"Pot bellies are sexy," was a line from Pulp Fiction, and I'm not sure how many of us would agree with that statement. I have never had a client request a pot belly, unless they were talking about the cookies from Potbelly's (which are unhealthy and amazing). Everyone wants a flat stomach and why not shoot for the ultimate health magazine cover, a six pack. The chiseled look of a cover model is attainable, but not easy.
We all have rectus abdominals (the six pack muscles), except most of us have a layer of skin and fat over those muscles. Functionally speaking, those muscles aren't the most important abdominal muscles, but we want them to show. The main purpose of those muscles is to flex the spine, but if you're reading this article, you're probably more interested in how to look good at the beach. Let's get right into the best way to have a lean mid-section.
The genetically gifted
As the old Maybelline ad said, "…Maybe she's born with it." The easiest way to a six pack—good genetics. The best abs I've seen on anyone was an eight pack. I was a lifeguard at the time, and this 12 year old African American girl was ripped. Do you think she worked out all the time? No. Sure, she was active but she was genetically gifted. Depending on your build, an eight, six or even a four pack might be extremely difficult to maintain. However, having a flat stomach is something we can all obtain.
Since most of us are not born with it, we have to work extremely hard to stay in shape and crunches alone are not going to get you those abs.
Crunches will not give you cover-model abs (and might hurt you)
The newest, bad exercise is the crunch. It happens every so often, the so-called fitness experts say, "STOP…" and everyone does. With that said, I'm not a huge fan of crunches. If you look at how we all sit, and watch our shoulders slump forward, we only make that posture worse when we crunch. Additionally, repeatedly bending at the spine is asking for a repetitive motion injury. I'm not saying don't crunch, but it's not the best abdominal exercise. I prefer the following:
- Side Planks
- Wood Choppers
- Reverse Wood Choppers
- Push ups
- Slow Mountain Climbers
However, those exercises, as well as crunches, will not get you a six pack. You need to strengthen your abs with those exercises, but that's only a small part of the awesome ab equation. The trick to having your abs stick out like a "True Blood" cast member is having low body fat. And there are two ways to trim the fat:
The reason most basketball players have great abs is that they burn a ton of calories. Sprinting up and down the court is a great way to burn calories. You can do the same thing on a treadmill, bike, rowing machine, outdoor path, swimming, circuit training… Are you following my lead?
The new buzz in the fitness industry is metabolic training. Metabolic training, to most trainers, is simply circuit training. Usually the workout is really hard exercises followed by a short period of rest and then it picks up again. Although this paragraph might make me seem, anti-metabolic training, I really like training people this way. I just don't believe there is a one-size-fits-all workout. For many people a circuit will be a great way to get in shape, but some people might be better served with another routine.
30 jumping jacks
As many pushups as you can do (in good form) in 30 seconds
20 walking lunges
8-12 repetitions of a rowing exercise
15 squat jumps
45 seconds in a plank position
1 minute jumping rope
This is a basic routine that you can repeat 3-4 times and burn a ton of calories with little equipment. If you have knee or shoulder issues, you might have to cut out the jumping and pushups.
The D word
When I say diet I don't mean fat flush or South Beach, and definitely not Nutri-system (super high sodium). I mean how you eat every single day. You do not have to starve yourself to get a flat stomach. Many body builders don't even have great abs until a month or two before their competition. The reason for that—they eat very carefully. Their diet is actually extremely unhealthy. They drastically cut carbs, and even dehydrate themselves to look leaner. I'm not encouraging starvation and dehydration; I want people to understand that a certain look is very difficult to obtain, let alone maintain.
Eating healthy is easy. Avoiding sugar and empty calories, is hard. If you really want a great mid-section, cut down on the calories. There are many ways to do that. In my opinion, the two best ways to cut calorie are:
1. Portion control
2. Eat less refined carbohydrates (white bread, white rice, white pasta, white potatoes, sugary treats)
Learning the proper portion and sticking by that is not easy. If you eat food that is high in natural fiber, that helps to keep you full longer. A portion of cookies might taste great, but because of the way the simple sugar is absorbed in your body, you will be hungry faster than if you ate a handful of almonds. Here are some ideas for snacks:
- One handful of nuts
- Almond butter on an apple
- Sweet potato
- Cottage cheese and pineapple
- String cheese
- Broccoli with melted cheese
Most of those snacks combine protein, fiber and fat, which help keep you full longer. Your meals should be similarly planned. If you are really confused, or have food allergies a consultation with a nutritionist can be a big help.
In conclusion, a lean mid-section is very attainable, but it takes time and hard work. The boring truth, consistently exercise and eat healthy and it will happen.