stomach tends to decrease your desire to eat, helping you cut your caloric intake. When you’re filling up your glass, try to go for cool water (around four to 10 degrees Celsius). This zone is the most efficient temperature for absorbing body heat, emptying your stomach (which minimises bloating), and absorbing nutrients. Beware: if you don’t down your H2O until that thirsty feeling hits, you are already partially dehydrated, so always have a glass of water handy.

Myth 8: The exercise order I use doesn’t matter — I will always get the same results

Truth: You can plan your gym time for maximum benefits. Results from a Weider Research Group study found that doing abs first dwindled the number of squat reps to follow, but performance was at its peak if squats came first. The abs, obliques, and transverse abdominis work together to stabilise your core, letting you produce greater force, but training your abs first exhausts them, lowering your core’s stability and weakening your base. Many trainers even claim that if you engage your abs correctly you are giving your abs a significant boost sans crunches.

Myth 9: Chocolate needs to be avoided when you’re

looking to get cut

Truth: Your sweet tooth: diet destroyer or abs creator? A recent study published in the journal Nutrition found that eating chocolate may not be so sinful, after all. This delicious confection can actually lower your levels of total abdominal fat (as measured through body fat percentage, body mass index, and waist circumference), making it easier to sculpt that six-pack. The flavonoids in dark chocolate trumped its levels of sugar and fat, offering antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antihypertensive benefits. If you’re not a chocolate fan, or you just want to save a few calories, snag a flavonoid boost from grapes, apples, or broccoli instead.

MYTH 10: Coffee should never be a part of your

get-abs-quick program

Truth: Downing a sugar-free Red Bull or gulping back a cup of Joe can actually boost your workout and get you closer to your abs goal. A 2009 study found that lifters with caffeine in their systems burned 30 per cent more calories, and had a more than 40 per cent increase in fat release from their cells, helping their bodies access, and burn, more fat. This extra energy jolt will also help you work out harder and faster, so you can feel fine making a pre-gym Timmies run part of your routine — just skip the cream and sugar to avoid unnecessary calories.

Myth 11: I can eat whatever I want as long as I work hard

and burn it off at the gym

Truth: What you eat isn’t just about calories. Go with whole foods, because processed and packaged foods are often packed with additives to preserve freshness and improve taste and texture. These can include high levels of sodium, which leads to bloating; high-fructose corn syrup, which contributes to overall weight gain; and hydrogenated oils (trans fats), which are particularly difficult for your body to digest. A 2006 study from Wake Forest University found that a high intake of trans fats can cause fat to collect around the abs and lead to higher body weight, even when you’re controlling and monitoring your calorie intake.

Myth 12: My diet and exercise plan are the main (and only) reasons that I’m seeing (or not seeing) results

Truth: Believe it or not, a hormone imbalance can lead to weight gain, and the main balance troublemaker is stress. Feeling strained causes your body to go into overdrive, raising your levels of adrenaline and cortisol, while also boosting your heart rate and blood pressure. Chronic stress can even lead to permanently raised levels of cortisol, which may cause numerous health problems, including increased abdominal fat. In addition to upping weight gain, these stress hormones can also lead to sleep problems, heart disease, and digestive issues, which isn’t a great foundation for your abs plan. Start your body’s balancing act by getting more sleep and reducing your stress with mediation or other calming activites.

Myth 13: Any reusable containers will do for transporting

your clean meals

Truth: What vessel you eat from can be just as important as the food you’re eating. Experts from the University of California argue that our increased exposure to plastic compounds can drag down the speed of our metabolisms and increase weight gain. Research suggests that obesogens work to boost the numbers on the scale, even if the amount of energy you are expending exceeds the number of calories you consume. But you don’t have to give up your “six meals spaced evenly apart” mantra for the sake of avoiding these pesky compounds: instead, fill your cupboards with containers made of glass, and remember that it’s best to avoid storing and heating food in or on plastic whenever possible.

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