Debunking the Six Pack Myths

Open any fitness magazine or just look at one of those blinking online ads and you'll see the empty promises. "Get washboard abs in a week" or "the three foods to blast belly fat" or "one weird trick guaranteed to produce a six-pack." The reductive promise of well-sculpted abs are used ad nauseam to sell countless products and services the world over. But it can't all be bullshit, can it? There are a lot of half-truths when it comes to obtaining a flat, toned stomach so we consulted a few experts to clear up some of the most common myths surrounding the storied six-pack.

 

Myth

Cardio is Key to Dropping the Weight

Reality

You've probably heard (or realized) that we all have a six-pack, but that it's covered by a layer of fat. And that washboard won't reveal itself until you drop the weight—but does that means hours on the treadmill? Cardio can no doubt be valuable in burning extra calories, but more importantly is creating a caloric deficit with your diet. To lose fat, you'll need to burn more calories than you ingest each day. "Cardio definitely holds some value for people who want to drink beer, eat pizza, and not worry about calories quite so much," says James Fell, author of Lose It Right. "But if you hate cardio, don't do it. Just don't expect to reveal your abs if you're not creating a caloric deficit."

 

Myth

You Can Spot-Reduce Fat Around Your Midsection

Reality

Why won't this mistruth die? "This is just wishful thinking," says Shirley Archer, a fitness and wellness educator with the American Council on Exercise. Fat reduction—in the midsection and elsewhere—will happen with a combination of healthy eating, cardio and strength work, she says. Unfortunately, you don't get to pick one body part or another.

 

Myth

It's All About Crunches. Lots of Crunches.

Reality

A recent ACE study found that crunches are the most effective exercise for activating the rectus abdominus, which is the main, outermost core muscle. But this is only one of the muscles you need to tone when sculpting your midsection. No single ab exercise is going to address all that you need. There are other abdominal muscles, such as the external obliques that play a powerful role in spinal and core stability. Other exercises, like side planks, are much better at activating those muscles. So the key is to combine moves that target your core from all angles—and don't forget your lower back.

 

Myth

The Right Foods Can Help You Lose Belly Fat

Reality

Genetics plays a big role in determining where you keep your fat stores (thanks Mom and Dad). Gender is another factor—and guys are most likely to keep it in the midsection. Food doesn't discriminate. But as a general rule, sticking to lower sugar and lower calorie foods that aren't highly processed or high in refined carbohydrates is a smart move. There are definitely foods that can help you lose weight, such as fiber-rich dark, leafy vegetables and citrus fruits. But eating lots of these foods will help you lean out overall, not just in the stomach region.

 

Myth

Specialty Machines and Equipment Can Better Target Abs

Reality

Those late-night infomercial tools like AbRollers, CrunchCarvers and SixPack Rockets or the specialty machines at the gym can sometimes offer decent abdominal workouts. But there are also a lot of gimmicks that don't necessarily deliver the kind of solid results you get from such old fashioned moves as squats, planks, pikes and crunches. And those won't cost you anything but some sweat.

 

Myth

Maintaining a Six-Pack Is Easy Once You Have It

Reality

"Having visible abs becomes unrealistic when you're striving to go below a normal level of body fat," Equinox personal trainer Louis Sepulveda told Mental Floss. "As much as everyone hates fat, you need it to live. It's a source of energy, it supports brain and nerve function. Having too little can become unhealthy." In men, extremely low levels of body fat are associated with risks including dangerously low heart rates and a decline in testosterone levels along with poor recovery from workouts.

FYI

According to BMI statistics reported by the Center for Disease Control, it's estimated that about 3-5% of the entire U.S. population could be considered within the range of having 6-pack abs.