As a personal trainer and group fitness instructor, I'm often asked, "How can I get rid of this stubborn belly fat?" Many mistakenly believe it takes endless ab crunches and sit ups to to get that magical 6-pack look. Here's where I give the inquirer a reality check: No amount of crunches will produce a flat stomach when there's fat lying on top of the abdominal muscles. Sure, you'll increase abdominal muscle strength but the subcutaneous fat will obscure any semblance of a 6-pack.
First, I dispel the myth perpetuated by the media that it takes lots of stomach crunches to get the job done. Then I steer the person in the right direction by recommending daily cardiovascular activity (i.e., jogging, running, skipping, jump rope, fast walking, biking, etc.) in conjunction with following a healthy diet (i.e., reduce carb intake, eat more protein, eat more whole foods, avoid fast foods, eat more vegetables, drink more water, eat small meals throughout the day, etc.).
Quite a sobering wakeup call for the inquirer for sure. Seems like sound advice: Do more cardio and eat a healthy diet. Check and check. But I find it utterly amazing that many are not able to or choose not to follow this advice. Why? Eating a healthy diet seems to be the hardest part for most people. Certainly ironic. I always thought exercise was the hardest part. Boy was I wrong!
You've probably read or heard the expression, "Abs are made in the kitchen". A trite line for sure but it turns out not far from the truth. You've got to eat healthy, wholesome foods in order to get a lean physique. Period. There's no way around it. You've got to perform some kind of cardiovascular exercise. Period. Cardio is the mechanism that promotes an efficient fat-burning process in conjunction with weight training. The benefits of performing weight training, cardio and eating healthy: a leaner physique, more energy, better health, decreased mortality, better sleep, etc.
Now the wakeup call: What does it take to get 6-pack abs? If you're a man, you'll most likely need to get your bodyfat level below 10%. If you're a woman, you'll most likely need to get your bodyfat level below 20%. But daily exercise and a lean diet can only get you so far. To get your bodyfat down to these levels requires strict discipline in your diet and exercise plan. This kind of discipline is not recommended for most people because it requires a change in lifestyle behavior. More importantly, getting your bodyfat to such low levels may be unhealthy. When your bodyfat gets very low, hormone levels such as testosterone drop which reduces sex drive. There's a risk of disordered eating behavior such as bulimia. Women will typically have less menstrual periods and may even experience amenorrhea, the absence of menstruation. Is getting 6-pack abs worth these risks?
BOTTOM LINE: In order to obtain that much-strived for 6-pack look, you've got to be tremendously disciplined in terms of exercising daily, eating a strict diet, performing cardio activity at an intense level, getting at least seven hours of sleep per night, etc. In other words, a radical change in lifestyle habits needs to be incorporated. It all comes down to, "How willing are you to make the necessary changes to accomplish your fitness goal?" You've got to be all in. Half-stepping is not going to get you there. Ask yourself, do you have what it takes? If not, do a reality check and adjust your fitness goals accordingly.
Brian Danley, CFT
"Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going."
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I'm a personal trainer who loves to help others fulfill their health and fitness goals. I consider myself a bodybuilder in that I live the lifestyle of eating healthy food, working out regularly, and sculpting my body.