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My 10 Favourite Lies About Developing Admirable Abdominals
At least 80% of the goals I hear relate to either attaining washboard abs or a flat stomach; so in the good name of comedy, I’m going to share some of my favourite ‘jokes’ about achieving that magnificent mid-section.
Sit ups and planks everyday is a guaranteed path to what you desire
There is no mistake that these exercises work the rectus abdominis (abs), but
just like with any other exercise, your body (the master adapter) will adjust to the exercise to make it easier and the exercise will become much less effective. To avoid this happening you will need to vary the type, intensity, duration, frequency and loading pattern of exercise to keep your body guessing.
Calorie restriction is a necessity
Firstly, I hate that word; restriction makes it sound like you’re doing something unpleasant. It’s true that being in a deficit is the only way to lose overall body weight, but if you’re consuming your maintenance calories (how much your body actually needs for what it does) from a healthy source and training effectively for your goals then your body will lose fat to compensate for the muscle gain without gaining weight. In my opinion, any diet you don’t enjoy is a bad diet – that’s why all my nutrition clients form a diet that they enjoy that contributes to the achievement of their goals.
HIIT is the way to go
High Intensity Interval Training basically means working crazy hard for a tiny amount of time, resting for a similar amount of time and repeating. It’s an excellent training method for people who like working fast paced (or just getting it out the way AQAP) and can easily be targeted at specific energy systems & heart rate zones to focus on your goals, but does that mean that it’s what you need to get those abs poppin’? A good training program doesn’t focus on one method of training and, especially when going more for physique than performance, challenging your body in various ways keeps the training challenging and therefore more beneficial. Don’t get stuck doing the same thing over and over.
Low fat foods are what you need
This is probably the most out-dated of all the myths laid out in this blog. Body fat and dietary fat are (partly) the same, but the dietary fat is going straight into your digestive system to be metabolised (turned into usable energy). When it comes to a diet that is low in fat, you’re not affecting the fat that is already stored in your body; you’re just depriving yourself of energy. When you consume foods that your body reacts well to, you’re body starts using those foods as fuel and, once they are depleted; your body starts to use the energy it already has stored. When you’re in a fat-burning state, your body wants to remain in the same energy system and therefore will carry on burning fat after the fats you ate have been depleted – but you need to be taking those fats in first.
High fat foods are what you need
On the other end of the spectrum, it came out that diets high in fat promote fat burning by becoming your primary fuel for exercise. Technically, that is true but it doesn’t mean that it’s going to make you lose fat. Once your body has completed its exercise, any macronutrients that are no longer needed will be stored ready for the next time; so the key is to deplete & replenish. Deplete the energy you have stored and then replenish with a new intake of nutrients.
Low carb diets make you burn fat quicker
Why do we always want things to be extreme? Why can’t it be that you need a healthy contribution from all the nutrients? Well… it can. Carbohydrates are your body’s go to nutrient when you train at high intensity and if it doesn’t have them then it will make them from the fats and proteins you have sitting around; this is a slow, inefficient method of producing fuel. In basic terms, your body needs carbohydrates in order to operate and (to be quite frank) the majority of people prefer foods high in carbohydrates which then refers us back to the point I made earlier about calorie restriction.
Little and often makes you burn more calories
I get the logic, I can see how people came to this conclusion; your metabolism accelerates when you eat food so therefore the more frequently you eat the more calories your body will burn. But what they missed off with this point was the fact that the level at which your metabolism accelerates is directly equivalent to the quantity and quality of the food you eat so it doesn’t matter if you have that lasagne in 5 portions or 1, your body is still going to need to accelerate the metabolism accordingly to digest the food and therefore it will equate to the same amount at the end of the day.
It’s all about diet
There are also those purist people that believe that it’s a simple case of eating better to lower your body fat that will develop that abdomen you so desire. Well, your body may be dropping the fat off directly related to the calorie expenditure (which can be directly controlled by diet), but have you seen the difference between someone who just focuses on nutrition and someone who combines it with exercise?
It’s 70% diet, 30% exercise
Seriously, who came up with this? Have you ever thought, before you made this point “How did they work this out”? You probably should have because they (whoever they may be) certainly didn’t! The theory behind it is that, if you don’t have a diet that works toward your goals, then exercise won’t be able to get you there by itself, but this depends on just how bad your diet is. To put it in a way that you’ll understand, I’ll give us a basic example:
Joe wants to lose 10lbs and has worked out (through metabolic assessment) that he needs a 400kcal deficit each day in order to achieve this in his desired timeframe. He currently eats 300kcal more than what his body needs to stay at its current weight; so he will need to achieve a calorie exchange of -700kcal daily. If he doesn’t change his diet, he will have to burn an additional 700kcal each day, but if he starts eating 400kcal less, he will have to burn 300kcl more than he currently does each day.
It doesn’t strictly matter what either one does, because you just have to accommodate for it with the other. But, of course, it’s a whole lot easier if you just split the challenge between the two of them.
