I have been a personal fitness trainer in Chicago since 2005. I can’t begin to count the number of times I have been approached by someone in the gym asking, how do I get six-pack abs? OR I just can’t seem to lose this last bit of lower belly fat. My response is usually along the lines of that can be the hardest to lose and usually the last to go, but it’s all about consistency with workouts and nutrition. Occasionally someone will ask what is the best exercise to do to target that area? I tell them it doesn’t work that way and you can’t spot reduce body fat. This is a common myth people have about dealing with fat loss. It’s not always easy to dispel these myths or “big fat lies” but if you can learn to adopt strategies that work and develop support systems you can easily pick up healthy habits to help you reach your goals.
Unfortunately there is an overwhelming supply of gimmicks out there promising to blast belly fat from your waist line. As I mentioned earlier you can’t spot reduce, so avoid any “AB” training system like the plague. Having a strong core is important and plays a role in fat loss but most abs specific machines won’t do anything to help strengthen your core, let alone give you a six pack.
Burning belly fat is less about abs work and more about movement. There are two problems with doing a ton of sit-ups. First they do not work a lot of muscle groups and do not burn a ton of calories. You are better off doing compound exercises like pushups and squats. Your core and abs are burning calories and building muscle while you are still working on your six pack. Full body routines are more effective than dedicating a whole workout to abs. Secondly crunch type exercises aren’t good for your posture. Most of us lean over a computer all day. We need to do exercise to pull our shoulders and hips back not push forward even more. When people do crunches or sit-ups they are overworking their hip flexors and tensor fasciae latae instead of engaging the abdominals. Try instead holding a plank while squeezing your glutes and walling up your abs. This will be a better way to strengthen your core and not leave you looking like Quasimodo.
Fat loss is more about resistance and intensity than it is about duration of exercise. A lot of people think doing an hour of cardio is best for fat loss. They could get more of a metabolic response from less time spent doing resistance training. For example a dead lift will use the large muscles in your legs and create more tension. This will create a stronger metabolic response just like doing multiple resistance exercises in a routine to have an effective fat loss. Try alternating between upper and lower body exercises like pushups and reverse lunges. This allows you to rest one muscle group while the other is working and pack harder work in a shorter period of time.
While it is important to put intensity into your workouts it is important to know where your current level of fitness falls. Just because you watch a trainer on TV “kick someone’s ass” or hear about a program that is the “hardest on the planet” does not mean it will be effective for you. A problem with some programs is the fact that if someone is not ready to perform the movements at the desired intensity the workout could do more harm than good. The harder the workout the more recovery time you will need. If it takes you a week to recover that means you are spending six days without working out hard. Your body won’t have recovered 100% so you won’t be able to train at 100%. If you are continuing to tear down your body and not spending time recovering you do more damage to your joints and body. This will put you even further away from seeing your six packs. The point I’m trying to make is you don’t have to work out hard every day. You don’t get stronger from work in the gym alone. You get stronger from training and recovery. When we do resistance training we are tearing down muscle and trying to repair it through nutrition and rest. In one week I will do 3-4 hard workouts and spend time each day doing mobility, foam rolling, and stretching. It is important to move each and every day for tissue quality and recovery. But if you are working as hard as possible every day you’re never give yourself a chance to recover.
The best advice I could give on getting a six pack has nothing to do with exercise but with nutrition. Too many people start a workout program and do nothing to help reach their goals in terms of nutrition. The old adage is true, abs are made in the kitchen not in the gym. Healthy eating will supplement work done in the gym or personal training studio. Eating for fat loss is not as complicated as it seems. Come up with a plan that will work. Meals and snacks should consist of lean protein good fats and vegetables. It is best to keep things simple and find a few recipes that work and stick to them. When these become a staple in your daily routine you can find new appealing recipes. Think of this as a lifestyle change (long term) as opposed to a diet (short term). Diets don’t last. We are looking to be consistent with making healthy choices. Change isn’t easy but if you develop strategies that work and find support systems you can easily adopt healthy habits and stick to them.