Abdominal Training Q n A

Every day you see another commercial on TV talking about the newest stomach gadget that will make your abs tight and lean. Let's face it, people are obsessed with their midsection. Everybody wants to know how to get a flatter stomach.

Below are some of the most common questions I get and some interesting answers that may surprise you.

What is the best abdominal exercise to help make my stomach leaner?

There isn’t one. Strength training a muscle does not burn fat from that area, so abdominal exercises will not do anything about the fat around your stomach. To have a flat stomach, you have to lose the fat that is on top of it. That fat will not be burned by doing crunches or any other abdominal exercise.

Then how do I burn off that fat?

Cardiovascular training like treadmill, elliptical, swimming, biking, etc. During these activities, your muscles use fat for energy. To supply that energy to the muscles, the body will break down the fat stores and circulate it to the muscles where it can be used. Most people store their fat in their midsection, so that is where much of the energy will come from.

To get more benefit out of your cardio, you could do it more days per week, increase the duration each day, increase your speed, try intervals (short bursts at high intensity for 30-60 seconds followed by a lower intensity rest period), or try a new cardio machine.

Won’t doing abdominal exercises help tone up the muscles under the fat and make the area look better?

No. You already have 6-pack abs. Everyone does. That is the natural structure of the muscle (see the picture above). But that muscle has fat on top of it. Burning the fat off the stomach will reveal those already toned abs. This is why it’s completely possible for someone to have 6-pack abs even though they never do crunches or other abdominal exercises. It isn’t about how strong or toned the muscle is, it’s about how much fat is covering that muscle.

So why should I do any abdominal exercises?

It is good to have core strength, just like it’s good to have arm strength or leg strength. However, most people do way more sets and reps for abdominal exercises than for the rest of the body with false hopes of a leaner midsection.

Once you realize that doing abdominal exercises will not affect how your stomach looks, this is no longer necessary. 1 or 2 sets of 10-20 reps of a couple ab exercises 2 or 3 times a week is plenty. Doing 5 sets of 50 reps for several exercises several days per week is not only severe overkill, it could also contribute to back pain and lead to a hunched forward posture over time.

Your spine was not meant to crunch forward under load that many times per week. In fact, normal daily life almost never calls for the abdominal muscles to crunch the spine forward. Rather, the abdominal muscles are there to support and stabilize the spine, which is what they do all day.

Are there any other ways to flatten my abs other than cardio?

Yes. Weight training that uses large muscles groups like the legs, chest, back, and arms revs up your metabolism which helps you burn more fat throughout the day. Eating correctly can also have a huge impact.


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