Sugar makes you gain fat
Stop trying to find an enemy in this and just accept that it’s a little bit of everything! Sure, consuming sugar will spike your insulin levels and encourage the storage of fat, but it does that for a reason. Your body cannot use fat and sugar simultaneously because they work in opposites with regards to your control of hormones. To utilise sugar, your body must release insulin (blocking fat metabolism), at which point you can now use a fuel that specialises in high intensity training (a very effective way of burning calories quickly). Which then loops us back to the same point I’ve been making: you need a balance of everything and knowledge of what your body is going to react to best in certain environments.
So, what IS the answer?
To truly achieve that beach-worthy abdomen, you’re going to have to work hard in both diet and exercise; if you’re not willing to commit to doing lots of tedious and unpleasant training and dietary principles then it’s going to take you a long time to see development.
If that previous statement didn’t deter you, then here are some key principles to follow and commit to in order to achieve the results you desire:
With regards to your training, these are a combination of necessities and tricks to try out (the necessities are in italics):
Train with compound lifts – compound lifts are exercises that train more than one muscle group. These exercises are the ones with which you will be able to move the most amount of weight/resistance because you use lots of muscles together. Because you are working so many muscles together, the demand of the exercise will be higher and your ability to operate multiple muscles together efficiently will enhance (improving balance, co-ordination, endurance, speed, power and maximal strength).
Up the frequency, lower the duration – By training more often and for shorter amounts of time your performance in every session will be more focussed and you will be able to exert more energy because you don’t have to last for very long.
Train in a fat-burning environment – this pretty much just means that you shorten your rest times and focus on consistent exercises to fatigue your muscles and then keep pushing through the fatigue by simply increasing the rest of lowering the intensity. You don’t have to do this every session, but it is an essential component of training as it is your best method of metabolising stored fats.
Sprint recovery – although it isn’t an essential part of the fat burning process, it will certainly improve your performance and allow you to work harder during your other sessions, and it’s also an excellent way to burn calories in big doses. The word sprint shouldn’t be directly associated with running as fast as you can, the term is referring to maximal output for short amounts of time and recovering sufficiently so that you can repeat with maximal output again. Consider exercises life, hill runs, burpee challenges, 1 rep max exercises, boxing challenges and other explosive exercises.
Core exercises – There’s no denying that you don’t have to work the abdomen in order to flatten your stomach (that all comes from burning fat) but to develop a true six-pack or tightened abdomen you will need to work those muscles. Rather than focusing on exercises that only work the abs directly, I have found that most people get better results from core training; where you work all the stabilising muscles. Consider exercises that incorporate balance and co-ordinating different primary joints in the body (shoulders, hips, and spine).
Vary your rep ranges – To get the full benefits and to achieve your goals at a quicker rate, you will need to keep your demand varied so that your body cannot adapt to a repeated stimulus. The best way to do this is by mixing up the rep ranges that you train in. This means exercising for 10 reps per set one month, 20 the next and 5 the following month.
Below is a list of dietary implications you either need to or should try work into your diet (the needs are in italic).
Consume equal to/less than the amount of calories you burn – This one pretty much explains itself; you can’t eat more than your body needs and not expect it to store the excess consumption. The first step is to work out how much your body currently burns (see this link) and then design your diet accordingly to ensure you’re not over-consuming for the demand of the day.
Try different eating schemes – there are lots of different methods that get wafted out there as THE diet to make you achieve goal X, but the truth is that they only work for certain people…but could one of those people be you? One way to find out is to simply give it a go! It might be a long process to find a diet that your body agrees with, but they all have good principles and will work to some extent; we’re just trying to find which is optimal for you, your body and your lifestyle. Consider, rather than diets that tell you what food to eat, trying diets that are based around meal timing, quantities and food types at specific meals.
Learn what nutrient quantities your body needs – Without knowing what nutrients you need, you can’t possibly know what foods you need. Too often I see people eating ‘healthy’, which they justify purely by the fact that they eat natural foods that are low in calories. A food is not deemed healthy for YOU unless it meets YOUR nutritional needs. Here’s a guide we made for you to work out what your body needs
Experiment with your diet – >>>the worst type of diet is one that you don’t enjoy<<< and the sure-fire way to not enjoy a diet is to have the same thing over and over and become sick of the sight of it! Instead, invest time into discovering different ways to meet your nutritional requirements and get creative in the kitchen.
Challenge yourself in small doses – I’d be surprised if there weren’t habits that you’ve developed that we will need to change, and when changing them you don’t want to make it too hard. You’ll already be using a lot of willpower on sticking to your nutritional requirements and exercise regime, so we don’t want to push you so hard that your recoil and lose it all. There’s no rush to make dramatic changes, so keep it simple and just make a few small changes every month or so until they become a habit, then you can look at introducing a few more changes.
That’s just about all I have to share with you today, but I hope you take time to read through all of this content and look back over it now and then to recap and stay on track with what you need.
It’s not going to be an easy road to the physique you want, but that’s what makes it so rewarding when you finally get there!
Good luck with it all and, if you’re struggling or would like some extra advice, don’t endure alone – we are committed to helping you and will do our best to help you achieve better health and fitness.