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Monday, September 12, 2011

The Secret to 6-Pack Abs

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We all want them, right? C'mon, the thought of having 6-pack abs has at least crossed your mind. Either that, or it has been the single driving force behind dragging yourself to the gym.

Many fitness magazines routinely promote workouts that will give you "sexy abs" or a "washboard stomach" in a matter of days or weeks. The exercises are great, but that's only the half of it. They don't tell you the secret -- you must lose the fat covering your abdomnials before any definition can be seen. And that may take a lot longer than days or weeks.

This is where following a healthy meal plan, doing cardio and working out -- your entire body, not just your abs -- comes in. (And, yes, you can put some focus on your abs.)

If you're killing yourself by doing hundreds of crunches every day, stop. Constantly doing ab work alone, is not going to get you to your goal. If you're only doing a heavy amount of ab work, you are building up your abdominal muscles, but that's it -- the layer of fat on top that is hiding these sculpted muscles is not melting away.

I would like to dispel the most common myth associated with getting well-defined abs: spot reduction. This is the myth that you can reduce fat of a particular body part by doing exercises specifically for that area. Example: doing crunches with the specific goal to lose fat on the belly to have a flat, more defined stomach. Another example: doing leg abductor and adductor exercises -- the machines you sit in where you open and close your legs -- to get rid of the fat on the inner and outer thighs.

To get a sexy stomach with sculpted lines, start losing bodyfat while also developing the muscles. Here are some guidelines:

Reduce Bodyfat Percentage
  • Eat clean diet: You have to get in the habit of cutting out processed foods, refined sugars (which basically is most things with sugar in it, with the exception of fruit) and high-sodium foods. Make it a point to eat more raw vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, whole grains, lean meat and fish. Once you make the transition to only eating clean, the fat will come off more easily and quickly and then you will start to see definition.  
  • Cardio: You need to incorporate cardiovascular fitness into your routine. This is the easiest way to burn  fat. Try to mix in intense cardio sessions like HIIT (high intensity interval training) or spinning with moderate cardio sessions, such as 30 minutes bouts on the treadmill or elliptical. This will prevent your body from adjusting to any particular training, which will make it efficient at burning fat. 
  • Total body lifting workout: The more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns at rest. Get on a total body weight program and put a little more focus on core training. 
It's a good idea to get your bodyfat checked periodically to monitor your progress. You can schedule an assessment at your gym. Below is a bodyfat chart. In my experience, those who fall in the range of athlete or fitness usually have visible ab definition. 
Image from ACE acefitness.org

Perform Effective Ab Exercises
  • Doing hundreds of crunches is not the answer. You need to vary your ab workouts.
  • Do 3-5 different ab exercises. For each exercise, do 3-4 sets of 20-25 reps. That's enough. 
  • Do weighted exercises. i.e. medicine ball ab workouts and machine ab exercises. No need to use a lot of weight, just add enough resistance to make it more difficult. This will build your ab muscles which will make them more visible once you've reduced your bodyfat. 

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