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In Search of a Six-Pack

Posted Mar 24 2008 12:21pm
It’s a myth that doesn’t die easily: "You gotta isolate those abs and go for the burn!"

You’ve heard it. We all have. The thing is, "spot reducing" does not exist — except in the fantasy world of some infomercials.

Don't fall for it.

Here are some facts:

  • Fact: Fat is distributed throughout your body, with some areas storing more of it than others. Where is determined mostly by genetics.
  • Fact: The first place that fat accumulates on your body is the last place it leaves as you reduce.
  • Fact: Doing thousands of reps will build muscular endurance, but to reduce body fat requires taking in fewer calories than needed for present maintenance requirements.

  • Fact: Exercises that strengthen underlying abdominal muscles are essential in a balanced fitness program, but assigning them special significance as "fat burners" is nonsense. That 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 fat burners, isolation movements do very little. Let me say it again: As fat burners, isolation movements do very little.

Here's an item culled from Men's Health magazine that puts fat loss in 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 far better strategy:

  • Do mostly big, compound muscle building exercises. The itsy-bitsy crunches won't get it done.
  • Include some specific abs work. But forget the endless reps. Treat core exercise reps about the same as other movements.
  • Include cardiovascular work. Short but intense is usually better than long, slow distance. A ratio of 2 days of short but intense intervals to 1 day of moderate distance can work well.
  • Eat more often but smaller portions. Portion control is the most important element in body weight/fat reduction.
  • Stop eating sugar foods and drinks and all refined carbohydrates.
  • But don't go to extremes, such as eating less than 1500 calories per day. Your body may go into a “starvation mode,” meaning a slower metabolism.
  • Balance your macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat). Most overweight people eat too many carbohydrates, and especially the wrong kinds. However, programs that practically eliminate all carbs, or any one of the three macronutrients, are not sustainable and may be unhealthy.

You don't need diet pills and some are dangerous.

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