The Amazing Abs Mistake!
He Was Doing One Thousand Crunches
And Sit Ups A Day... But Still NO Abs!!!
By Tom Venuto, CPT, CSCS
Check Out Tom's Abs!
After 18 years in the fitness business, “How do I
get great abs” is still BY FAR the most frequently
asked question I receive out of the 30,000+ emails
that come into my office every month.
No doubt, it's because abs are the one body part
that most people are the most frustrated with.
Although their questions are
often phrased differently and each person’s
situation seems unique, my answer to “how do I get
great abs” is almost always the same… and you’re
about to hear it...
"1,000 Sit-Ups And Crunches A Day and Still No
One question I received recently REALLY got my
attention because a young guy told me he was doing
1,000 crunches and sit ups a day and said he still
couldn’t see his abdominals. He wrote:
“Tom: I have been working out for around a year now
and I cannot get my lower abs into any type of
shape. I'm starting to see my upper abs a little
bit, which is great, but despite doing 900 various
crunches, ab roller, and 100 sit-ups four days a
week, along with my regular workout on the weights,
I still have a tire around my waist. What else can I
What did I tell him? Well, I gave him the same
answer I’ve given thousands of people over the
years, which is the only true “Secret” to great
It takes training to increase strength, build
endurance and DEVELOP the abdominals, but to SEE the
definition in your abdominals - or any other muscle
group for that matter - is almost entirely the
result of low body fat levels.
This may sound counter-intuitive, but if you can't
see your abs, it's not an issue of “muscle
development” at all. You simply have too much body
fat covering up the ab muscles. The lower abdominal
area also happens to be the one place that most
people - especially men - store the body fat first.
There's a Scientific Reason Why Your Lower Ab
Flab Is The Last Place To Go
Most people don't have their fat distributed evenly
throughout their bodies. Each of us inherits a
genetically determined and hormonally-influenced
pattern of fat storage just as we inherit our eye or
hair color. In other words, the fat seems to "stick"
to certain areas more than others.
There's a scientific reason for this. Your fat cells
are not just inert "storage tanks" for excess fuel.
They are actually endocrine glands which send and
receive signals from the rest of the body.
say that your fat cells "talk to your body" and your
body "talks to your fat cells." This occurs through
a hormone and receptor system.
For body fat loss to occur, you must first get the
fat cell (adipocyte) to release the fat into the
bloodstream. THEN, the free fatty acids must be
delivered to the working muscles where they are
burned for energy.
For fat to be released, the hormone adrenaline
(epinephrine) must be secreted and send a signal to
your fat cells. Your fat cells receive this hormonal
signal via adrenaline receptors called
Fat cells have Beta 1 (B1) and Alpha 2 (A2)
receptors. B1 receptors are the good guys. They
activate hormone sensitive lipase, the enzyme that
breaks down the fat and allows it to be released
into the bloodstream to be burned. A2 receptors are
the bad guys. They block the fat-releasing enzymes
in the fat cell and encourage body fat formation.
How Body Fat Storage Patterns Affect You And Keep
Your Abs From Showing
What's the point of all the physiology? Well, it
turns out that in men, the lower abdominal region
has a higher concentration of A2 receptors, so this
gives us one possible explanation of why the lower
abdominal region is often the first place the fat
goes when you gain it, and the last place it comes
off when you're losing it. (Incidentally, the fat in
women's hips and thighs is also higher in A2
receptors). This situation is dictated by genetics
and by the hormonal and enzymatic pathways we
Think of ab fat like the deep end of the swimming
pool. No matter how much you protest, there is no
way you can drain the deep end before the shallow
end. However, don't let this discourage you. Lower
ab fat WILL come off, it will simply be the last
place to come off. First place on - Last place off.
