For many fitness buffs, a defined six-pack is the pièce de résistance in a body honed to its physical apex. Not only does it turn heads, it proves you have that rare combination of athleticism and dietary dedication everyone wants, but few actually possess. Unfortunately, the road to midsection perfection is riddled with performance pitfalls and nutrition nightmares at every turn. Be sure to steer clear of the following six.

1.Trying to out-train a bad diet

You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again: abs are made in the kitchen! It doesn’t matter how many crunches you do every morning, if you’re not conscious of what you’re eating, you won’t see any progress. “Alter your diet to lose fat by eliminating trans-fats, and minimize saturated fats and simple carbs,” explains Jessica Schatz, The Core Expert™. “Your focus should be on lean proteins, complex carbs, and healthy fats.” Abs, arguably more than any other muscle group, require a two-pronged assault: consistent training to develop the muscle and a well-tailored meal plan to shed the obscuring layers of flab.

2. Overtraining

More isn’t always better. Doing endless sets of sit-ups will only result in injury and fatigue. “To train the abs correctly, think of them like any other muscle group, which typically involves 2-4 sets of 10-20 repetitions,” says Schatz. As with squats, biceps curls, or any other exercise for that matter, your focus should be the quality of each rep and achieving peak contraction.

One way to be conscious of this is to focus on your breathing. For example, when crunching, exhale slowly as you raise your upper torso. Hold for a count at the top, then inhale as you return to the starting position in a controlled and careful motion. It’s more challenging than it sounds! 

3. Undertraining

Don’t expect results if you don’t put in the work. For many people, abs training means a couple quick sets of crunches at the tail-end of a workout. While it is true that the core is engaged in virtually every workout you perform (particularly heavy compound moves like squats and deadlifts), that doesn’t mean you can treat it as an afterthought. Your abs routine should be structured and adhered to the same way all your other routines are. Count your reps, note your progress, and plan out what you’re going to do next time. Even if you only have fifteen minutes slated, make every second count.   

4. Overarching while planking

Planks have become one of the most popular core exercises, namely because they strengthen and build endurance in the entire core, not just the abdominals. Unfortunately, they are often done incorrectly. “The most common mistake is to overarch (or drop) your back,” says Schatz. “This reduces the engagement of the abs muscles and puts strain on the lumbar vertebrae, often leading to lower back pain.”

To correct these mistakes, take a step back and build up your core strength by doing modified planks on your forearms and knees. From there, progress to the regular forearm plank and eventually the more advanced side or medicine ball plank.    

5. Never changing your routine

As the old saying goes: “Diversify or stultify.” Okay, that’s not an old saying, we just made it up. But it’s still true!

Gyms nowadays have all sorts of fancy schmancy abs training machines and apparatuses that offer both a refreshing break from crunches, sit-ups, and planks, and new stimuli that target different muscle fibers and keep your body guessing. Machines also allow you to add weight and increase resistance from one set to the next. Not into machines? No problem. You can still add variety and new forms of resistance with creative bodyweight exercises or classic advanced moves like cable crunches, weighted side bends, and hanging leg/knee raises.     

Still struggling to shed unwanted fat? Read up on the eight ways to bust through a fat-loss plateau.

Alex Zakrzewski
Alex is a Toronto-based freelance writer and fitness enthusiast.