Everyone wants shredded abs.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a guy or a girl. Sixteen or sixty, a hardcore gym veteran or just a weekend warrior, that six pack is what we’re all striving for. Maybe it’s the fact that every single fitness and health magazine you pick up, the model on the front looks like his abs have been drawn on with a biro, but the ripped look is most definitely in.
Even looking round your typical commercial gym on a weekday evening, it’s obvious that the six pack is the nation’s holy grail. You can tell that by the sheer number of people either doing cardio, in the hope of getting rid of their beer belly, or performing endless reps of crunches and machine sit ups, that abs are where it’s at. But that’s the trouble – those same people will still be there a year down the line looking exactly the same, still doing their crunches.
And that’s because spot reduction is impossible.
It would make perfect sense that if you want to lose fat from a certain area of your body (in this case the abs, though many people also want to target their thighs, chest or back) you should train it. You work a muscle group hard and you get that burning sensation. That’s got to be a good thing, right? Well, not really, no.
Sure, your muscles start burning, they fatigue and tire and they certainly hurt, but that doesn’t really do much for fat loss. Muscle and fat are two separate entities, and by working the muscle, you’re not necessarily burning fat from the same area. (Ref 1)
So it seems that those thousand crunches you do every night before bed, added to the Russian twists, decline situps and leg raises you perform in the gym aren’t really doing that much.
When Spot Reduction Might Work
There is a very small amount of scientific evidence that suggests that spot reduction might exist in a minute degree.
Working a muscle group can very slightly increase fat metabolism in that area, according to nutritionist Lyle McDonald, author of “The Stubborn Fat Solution.” This could be to do with changes in blood flow and the local hormonal environment around the muscle, but the differences are so small they can be considered negligible at best. (Ref 2) In the grand scheme of things, spot reduction still doesn’t work.
What Performing Thousands of Crunches Actually Does
Probably gives you a mighty sore stomach and poor posture. Not only are crunches ineffective for fat loss, but they can place excess stress on your lower back, writes corrective specialist Mike Robertson in his article “Should You Crunch?”
The traditional crunch can often lead you to strain your neck and bring your shoulder blades forward too, rounding your upper back. They’re not quite as bad as full situps though.
Full situps don’t really hit your abs at all – they’re far more hip flexor-dominant than many people realise. Considering most folks spend all day sat at a desk, behind the wheel of a car, or on the couch, and even sit down at the gym to lift weights or, hip flexor tightness is a chronic epidemic sweeping the country. Performing situps is a surefire way to make your hip flexors even tighter. Say hello to terrible posture, lower back pain and dysfunctional hips.
Is Ab Training Useless?
Ab training isn’t useless, it just doesn’t really matter at all for fat loss.
Training your abs can help you develop perfect posture and get stronger. There’s a reason powerlifters include heavy side bends, weighted hanging leg raises and band crunches in their routines, and it ain’t to get pretty abs.
Training your abdominals and core muscles with stabilization movements like the above, plus rollouts, planks and Pallof presses will undoubtedly reduce postural dysfunction and make you stronger on the big lifts such as squats, deadlifts and standing overhead presses. It’ll also reduce your risk of injury, and hey, who doesn’t want that?
What To Do To Reduce Stomach Fat
Diet. Quite simple really.
You’ve heard the phrase “abs are made in the kitchen.” It’s kind one hundred percent true. Getting ripped abs is all about calorie balance – to burn fat you need to consume fewer calories than you burn, hence the need for reducing your calorie intake.
Don’t get stupid and drop to 500 calories a day, go on some crazy vegetable-only diet, or decide you’re going to fast for six days straight, just drop your current intake by around 300 calories per day, with the reduction coming mainly in the form of carbs and fats.
A little extra cardio can help, but with a solid diet and intense weight training routine, there shouldn’t be any need for more than a couple of 30 to 40 minute cardio sessions each week. You can still crunch, but don’t expect it to do much for you.
Your six pack is there. It’s just under a couple of inches of fat, and no matter how many crunches you do, your abs won’t get so big that they pop through that layer of fat.
AUTHOR: Mike Samuels is a personal trainer, writer and online coach based in Southampton, UK. Get in touch with him at www.healthylivingheavylifting.com and on facebook: HealthyLivingHeavyLifting