3 Mistakes to Avoid for Lean Athletic Abs

Gareth Sapstead

Melbourne, Australia

Personal Trainer, Men's Fitness


So, you’re in the constant pursuit of developing a strong athletic core, and a visible set of abs. Let’s be clear from the get-go, only you know where you’re at right now so if you’re thinking this article will take you from 30% body fat to 5% body fat with veins pulsating over your ripped six-pack, it won’t.


Forget all the six-pack ripped selfies and marketing you’ve ever seen, let’s be real for a few minutes and start with some key tips that will help you achieve your body's potential. If you want to develop athletic abs and drop some stubborn body fat around your mid-section, then read on to find out where most get it wrong, and how you can get ahead.



Mistake 1: Too Much Cardio

You know the benefits of cardio, it helps burn calories and body fat, it keeps your heart healthy, and it prepares you for when you need to run from predators (insert lion, bear, wife, husband, partner, as required here).


But when it comes to having visible muscles, in say your chest, arms, or abs, too much of a good thing can be counterproductive. To develop a good set of core muscles they need to grow and get stronger, just like any other muscle.


Due to certain hormonal and biochemical reactions that occur due to excessive amounts of cardio, your muscle and strength development will be sacrificed in place of other reactions that help you get better at endurance exercise.


When you’re training for anything always remember the SAID principle—specific adaptation to imposed demands. Your body will adapt to the demands you place on it, and it doesn’t care whether that gives you a six-pack or not.


3 Mistakes to Avoid for Lean Athletic Abs - Fitness, strength and conditioning, core strength, diet, sports research, training method, abdominal training


If you want to burn calories and body fat, higher intensity methods spare more muscle and are more time-efficient. Weights circuits, metabolic resistance training, and high strength/power/speed intervals are all good alternatives.


Choose to do longer-duration cardio for other reasons instead, such as your health, when endurance is your goal, or where it might be more suitable in your program amongst other techniques (e.g., to reduce load/impact or allow recovery). Cardio is also great for getting rid of water retention and bloating and will help you temporarily "reveal" some abs.


Mistake 2: You Don’t Prioritize Lifting Weights

While a good fat loss program will allow you to create a slight caloric deficit, and lose stubborn fat, without the need to sacrifice your lean muscle, strength, energy levels or time, lifting weights are key to building strength and muscle.


Your abs are a muscle. Upping your cardio and eating less will cause your muscles to slowly wither away. So just imagine cutting out the weights, the biggest tool you have for building strength and muscle, while upping those things that work against that. It won’t produce the outcome you really want.



Keep lifting weights because they are the biggest muscle sparing tool you have. Don’t change a thing—your sets, reps, nothing. And don’t think there are such things as fat burning rep ranges. Strive to get stronger, even while in an energy deficit, and you’ll get winning results.


Mistake 3: An Overactive Ego and Old School Beliefs

You want a strong, athletic-looking core that performs as well as it looks. But it’s often an afterthought with some ab exercises being thrown in at the end of your regular workouts. Managing your workout schedule without setting priorities is like shooting an arrow randomly and calling whatever target you hit.


Yes, at some point if you fire enough arrows you might hit your primary target, but just think how much easier it would be if you started taking aim right now. Prioritize your target, aim, and fire.


Many of us have an emotional connection with whatever training style we use. It feels good to do the same things over again and expect different, or better results. But if you can put this emotional connection aside, forget the traditional bodybuilding dogma, and become smart in your approach this will be reflected in your results.


We can learn a lot from the car production industry on this one. If Audi or Mercedes took control of the fitness industry, we’d all be walking around looking like Greek Gods right now. That's because in 2018 we’re better at building cars than we were in the ’60s, ’70s, and '80s.


Every year technology seems to improve, and that’s reflected in the car you drive. They perform better, they look better (ok that’s open to opinion: 1964 Aston Martin DB5), they’re faster, more fuel efficient, and they’ll get you over 200,000 miles if you treat them right.


The improvements come because that’s because in the automotive industry technology is greater, and they have a budget devoted to research and development. They are always learning from the latest science and developing better cars for you to drive.


Different car manufacturers might have differing opinions and processes, but all have what's best for you the consumer in mind. Their beliefs have evolved as research and technology have evolved.


Why then is it then that our training beliefs are decades old and developed through traditional bodybuilding dogma? We’re still reading from a 1970’s car manual that has since been updated many times over.


Everyone’s still reading off the same old book and sharing out that information, with professional coaches and trainers just as much to blame. For core training, this typically comprises of high-rep or high-duration bodyweight ab exercises and ramping up the cardio.

See more about: , , , , ,
Breaking Muscle Newsletter

Breaking Muscle Newsletter

Get updates and special offers delivered directly to your inbox.