One of the most commonly asked questions, yet most misunderstood concepts of exercise is how to get a flat stomach/abdomen. Whether it’s shedding some excess weight off one’s midsection or trying to obtain the Holy Grail of fitness (the vaunted six pack), people spend countless hours in the gym trying to perfect this one area more than any other. What makes it so difficult to achieve is not a lack of effort as it is a lack of understanding. I’ll illustrate some of the reasons why the process of getting our tummies tighter has alluded so many, despite our best efforts.
“Abs are made in the kitchen” is one of the oldest and commonly used clichés in the fitness world. But it begs the following 2 questions: 1) is it true and 2) if true, what does it mean? First off, the answer to question one is a resounding yes! In fact, it may be the most accurate statement in the exercise world. What we put into our bodies has a far greater effect on our anatomy than any amount of working out that we do. Getting any part of your body to leak leaner can only happen if we burn off the layer of fat that exists over top of that. Well, can’t we just work hard on the area we want to refine and turn that fat into muscle? I wish the answer was yes. It would make things a lot easier on all of us. But, unfortunately, here in lies one of the most common misconceptions out there: fat can be turned into muscle. Fat and muscle are separate tissue. One cannot be turned into another. You can reduce fat and increase muscle tone, certainly. But you can’t turn fat into anything but less fat. You can do crunches until you vomit and it won’t make your abdomen any more chiseled unless you alter your diet accordingly. According to Men’s Health magazine, it would take approximately 22,000 crunches to burn off one lb. of fat. And even if you did do that amount of crunches in your workout, there’s no guaranteeing that the 1 lb. of fat you burned would even come from your midsection. The body will always lose weight and burn fat however you are genetically predetermined to lose it. This is why spot reduction doesn’t work. Don’t believe me? Have you ever watched an infomercial on a piece of exercise equipment for a certain body part (i.e. ab roller, thighmaster, perfect pushup, etc.)? Did you happen to notice that despite the fact that the person in the commercial was only using that particular product to enhance whatever muscle they were targeting, the rest of the participant’s physique also happened to look lean and tone? The reason for this is simply because they aren’t being completely honest about what it takes to look like a fitness model. The people in the infomercials don’t look the way they do because they spend endless hours on any one piece of equipment. They look like they do because they treat their bodies as one functional unit that has separate parts and because they know that the work begins when our training sessions end. Don’t believe that, either? Just think about any time you or someone you know has lost weight. Some people lose weight first in their hip area. For others, they may first lose it in their torso. The body can be very arbitrary when it comes to how it loses weight, but will never lose weight in one spot only. Speaking specifically of the abdomen, it can be one the stingiest areas. The abdomen will usually lag behind the rest of the body when it comes when it shrinks down. The lower half of the abdomen can even lag behind the upper half of the abdomen when it loses fat. That’s how frustrating it can be! But that certainly doesn’t mean we have no control over how we lose weight. Train. Eat well. Sleep. Repeat. That is the key. You can sabotage your best workout ever within 5 minutes if you choose not to supplement your body with the right food.
It may seem like this article demonizes ab work or makes it seem as if we have to eat perfectly to get the body we desire. I don’t aim to say either. Ab work is an essential part of any good training program. Our inner and outer abdominal systems provide movement and stability for the body. Hell, a little ab work can even give us a more positive frame of mind before we throw our bathing suits on. I’m all for any amount of ab work someone wants to do…..as long as they remember that whatever you put into your body after the workout, will show on the outside ,too. And we all know someone who can eat anything and stay lean no matter what. Those people are an anomaly and need to go away! I’m not speaking of or to those types. For most of us, it’s more of a struggle. But it’s not about eating the perfect thing, at the perfect time, all the time. It’s about consistency. It’s about eating well and balanced most of the time. And be honest with yourself. If you’re truly not happy with how your body, and more specifically, your abdomen looks, ask yourself what you can change. Maybe, it’s one less drink on a given night. Maybe, it’s one less handful of M and M’s at the office. Whatever the change may be, big or small, know that it may mean the difference between you staying stagnant and you reaching finally reaching an aesthetic milestone. Is the reality sucky, of course! But anything worth having is worth effort. Change only comes when we challenge ourselves.