Top six-pack mistakes to avoid when building muscle

December 28, 2020

So you want those rock solid, six-pack abs – craving that abdominal definition. Well it’s not as difficult as some might think but it will require discipline, planning and consistency. So, if you are serious about earning some washboard abs, it’s worth understanding what it takes to truly achieve them.  Let’s start by ironing out the repeated mistakes a vast majority of gymgoers make, ultimately leading to their failure on their quest for chiselled abs.

1. Poor Exercise Selection

The Problem: When training the abdominals the tendency is to focus on a handful of well-known exercise like sit-ups or crunches. I bet you’ve guessed what I’m going to say – traditional crunches are one of the least effective ab exercises you can do.

Solution: You need to stop doing the same movements over and over that aren’t producing the results you desire, yet pursue in hopes of a different outcome time and time again. It’s not going to happen! Instead, focus on movements that work your abs in their natural bracing position. I highly recommend cable rotations where you can increase the weight load, boosting your strength and supporting those six pack goals. The multitude of plank variations are another great alternative.

2. No Progression

The Problem: It makes no sense for training principles applied to other muscles groups, but not applying the same to your abs! When you think logically about this, why would you increase the weight load in bench press or squats to increase strength and muscle definition but not with your abs. The problem with repeating the same low resistance ab workout is you increase abdominal endurance but you are not building muscle.

Solution: For ab definition you need to train the muscle group with progressive overloading - gradually increasing sets, reps, weight and frequency and reducing rest – as you would any other muscle group. I love the suspension trainer, it improves muscle strength and stability using your body weight and gravity, you will undoubtedly achieve a total body workout whilst targeting that core. You will see improvements coming thick and fast on this piece of equipment – bonus!  

3. Not Enough focus on body composition

The Problem: Cliché talk but everyone is different, so it’s of no surprise that the spectrum for body composition spans far and wide. You need to develop an awareness for your own body composition. There are those lucky few who barely work out, are naturally skinny and blessed with those fab abs; verses those who are religious at the gym, strong as an ox but sport a pot belly. This is all due to body composition.

Men typically carry 18 – 24% of body fat and women 25 – 32%. Some of the top athletes in disciplines such as athletics, football and tennis have lowered their percentage to single digits to support the competitive demands they expect from their bodies. Emulating this same model, some gym goers will lower their body fat percentage to 10% or so to support their workout goals.

‘Abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym’

Your diet will drastically impact your chances of developing that exceptional core. What use is it putting in all that ab training if they are covered by layers of fat! If you want results you need to lower your percentage.

Solution: Nutrition Nutrition Nutrition! Cut out the bad stuff – bye bye fast foods, sugar, alcohol etc, and replace these with protein, vegetables, healthy fats, low carbs and lots of water. Combined with a training program that includes fat burning cardio and works all muscle groups and hay presto! You’ve lowered your percentage.

You can keep track of your body fat percentage with a simple skin fold test or one of those swanky scales utilising bioimpedance technology. Fancy pushing the boat out (and some pennies), book yourself in at a clinic for DEXA scan to get a full body analysis.

4. Reliance on gimmicks

The Problem: For years we have been bombarded with advertisements and fitness magazines falsely selling us easy and quick solutions for sculped abdominals. Whether this be through supplements, sauna belts literally cooking our mid-section – because sweating makes abs right! Or those sticky pads you slap onto your midsection to zap those abs from the comfort of your sofa into submission. The message here alone has many misconceptions, let alone the equipment itself!

Solution: Don’t fall into the trap and rely on empty promises from gimmicks and miraculous supplements. Instead, focus on the principles proven to work such as targeted exercises with appropriate progression, good nutrition and adequate recovery. Though some supplements can successfully support your training program, they will not provide results on their own.

5. Too much isolation

Problem: People who only do isolation ab exercising, neglecting the larger muscle groups often lack complete and functional core development. This will have other consequences such as muscular imbalances and poor posture. This short-sighted view on your core development is sure to hinder your ultimate six-pack goals.

Solution: Now that’s not to say you shouldn’t do any isolation exercises as part of your ab training plan, but it shouldn’t be the only component. You need to include large compound movements into your program such as squats, deadlifts and overhead press. These will develop your overall strength, engaging every inch of your core, building those chiselled abs.