Ab Exercise
and a Trim Waistline

Your waistline is your lifeline. -Jack LaLanne

Ab exercise: Beneath the fattest, flabbiest belly there is a six-pack. It may be hard to believe, yet it's true. But do you need an actual six-pack to be fit? No, you don’t. Six-packs are highly valued these days. But even if you never reach that exalted level, you can still have a strong, firm midsection. The most important thing is that you don’t want to be carrying around a "spare tire." It’s unsightly, and it’s definitely unhealthy.

Look at this six-pack. It belongs to my daughter, Jennifer, who often demonstrates the exercises on my blog videos.

Jennifer is over 50, has had two children and, like all females, by nature's rules she carries a little more body fat than males. Yet six-packs are possible on both men and women, if they are determined and know the right way to go about it.

Let me explain first that Jennifer didn’t get those abs by doing endless crunches and “going for the burn” ab exercise. You won’t get them that way, either. Yet plenty of experienced trainers still harbor the misconceived notion that “spot reducing" works. It doesn’t.

To understand about eliminating fat anywhere on your body, start with a few facts:

No. 1 - Fat is distributed throughout your body, with some areas storing more of it than others. Where a person’s fat seems to be concentrated is determined mostly by genetics.

No. 2 - The first place on your body where fat accumulates is the last place it comes off as you reduce. (But it will come off.)

No. 3 - Doing thousands of isolation ab exercise reps may build ab muscle endurance, but reducing body fat anywhere requires taking in fewer calories than needed for present energy and maintenance requirements.

No. 4 - Exercises that strengthen underlying abdominal muscles are essential in a balanced fitness program, but assigning them special significance as "fat burners" is a mistake. The burn you feel after doing the umpteenth set of crunch/sit-up type movements is lactic acid buildup — not fat cells miraculously melting away. As actual fat burners, isolation movements do very little.

An item from Men's Health magazine put fat loss in proper perspective: "If your abs are covered with fat, cut 250 to 500 calories a day from your diet (or 10 to 20 percent of the calories it takes to maintain your current weight). Focus on eliminating refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pasta. Don't bother working your abs more often [Emphasis is mine. –LF]. It takes 250,000 crunches to burn 1 pound of fat — that's about 100 crunches a day for 7 years."

Here is a much better exercise strategy:

  • Do mostly big, compound muscle building exercises. The kind that make you huff and puff a bit: the clean and press, squats, push-ups, lunges, etc. The itsy-bitsy crunches won't get it done.
  • But do include some specific ab work. Just don't go to extremes.
  • Do regular cardiovascular workouts (short but intense intervals are usually more effective than long slow distance). Or combine your cardio and resistance training for high intensity circuit sessions.
  • Quit eating sugar foods and refined carbohydrates.
  • Eat more often but smaller portions. Three small meals and two or three nutritious snacks daily is the way to go. Don't go to extremes. Cutting calories too low will send your body into starvation mode. In other words, your body will adjust and adapt by slowing up your metabolism. That is not the way to burn fat. Go here for dietary information that works.
  • Balance your macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat). Yes, most overweight people eat too many carbohydrates, and especially the wrong kinds. But programs that practically eliminate all carbs, or any one of the three macronutrients, are not sustainable and may be unhealthy.
  • Drink water. Some say drinking a glass of water before a meal helps prevent overeating.
  • Get a full night of sleep every night.

Return from Ab Exercise to the Senior-Exercise-Central home page.

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