This helps to explain why abdominal exercises have
little impact on body fat loss. It's a huge mistake
to think that hundreds or thousands of reps of ab
exercises will remove lower abdominal fat, except to
the degree that it burns calories and contributes to
the calorie deficit. What removes the fat - all over
your body - is a calorie deficit and that comes from
decreasing food intake, increasing activity, or a
combination of both.
What I suggested to this young man was cutting back
the ab training, spending the time he was wasting on
excess ab exercises for more intense,
calorie-burning cardio and weight training for the
rest of the body. I also suggested he do an
accounting of his food intake, get his nutrition in
order and decrease his calories slightly if
As it turned out, his diet was a mess, and as
nutrition experts like to say, "You can’t
out-train a lousy diet."
It's a monumental error to think that 1,000 reps of
ab work a day will make your abs finally "pop" when
your diet is a disaster and that's leading to fat
storage. It’s not that ab exercises aren’t
important. But all the ab exercises in the world
won't help as long as you still have body fat
covering the muscles. You can't "spot reduce" with
abdominal exercise and YOU CAN'T SEE YOUR ABS
THROUGH A LAYER OF BODY FAT!
My Championship-Winning Ab Workout Routine
Personally, I only do about 15 minutes of ab work
two times per week, with anywhere from two to four
exercises for about 10-25 reps per exercise. Forget
about thousands of reps of sit ups – it’s a waste of
time. The reason my abs look the way they do is not
from endless repetitions, but because I get my body
fat down into the single digits with a highly
specialized fat-burning diet program.
Here’s a recent ab routine that I've used (for
bodybuilding/ ab-development purposes). I do this
routine only twice a week and I change the exercises
approximately every month so my body doesn't adapt.
I prefer slightly higher rep range than other muscle
groups, but as you can see, it is far from doing a
thousand reps a day.
A1 Hanging leg raises
3 sets, 15-20 reps
A2 Hanging knee ups (bent-knee leg raises)
3 sets, 15-20 reps
(no rest between supersetted exercises A1 & A2, 60
sec between supersets)
B1 Weighted swiss ball crunches (or weighted
3 sets, 15-20 reps
B2 Incline Bench Reverse crunches
3 sets, 15-20 reps
(no rest between supersetted exercises B1 & B2, 60
sec between supersets)
How To Use Cardio For MAXIMUM Fat-Burning
Times have changed since the Aerobics revolution of
the 1970's and 1980's. For years, aerobics was the
darling of the fitness world. Then scientists began
to acknowledge the benefits of weight training - for
everyone, not just for bodybuilders.
Recently, the pendulum has swung the other direction
and we've actually started hearing fitness "experts"
suggesting that cardio should be kept to a minimum
or even avoided completely. That's the way things
tend to go in the fitness world - they swing back
and forth in trends, from one extreme to another.
Lots of cardio or no cardio.
I suggest you avoid trend-hopping and pay close
attention to what actually works, by people who know
what they are talking about (such as bodybuilders,
who are the leanest muscular athletes in the world).
Doing nothing but cardio is a mistake. But cutting
our cardio completely is also a mistake. The truth
lies in the middle. Maximum fat burning occurs when
you combine cardio training and weight training
Those who are genetically gifted with above average
metabolisms will find that a slight drop in food
intake and just a few days a week of cardio will
usually do the trick. However, most people who are
struggling with fat loss (sometimes referred to as
"endomorph" body type) are simply NOT burning enough
calories to get the results they want. The answer
for them is more activity to burn more calories.
For health and weight maintenance, I would suggest 3
short cardio workouts per week, about 20-30 minutes
per session. But for maximum fat loss, I recommend
4-7 days per week of cardio or other physical
activity for 30-45 minutes (based on results), at a
moderate pace. You can mix up the type of cardio you
do, or choose the type you enjoy the most -
stationary cycling, stairclimbing, elliptical
machines, aerobic classes and other continuous
activities are all excellent fat burners (it doesn't
have to be indoors or on a cardio machine).
