You have seen pictures of them; fitness models pulling up their shirts to reveal rock-hard six-packs wrapped with only a paper-thin layer of skin. The truth is, you too, with a little work and time, can have a toned, well-defined stomach. Everyone has a six-pack somewhere beneath the fat. It is a matter of shedding that flab to allow the muscle to define the shape of the abs rather than a layer of fat.
Ab Exercises Alone Don't Work
Contrary to the infomercials and a myriad of fad gizmos and gadgets that are put in our faces every day, abdominal exercises alone will not define your stomach. You can get up in the morning and do a hundred crunches every day and still not get that attractive six-pack that lies dormant somewhere beneath the fat.
Ab exercises are, of course, important. With efficient exercise of the abdominals and plenty of rest and recovery time between workouts, the muscles in your abs will grow. Well-developed abdominal muscles can do nothing but strengthen your stability during exercise and, of course, look amazing once you shed the obscuring fat around them.
A Three-prong Approach to Defining Your Belly
If you want a six-pack, and who doesn't, you must engage in a three-prong attack at your fat. Your first wave of attack is effective strength training, not only of the abdominal muscles. The second attack is effective cardiovascular training to burn away excess calories. The third weapon is reducing the calories in your diet and eating only nutrient-rich foods. Let's discuss these three categories on one by one.
Use Effective Strength Training to Build Lean Muscle Mass
The name of the game is muscle mass, and you want lots of it. If you want to shed fat, muscle mass is your best weapon. Every pound of lean muscle mass on your body consumes, on the average, 13 calories a day, but can consume up to 50 calories a day. With plenty of lean muscle mass, you can transform your body into a fat-burning machine. However, don't make the mistake of thinking that by merely adding pounds of lean muscle mass to your body, you can eat anything and everything you want. A healthy amount of quality muscle can help you to keep the weight off, but does not become a substitute for healthy dieting habits.
So how do you gain lean muscle mass? Strength training is the answer. But rather than concentrating on actually lifting weights, you should be concerned with rest and recovery time between workouts. When you lift weights, you only need enough exercise to start your muscles into repair and rebuilding mode. Once you have accomplished this, there is no need to perform any more exercise. It is time to stay out of the gym and let your body do the work. Only train with weights after your muscles have had a chance to completely recover between workouts. Only then can you expect to perform at peak levels and get the most out of your workouts.
If you are after lean abs, don't make the mistake of thinking that training only your abs will do it. Your body has a more-or-less even distribution of fat throughout your system. If you train only your abs, you won't burn as much fat overall as if you train your entire muscular system from calves on up to shoulders. You have to think globally, you must lose fat generally throughout your body to get to those abs. Eventually, as the fat melts away, your abs will emerge, beautiful and defined. But getting there is an all body effort.
Use Effective Cardiovascular Training to Burn Extra Calories
Calories are nothing more than a measurement of energy. Hence, any fuel can be measured in calories. A gallon of gasoline contains about 31,000 calories of energy. Your body burns calories at a rate defined by your metabolism--age, sex, and activity level all weigh into how quickly your body burns calories. If you consume more calories than your body burns, your body stores the extra fuel away in the form of fat. If your body burns more calories than you consume, your body is forced to take its fuel from fat reserves. Each pound of body fat contains about 3,400 calories. To burn them away, you must increase your activity level.
Cardiovascular exercise is one of the best ways to burn calories. When you hit the treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike, your goal should be to burn as many calories as possible in the shortest time period possible. Use interval based training, by far the most efficient type of cardio training, to do this. You can burn upwards of 213 calories in 20 minutes of good, high impact cardio exercise. Multiply that by 3 [cardio workouts per week], and you have toasted 639 extra calories per week. That's about 20% of a pound of fat. You can pretty quickly see the benefits of cardio exercise.
However, even cardio exercise is not enough to bring out your six-pack. You must also consider the third area of attack.
Consume a Nutrient Rich, Healthy Diet
The name of the game when going for a six-pack is putting your body in a constant state of caloric debt. That means you want your body to burn more calories than you consume. We have already considered how to burn more calories with cardiovascular exercise and weight training. Another way to burn the fat is to lower the amount of fuel you put into your system. Your body will burn what it needs to in order to function properly, either in the form of consumed fuel or in the form of fat reserves. The trick is to force your body to keep eating that fat away.
So how do you consume less without counting your calories or weighing everything you put into your system? A few simple tips might help.
Dump simple carbohydrates from your diet. Simple carbs found in white breads, candy, soda, brownies, cake etc. do nothing but bulk up your fat reserves. Your body doesn't have to break simple carbs down to assimilate them into your reserves. With complex carbohydrates, found in whole grain breads, whole grain pasta, bran, and oatmeal, your body has to work to fuel itself. The process is more complicated than that, but the important thing is to forego the ice-cream, cake, pie, and especially soda pop. Instead, opt for whole grain substitutes and diet drinks. It won't hurt; I guarantee it.
Drop your portion sizes by one half. When you sit down at the table for a meal, evaluate how much food you would regularly pile on your plate then take only half. If you are absolutely starving at the end of your meal, take seconds of only fruits and vegetables to satisfy the pangs. With this simple habit, you will quickly see the fat shed away.
Know how many calories you are eating. I know, I know; I just said don't count your calories. Though if you drop simple carbs and limit your portion sizes, you do not need to count calories, it is still a good idea to know what you are eating. Pick up a small notebook from the grocery store next time you go shopping. For two weeks only, write down everything you eat in that book. If you have access to nutrition labels, write down the calories you have consumed. Generally you should shoot for about 1,100 calories a day if you are a woman and 1,700 calories a day if you are a man. For most, this will drop your fuel consumption sufficiently to put your body into the caloric debt zone. With this simple exercise you will soon find your trouble spots and know exactly where you need to cut back.
A tight, well-defined stomach is absolutely in your grasp. But don't believe those ab-only exercise gadgets or those miracle exercise scams that claim they will bring your abs out in only six seconds a day. Toning your abs is part of a whole. If you follow the advice in this article, you will see steady, consistent fat loss over your entire body and eventually your abs will appear, emerging from the obtrusive fat that hides your definition so effectively.