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Bert Bauzon is a licensed physiotherapist specializing in spinal care and sports rehabilitation. He writes articles and books about exercise science and health care.

Top 5 Reasons Why Your Ab Workouts Don’t Work

Having well-sculpted abs is one of the popular reasons why people work out. Not only does it give intense aesthetic appeal, but it also plays a crucial role in the stability of your spine and promotes lower back health.

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Despite the intense focus on working out the abdominal muscles, many people still struggle “popping out” their abs and see visible results.

In this article, we listed down the top 5 reasons why your ab workouts don’t work.

Reasons Why Your Ab Workouts Don’t Work

Reason #1: You are not losing belly fats

Although ab workouts will help develop your core muscles through hypertrophy, you still need to shred layers of body fat in your midsection for your abs to pop out successfully. Unfortunately, some people will have a hard time losing belly fat due to genetics, lifestyle and diet.

The idea of targeted fat loss is a myth. Crunches, planks and other ab workouts cannot specifically burn belly fat. Like other exercises, they can improve metabolism and stimulate muscle growth but will not result in localized fat loss.

The only way to burn belly fat is by staying in caloric deficit over time to achieve overall fat loss. This means that the calories you burn should be greater than the calories you consume.

The healthiest way to lose belly fat is to develop a consistent resistance training and cardio routine while maintaining a healthy low-calorie diet.

Here’s a core workout you should try:

Reason #2: You are not lean enough

Your abs are made in the gym but revealed in the kitchen. Both exercise and nutrition are vital in gaining lean muscle mass. After spending countless sets of crunches and planks on developing your abs, you now need to unearth them by staying lean.

At least 8-12% body fat for men and 14-18% for women are the ideal figures to reveal your six-pack and athletic physique.

While it is vital to maintain a caloric deficit to achieve total fat loss, you also need to avoid losing muscle mass. High protein diet while keeping a calorie deficit can help you maintain your lean muscles while consistently burning fats through exercise.

If you combine your diet with weightlifting exercises and High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), you can ensure that you will achieve net fat loss while achieving stronger physique over time.

In addition, research also has shown that fasted cardio is significantly better at burning fat than traditional cardio.

Reason # 3: You are not activating your glutes

Activating the glutes allows you to move the pelvic through posterior pelvic tilt. Think of it as pushing the waist part of your pelvis backward to eliminate the hollow space between your spine and the floor when lying down.

Posterior pelvic tilt promotes greater activation of the core muscles, allowing better stimulus for muscle development of your abs when you do crunches and planks.

Furthermore, a study by Schoenfeld and colleagues found that modifying the planks by squeezing the glutes to facilitate posterior pelvic tilt and placing the elbow just under the eye level leads to greater activation of the upper abs, lower abs and external obliques.

Reason # 4: You are not progressing in your exercises

Your abs are just like any skeletal muscle in your body. Therefore, you need to progressively overload your exercises to provide sufficient stimulus for muscle growth.

It is a misconception that the burning sensation you feel when doing tons of crunches or leg raise means you are effectively working your abs. This simply means you are fatiguing your muscles but not necessarily providing the necessary stimulus to “pop out” your abs more.

When it comes to developing abs, quality is more important than quantity. Adding weights is the best and easiest way to progressively overload your ab exercises.

Reason # 5: You are using momentum

It is a common mistake to speed your way through an exercise without considering the form and proper engagement of the target muscles.

This is often a common mistake when working out the core. Since it takes many consecutive reps to feel the burn on the core muscles, people tend to use momentum to complete the exercises instead.

Using momentum during your core exercises is counterproductive because it reduces the work your muscle does, leading to ineffective workout sessions.

In addition, using momentum and speeding through your core exercises increases your risk of back injury. This is because the abs work less and disengage when you use momentum, resulting in increased work to your joints and spine.

Instead, slow down and keep the tension on your core muscles, especially on the eccentrics, when doing an exercise.

Bonus Tip:

We listed some of the most effective weighted exercises you could try to make your abs “pop out” more. These exercises are designed to activate more the muscle fibers of your ab muscles than other exercises.

  • Ab pulldown using machine
  • Weighted oblique twist (Russian Twist)
  • Cable woodchoppers
  • Hanging leg raises with a dumbbell or ankle weights

Bottom line:

The main reasons ab workouts don’t work are poor diet and inefficient exercises.

To achieve well-defined abs, you must stay lean while maintaining a low body fat percentage. You can accomplish this by maintaining a high protein and low-calorie diet over time.

More importantly, progressively overloading your exercises is the key to ensuring continuous stimulus for muscle growth and preventing plateauing in your training.

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