The snow is gone and the sun is finally shining! It’s time to kick your trimming and sculpting program into high gear and get that stomach tight and toned for the summer season. Below you will find the basic guidelines to sculpting that perfect midsection.
Whether you’re working towards a bulging body-builder’s six-pack or a sexy, toned tummy, you can do endless crunches and never have defined abs. The amount of subcutaneous fat, the fat that lies just under your skin and on top of your muscle, is the defining factor as to whether your abs are seen or not. It is vital to minimize your fat content in order to ensure that all the hard work you’re doing does not remain “behind the scenes”. This can be attained by combining your regular exercise with a healthy diet.
Avoid eating “empty” calories: foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients (i.e. junk food!!!). Instead, dedicate your effort to ingesting lower calorie, highly nutritious choices (fruits, veggies, whole grains, brown rice, etc.). Also, minimize the amount of heavy carbs/starches (bread, rice, potatoes, etc.) you ingest as the day goes by; crank up the carb intake for breakfast, mid-morning snack and lunch, but cut back as you head into your mid-afternoon snack and dinner. Therefore, for dinner, focus on lean protein, healthy fats and high fibre carb choices, such as fish, salads and veggies.
In addition, don’t forget to drink enough water (1.5-2L / day). Even though dehydration can give the appearance of being more ripped, it is not healthy and cannot be sustained for prolonged periods of time without causing very serious damage to your body.
Most people are under the impression that you can and should do abs everyday. This statement is not false, however, the core muscles are just that, muscles. They should be exercised just as you would work any other muscle group of the body. Therefore, after a solid core workout, you should experience mild DOMS (muscle soreness) and should require the standard 48-72hr rest before working those same muscle groups again. If you do not experience mild DOMS, it doesn’t mean that you are not working your abs, but chances are that you are doing more to maintain what you have as opposed to enabling further gains. So hit abs 2-3 times per week at a higher intensity rather than 5+ times at a low-moderate intensity. Also, avoid staying on the same program for too long; remember to always mix it up to allow for maximum results.
***Ensure that you start slow and increase the intensity gradually to avoid injury – consult a fitness profession for safety guidelines***
Given that you are a trained individual (not a beginner; having sufficient core strength/endurance; no lower back pain), you should push your core workouts so that you are fatiguing well before you hit the 25-30 rep range. If a muscle group can perform a lift for more than approximately 20 reps, it will not achieve the positive strength/hypertrophic (increase in mass) adaptations associated with training. Again, you will maintain a solid core with respect to strength and endurance, but you will not see any enhancements.
With this info, don’t stray away from those core conditioning/Pilates classes; just realize that some focus more on the fat burning/cardio training effects gained from repetitive, continuous exercise, with an intensity level that sustains a heart rate within 65-85% of your age-determined maximum (which is still a vital component of shedding that stubborn subcutaneous fat that may be masking your abs).
Lastly, it is very important to balance all your abdominal work with sufficient lower back and glute exercises.
Stress can be very detrimental to getting a toned midsection. In response to stress, the adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol to give the body a boost in energy (through the release of fat and glycogen into the bloodstream), enhance memory function and immunity, and allow desensitization to pain, etc. However, chronic-stress related to high levels of cortisol has been shown to inhibit protein synthesis (muscle development) and increase visceral fat (intra-abdominal fat surrounding the internal organs) which can lead to the “beer-belly” appearance. Also, it is this visceral fat that causes concern with respect to heart attacks, strokes, etc.
Bottom line: de-stress!
Sample Core Exercises
Try any combination of the following core exercises:
- Medicine Ball Toss with Partner or on Wall
- Reverse Crunches with Stability Ball
- Rotating Oblique Plank
- Pike on Stability Ball
- Jackknife Crunches
- Leg Raises with Tuck
- Single Arm/Leg Plank
- Straight Leg Crunches
- Back-Extension on Stability Ball