If time efficiency is a concern for you, you could
do 2-3 of those cardio workouts as high intensity
interval training and you'll achieve very good
results even with briefer workouts. Even as little
as 20-25 minutes per session can get great results
IF your intensity level is high enough. Remember,
seeing your abs is about low body fat. Low body fat
is about burning calories and creating a calorie
deficit. The calorie deficit is created by
increasing the number of calories you burn and or
decreasing the amount of calories you take in from
food. Increasing intensity is one way to burn more
calories in less time.
NOTE: To reach the "ripped" 3.7% body fat level you
see in my photos, I do cardio 7 days a week for
30-45 minutes per session, in addition to my 4
weight training workouts per week.
7 Nutrition Secrets For Great Abs
That leads us to nutrition. Many people say that
"abdominals are made in the kitchen, not in the
gym," and there's a lot of truth to that. You can do
thousands of reps of ab work every week, but if your
nutrition is not in order, you can forget about
getting a great set of 6-pack abs.
Eat about 15-20% below your calorie maintenance
level. If you use a more aggressive calorie deficit
of 25-30%, then do not keep calories too low for too
long; increase calories to maintenance or
maintenance +10-15% 1-2 days per week.
Spread your calories into 5-6 smaller meals instead
of 2-3 big ones. Be very conscious of portion size.
If you eat too much of anything (even "healthy"
food), you can say goodbye to your abs. Period.
Eat a source of complete, high quality lean protein
with each meal (egg whites, lean meat, fish, protein
Choose natural, complex carbs such as vegetables,
oatmeal, yams, potatoes, beans, brown rice and whole
grains. Start with aprox. 50% of your calories from
natural carbs and reduce carbs slightly (esp. late
in the day) if you are not losing fat.
Avoid refined, simple carbs that contain white flour
or white sugar
Keep total fats low and saturated fats low. Aim for
20% of your total calories from fat (and no more
than 30%). A little bit of "good fat" like flax oil,
fish fat, nuts & seeds, etc is better than a no fat
diet. Essential fatty acids actually assist the fat
Drink plenty of water - a gallon is a good ballpark
to shoot for if you are physically active.
1000+ reps of daily ab work is an amazing feat of
endurance, but that’s not how you get visible,
6-pack abs! If you were to do 1,000 reps of ab
exercises every day, you would have outstanding
development in your abdominal muscles and you would
definitely have great muscular endurance.
Unfortunately, if your abs are covered up with a
layer of fat, you will never see them even if you do
10,000 reps a day!
You Condition and Strengthen Your Abs With
Specific Ab Exercises...
But The Secret To Seeing Your Abs Is Reducing Your
I once saw a photo of a man who broke one of the
Guiness World Records for sit ups. It was the most
paradoxical thing, but this man did not have any
abdominal muscle definition. He was not obese or
overweight at all, mind you, but he had a small
enough layer of body fat that the muscular defintion
did not show through. I've never seen a better real
life example which demonstrates the basic principle
discussed in this article:
You get great abs from reducing your body fat, and
you reduce your body fat by creating a caloric
deficit through nutrition and metabolism-stimulating
and calorie-burning exercise.
I've spent my entire career - through more than 18
years and 28 bodybuilding competitions - studying
the science and practicing the art of body fat
reduction. I speak from experience and I walk my
talk as you can see from my pictures.
If you'd like to learn for yourself, what I've
learned about fat burning nutrition and getting your
body fat level low enough so that you can finally
see a "6 pack rack" of abs, then be sure to take a
look at the
Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle
program. Thousands of men and women call this their
"fat loss bible."
About Tom Venuto
Tom Venuto is a natural bodybuilder,
certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and a
certified personal trainer (CPT). Tom is the author of "Burn the
Fat, Feed The Muscle,” which teaches you how to get lean without
drugs or supplements using methods of the world's best
bodybuilders and fitness models. Learn how to get rid of
stubborn fat and increase your metabolism by visiting: