When are you going to lose that gut? How do I know you’ve got one? That’s a no-brainer: Two-thirds of Americans are overweight, so probability is on my side. Maybe you had a six-pack five, 10 or 15 years ago, but those days are a fading memory. Career, school, family, lack of exercise, fast food restaurants, aging, stress, lagging hormones and yo-yo dieting make it difficult to be the lean hard-body you were in high school. Now you have a one-pack instead of a six-pack. If you look like a bodybuilder or fitness model, then you exercise intensely, watch what you eat and have good genes that blessed you with a nice body. Most guys aren’t so lucky. Don’t envy hard-bodied men with nice abs – join them. Stop procrastinating and do something about it. Follow the program described in this article and in a few months you’ll have a firmer, leaner midsection.
Abdominal Fat Can Kill You
Every guy wants a firm, cut midsection, but usually for the wrong reasons. Too much abdominal fat can kill you! One fat cell looks like another under a microscope, but all fat cells are not created equal. Men tend to store fat in their abdomens, giving them an apple shape. Women store it their legs, hips and butt, which gives them a pear shape. The male “beer gut” is more damaging to health than the female “fat butt” because it’s linked to a group of health problems scientists call the metabolic syndrome – high blood pressure, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and blood-clotting abnormalities.
Abdominal fat consists of cavity fat (fat surrounding the internal organs) and subcutaneous fat (fat lying just under the skin that hangs over your belt). Ab cavity fat is dangerous because it’s easily mobilized and can flood the liver and blood with dangerous fat. Cutting ab fat helps fight the metabolic syndrome and reduces the risk of heart attack, cancer and stroke. It also boosts energy level and sexual performance.
While men usually have more ab fat than women, genetics and age are also important. Big guts run in families, but you don’t have to be a slave to your genes. You can lose abdominal fat if you’re willing to change your diet and exercise. Men increase ab fat as they age. After age 20, fat weight increases by 17 percent per decade and waist size increases by 2 percent per decade. Creeping waistlines are not inevitable – fight them with a lifelong program of exercise, counting calories and reducing saturated fat and simple sugar intake.
Falling levels of growth hormone, testosterone, thyroid hormones and IGF-1 also contribute to abdominal fat. Exercise, healthy diet, stress management and not smoking can help prevent hormone deterioration – to a point. Many aging men successfully use growth hormone and testosterone supplements to compensate for falling hormone levels and to lose body fat. This can be extremely expensive and isn’t recommended by many health experts. Nevertheless, prescriptions for supplementary hormone replacement for men have increased by 300 percent in the past five years.
Your risk of heart disease and stroke is higher if your waist is more than 40 inches and it increases substantially above 45 inches. Scientists also use waist-to-hip ratio as an indicator of excessive abdominal fat, but that’s less useful than waist circumference. Most guys want to have waists well below the danger point so they can be healthy and look good.
Fighting Ab Fat
Remember that good abs are made in the kitchen – and a healthy diet is the foundation of any exercise program, whether you want to have a six-pack and a ripped and lean body, or add muscle. Follow a sensible diet, such as the Mediterranean diet. This diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats (beef, chicken, and fish), olive oil and red wine. Minimize high-sugar drinks, simple sugars, desserts and saturated fats. Try to keep your caloric intake less than 2,000 calories per day. Moderation is the key – keep portions small and avoid junk foods. You must exercise intensely, so avoid low-carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins diet. Your body metabolizes mainly carbohydrates whenever you exercise more intensely than 65 percent of maximum effort.
Positive energy balance – taking in more calories in the diet than you expend through metabolism and exercise – is the major cause of increased fat. Unfortunately, getting rid of fat is more complicated than just cutting back on calories and exercising. You have trouble losing abdominal fat because your metabolism won’t let you.
The body tries to maintain a constant weight (called the weight set-point) by slowing metabolism as you lose weight. Most people who lose weight lose muscle mass as well as fat. Muscle burns a lot of calories; the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism. As you lose muscle, you burn fewer calories. Also, as you lose weight, the body releases chemicals and sends signals from the nervous system that increase appetite and slow metabolism further.
Late night television infomercials promise that doing exercises on ab machines reduces abdominal fat – a method called spot reducing. The classic way to get a flat, firm abdomen was always to do hundreds of sit-ups. The idea of spot reducing made sense: If you have a fat gut, work the gut muscles to get rid of it. While doing ab exercises will do little to get rid of abdominal fat, burning plenty of calories through exercise will. Several recent studies show that people who exercised intensely tended to lose most of the fat from the abdominal cavity and the fat covering the abdominal muscles (subcutaneous fat).
The Killer Abs Workout fights abdominal fat and improves the appearance of your abdominal muscles by giving you set abdominal exercises to strengthen and define the appearance of your midsection. As discussed, muscle is the most metabolically active tissue in the body. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate. Also, muscle pushes against the fat near your skin and makes it look smoother, thereby improving the appearance. Exercise, particularly intense exercise, burns a lot of calories. Exercise for 60 to 90 minutes a day and you’ll lose fat faster than you ever thought possible. Finally, the addition of exercise will increase the tone of your nervous system so you burn calories at a faster rate all day and all night long.
Killer Abs Workout
The Killer Abs Workout attacks abdominal fat by 1) burning plenty of calories; 2) increasing muscle mass; 3) increasing 24-hour metabolism; and 4) creating negative caloric balance through diet. This program works. Stick with it and you will eliminate abdominal fat or cut down on its severity.
This program is based on the results of electromyography (EMG) studies – a powerful technique that shows how muscles are activated during exercise. Do this program three or four days per week. The Killer Abs Workout consists of:
• Roman Chair Leg Raises (2 sets of 20 reps)
• Hanging Leg Raises (2 sets of 10 reps)
• Bicycle Maneuver (2 sets of 20 reps)
• Vertical Crunch (2 sets of 10 reps)
• Reverse Crunch (on a bench) (2 sets of 10 reps)
• Exercise Ball Crunch (2 sets of 20 reps)
• Side-Bridges (hold for 2 sets of 30 seconds on each side)
Roman Chair Leg Raises
Grip the handles, place your forearms on the supports and stabilize your back on the pad of the Roman chair. Hold your body upright with your legs dangling below. Lift your knees in toward your chest, then return them slowly to the starting position.
Hanging Leg Raises
Hang from a pull-up bar. Lift your knees in front of you until your thighs are parallel with the floor; hold the position; then slowly lower your legs to the starting position.
Lie flat on the floor on your lower back with your hands beside your head. Bring your knees toward your chest to about a 45-degree angle and make a bicycle pedaling motion with your legs, touching your left elbow to your right knee, then your right elbow to your left knee.
Lie on your back and put your legs up in the air with knees fully extended (bend knees slightly if this position is uncomfortable). Place your hands loosely at ear level and curl your upper body by contracting the rectus abdominis muscle – the long, flat muscle that dominates the front of your torso. Return slowly to the starting position.
Reverse Crunch on a Bench
Lie on a bench and stabilize your body by grabbing the bench above your head. Lift your legs so your feet are pointed at the ceiling and bend your knees slightly. Contract your lower abdominal muscles and lift your tailbone off the bench by pushing your feet slightly toward the ceiling and pushing your lower back into the bench. Return to the starting position.
Cable Crunches With Rope Attachment
Do this exercise either standing or on your knees. Grasp the rope in each hand and pull down the cable until your hands touch the top of your head. Bend forward slowly and do a crunch. Return to the starting position.
Crunches on Exercise Ball
Lie on your back on the ball until your thighs and torso are parallel with the floor. Cross your arms over your chest and contract your abdominal muscles, raising your torso to no more than 45 degrees. Increase the stress on your oblique muscles by moving your feet closer together. Note: EMG shows that this exercise works the abs best on an exercise ball, but it can also be done on the floor.
This is not a well-known exercise. However, EMG studies show it strengthens the obliques and helps stabilize the spine. Lie on your side and support your body between your forearm and feet. As you increase fitness, move your non-support arm across your body as you hold the side-bridge. Do this exercise on your left and your right side and try to hold your spine straight – don’t let it sag during the exercise.
Do some form of cardio exercise for 60 to 90 minutes, three to five times a week. Weight-bearing exercises such as running, power walking, treadmill running, StairMaster and elliptical training are best for losing fat. Start with five to 10 minutes of exercise and build up until you can exercise continuously for 60-90 minutes without stopping. Also, increase the intensity of exercise until you can exercise at 70 percent of maximum effort or harder during your workout. If you are exercising to maximum capacity, you can burn at least 700 calories during each cardio workout and help tip your metabolism toward fat loss.
Interval training includes intense exercises such as sprinting or cycling interrupted by periods of rest or light exercise. Interval training will increase your metabolism so you continue to burn calories at a higher level for 24 to 48 hours after the workout is over. Long-term weight control studies show that people who train intensely tend to lose more weight than those who exercise slowly. Run, ride a bike, or exercise on a gym aerobics machine (stair-climber, elliptical trainer, ski machine, etc.) for one minute at 90 to 100 percent of maximum, followed by two to three minutes of rest. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
Closer Look: the Abdominal Muscles
The abdomen, unlike the arms and legs, depends largely on muscles rather than bones for support. Also, many people store fat around their middles, which makes it difficult to show off well-toned muscles. You won’t have that six-pack look if your abdominal muscles are covered in fat, no matter how fit and “cut” your abs. If your muscles are strong and conditioned, you’ll have a better-looking midsection even if you have some abdominal fat. Your stronger muscles will act as a girdle to hold in your midsection.
Four muscles make up the abs: the rectus abdominis; internal obliques (two muscles; one on each side); external obliques (two muscles); and transversus abdominis (also called transversalis). These muscles allow you to bend forward at the waist, rotate the trunk and bend to the side. All the abdominal muscles help stabilize the spine, which tends to prevent back pain.
Rectus femoris: This is the muscle everyone sees. It runs down the length of the abdomen, from the lower part of your chest to the top of your pelvis. The rectus flexes the trunk. This movement causes the spine to bend forward. The rectus also tilts the pelvis backward, making it important in maintaining a normal low back curve and preventing back pain. You use it when you do crunches or pelvic tilts.
The shape of the rectus abdominis is a source of confusion for many people trying to develop it. While the six-pack shape of the muscle suggests a series of muscles that can be developed separately, it’s actually one large muscle. Four strips of connective tissue called tendinous incriptions divide it. These structures help reinforce the muscle and protect it from rupture during vigorous movements. The linea alba is another connective tissue structure that runs down the center of the muscle. It also helps protect the muscle and gives it that six-pack shape we all want. When activated, the entire muscle contracts, so it’s extremely difficult to work only its upper or lower part.
Internal and external obliques: You use these muscles to rotate and flex the trunk and bend to the side. These muscles are critical for weight transfer movements, such as hitting a baseball or tennis ball, throwing a discus, javelin or softball, or punching a heavy bag.
The internal and external obliques form the sides of your abdomen. You use these muscles to twist and bend your trunk. They are critical in most sports and help give your body a “T” shape. Develop the obliques by twisting during crunches and doing twists and side-bending exercises.
The quadratus lumborum is a deep muscle (one on each side) that works with the obliques to help stabilize the spine and bend the trunk to the side. Building this muscle through exercises such as side-bridges is critical to overall strength of the abdominal (core) muscles and prevention of back pain.
Transversus abdominis: This muscle stabilizes the trunk and compresses your internal organs when you stand, lift, sneeze, cough or laugh. It’s an underappreciated muscle. Anytime you lift a weight or do any whole-body movement, the transversus abdominis steps in to stabilize your midsection. You develop this muscle anytime you do large muscle lifts, such as squats, deadlifts and bench presses. You can also work this muscle by tensing your abdominal muscles isometrically.
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