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Great Abs: Refocus on what works

The fitness topic that garners the most confusion and outright misinformation continues to be the quest for improved abdominal appearance. Interestingly, the effect of exercise on abdominal appearance is one of the most thoroughly studied and understood areas in all of exercise science. Alas, this is not reflected by the average fitness enthusiast’s approach to achieving six-pack abdominals (or, perhaps, less ambitiously, simply losing fat from the midsection). A survey of health clubs, gyms, home exercise DVD’s, and studio concepts around the world indicate that we are truly in the stone ages when it comes to effectively improving abdominal appearance. Let’s address an evidence based approach to improving abdominal appearance.

  • Don’t count on cardio. There is very little evidence to suggest that performing cardio or aerobic exercise increases caloric expenditure and contributes to fat loss. Collectively, we are all walking, running, and cycling to shed pounds; but the research is clear that cardio is not an effective means for weight loss (and I wish it was, because I love cardio). Look for a Tuesday Trainer Talk” on our social media delving further into this topic in the coming weeks.
  • Abdominal exercise plays no role in improving abdominal appearance. Research conclusively shows that abdominal exercises make our abdominal muscles stronger (which is important) but has no role in reducing our waist line or toning our tummy. A team of researchers had a group of subjects perform 14 sets of abdominal exercises, six days per week for six weeks and concluded, “Abdominal exercise training was effective to increase abdominal strength but was not effective to decrease various measures of abdominal fat. Some individuals attempt to reduce their waistline by solely performing abdominal exercises possibly because of claims made by various abdominal equipment advertisements. The information obtained from this study can help people to understand that abdominal exercise alone is not sufficient to reduce waistline or subcutaneous abdominal fat.” If you want amazing looking abs, you need not perform a single abdominal exercise (ever).
  • Lift weights for your upper and lower body. Mounting research suggests that lifting heavy weights to the point of muscles failure stimulates significantly greater calorie expenditure following the workout. The more calories we burn, the less fat we store on our midsections.  In 2015, a team of Harvard scientists published their study in which they followed 51,000 men over 12 years and concluded that of all forms of exercise and physical activity, lifting weights was the most effective exercise for mitigating abdominal fat. Strength training increases our resting metabolic rate and post workout calorie burn. Interestingly, this contrasts with cardio; following cardio we burn less calories, not more.
  • Eat less food. Keto, Zone, Mediterranean, Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, Intermittent Fasting, Vegan… all can work. They key is that you decrease your calorie intake over time. Simple to understand (not as simple to do).

If you are seeking shredded abs for the summer or simply want to lose some abdominal fat to decrease your risk of “Metabolic Syndrome,” double down on the four pillars above.  So simple yet so misunderstood.

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