Better Abs By Summer

Summer may seem likes it’s a long way off right now, but if you consider it’s already February it will be here sooner than you care to think. Along with those summer months also come pool parties, days at the beach, crop tops for girls and shirtless volley ball or something like it for guys. So, whether you want that split in the abs girls or six pack abs and a v-muscle guys then now is the time to get started. Even if all you want is to be just less giggly or less embarrassed then the sooner you start the better your chances.

In the Begining

So, where do you begin? We’ve all seen those crazy ads for lotions, potions and pills that will get you jacked in no time.  Yup, some make it sound like you don’t even need to diet and barely exercise. Sounds too good to be true…because it is. Heck if they really worked Oprah would have bought them instead of a large stake in Weight Watchers. Besides not working those products can have adverse side effects like causing elevated blood pressure, anxiety, headaches, tremors, and heart palpitations to name a few.  Most visits to the ER are from people who think they’re having a heart attack don’t let these stimulants be your reason.  

Okay, but what about those cool ab belts that shock your muscles you ask? Well as a personal trainer in Los Angeles / Hollywood possibly the mecca of personal training I’m here to tell you they don’t work. Even full fledge EMS machines do very little to strengthen and build muscle. Back in my old Nautilus days we did several studies using several types of EMS machines (mostly for use as alternative incomes streams) and the tests failed. Results in abdominal fat density and muscle tone were insignificant.  Electronic Muscle Stimulation belongs in the physical therapy office for those that can’t exercise to get a modicum of stimulation.  Now this isn’t to say that some devices sold on TV are BS actually one in particular the Ab Roller is a type of plank and quiet effective on building muscle tone and strength in the underlying abdominals, underlying, however, being the key word.

If you really want great looking abs then you can to uncover them. Now I don’t mean by taking your shirt off I mean by taking the fat off, that gelatinous layer of insulation hanging over your waist band. The fact is you may already have terrific abdominal muscles they may just be obscured.  The answer lies in burning the fat off.  Time and time again I see articles allegedly revealing the tricks to six pack abs.  The problem is these tricks or exercises are usually some mix of crunches, reverse crunches, planks, sit-ups, etc.  and these exercises do not burn sufficient calories to burn off the fat, not even close.  So even though planks are a great exercise for muscle tone they don’t burn many calories.

Burning Off the Fat

 Female with great abs - Ultimate Health Personal Trainer Studio City, CA

To burn off belly fat you need to work the larger muscle groups and to add aerobic and anaerobic exercise. For instance doing squats or lunges causes a larger caloric burn due to the energy requirements of the large lower body muscles.  So, squats in effect do more to show off your abs than crunches do.  Circuit training involving the large muscle groups is one good option. Another, cardiovascular exercise (aerobic exercise) burns calories through continued use of oxygen in the energy cycle. This type of exercise includes cycling, running, hiking, and swimming. You generally pick a comfortable pace that can be continued for at least 20+ minutes. As you get better conditioned you either go longer or make the exercise more challenging.  In a half-hour you can easily burn off 300 calories about the same as 1000 crunches.

An even more effective fat burning protocol is interval training (anaerobic exercise). The idea here is periods of high and low effort. An example would be run for 1 minute walk for 1 minute and repeat for a total of 20 minutes. Studies show this method is 3 times better at burning fat than even moderate aerobic exercise is.  Think about the amount of fat you could burn off in the same amount of time it would take to do a couple hundred crunches.  Let’s also not discount the importance of diet.  Cutting back on carbohydrates in the form of simple sugars and starches which tend to store as abdominal fat is highly important.  

Seeing Results

Okay, so you’re losing fat and seeing results, now where do those abdominal exercises fit in? Well as I said before there are good and not so good exercises for building abdominal muscle and core support. Let’s talk first about exercises best left out. Exercises that train the abdominals with flexion (shortening of the muscle) such as sit-ups, crunches, reverse crunches and leg lifts cause uneven compression of the disks that can lead to failing posture, muscle imbalance, protruding abdomen, bulging disks and eventual arthritis. The reason for this is that the joints in the spine are not ball and socket, but rather facet joints with a disk of cartilage in between. This cartilage is harder on the outside but softer toward the center and fluid filled. Uneven compression like bending over repeatedly can force the fluid from the center leading to desiccating (drying out) of the disk. This is exhibited by narrowing of the space, poor posture and eventual bulging.

The primary function of our core muscles is to maintain our upright position whether it’s straight up or slightly bent forward at the hip like in sports activities. Therefore the correct way to train your abdominals and build core support is to train your abs while in proper spinal alignment stressing your body to maintain the position under tension.  Examples of these exercises would be planks, roll-outs, side planks, dead bugs, etc. There are many varieties of planks, but the one common link is that the exercise is done while resisting extension (arching of back). 

Conclusion

Okay so let’s go over what we covered; start by cutting back carbs to about 40% of calories and make sure the bulk of those carbs are vegetables, fruit, legumes and some whole grains. Add circuit training with weights 2-3 times a week. Do some cardio on alternate days anything from walking to interval training. Be progressive, in others words increase the challenge as you get stronger. Keep the exercise sessions short, intensity is better than duration and also fits schedules better. 4-5 half-hour sessions a week would work wonders so, build toward this. 70% of great abs is diet, so even if you miss a session keep the starchy carbs to a minimum and you will get results. Now let’s get busy.    

References:

Health.Harvard.edu – staying-healthy/want-a-stronger-core-skip-the-sit-ups

Uwaterloo.ca/applied-health-sciences/hes-got-our-backs

Bodybyboyle.com/articles?show=2The truth about abs

Huffingtonpost.com Why crunches don’t work-Plus 10 ways to flat abs

Stack.com/a/dead-bugWhy the dead bug is changing core training

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