2012...The Year of the Abs

As an instructor and personal trainer, I hear all day long, “I want abs like Jessica Alba and Ryan Reynolds.  I want a 6 pack. I want those sexy guy lines.  I want a smaller waist.  How do I get rid of my beer gut? How do I lose my love handles?” Judge Smails from Caddyshacksaid it best, “You’ll get nothing and like it!” Sad, but true; unless you listen to me. Am I that much of a braggart to ascertain this assumption?  No. Confident in my knowledge of the human body and understand that if you listen and implement what I say, I promise you that by summer, your midline will be looking its best in ages.

Question #1: What is the best way to achieve amazing abs?  Stop isolating your abs.  That means no more crunches, roman chair (knee lifts), bike kicks and throw downs.  SAY WHAT!!!! You heard me. The key to the best abdominals ever is to take off our winter coat aka the subcutaneous fat that lies on top of these muscles (see figure 1).  Every single person on this world has a 6 pack, even Meatloaf does, it’s just a matter of if you can see it or not.  I challenged one male student to stop his current ab routine and begin doing legs 2-3 times a week.  After 6 months, he said he had never seen his abs look that way before, he was amazed!  The facts are that we are WASTING so much time trying to spot reduce one area that we begin to create a muscular imbalance in our core.

Question #2: What is the core? The core is a unit consisting of the obliques, abs and lower back (see figure 2).  There are 3 oblique muscles: external, internal obliques and then the transverse abdominals.  The lower back is scientifically referred to the erector spinae and the abs are called the rectus abdominals.  There are a few other landmarks that I will touch on to show off my mastery in anatomy, the line down the middle that separates the “packs” is the linea alba (think Jessica alba has nice abs).  The “the sexy guy lines” that point down and look like a V are actually ligaments; they are called your inguinal ligaments.  When we begin to isolate one area 99% of the time it’s the abs, we strengthen these muscles and not the other 2.  Here is the problem.  All three regions connect into your pelvis bone so when we begin to strengthen only one side, we begin to adjust our pelvis and spine from its natural position aka neutral spine.  Bring in low back pain.  A good amount of back problems seen amongst active individuals today is due to a strong front portion and a weaker lower one from the excessive work being done.  The abs are pulling the pelvis forward and upward (posterior tilt) consequently adding stress on the lower back (figure 3.)

Question #3: So what do I need to do? Ready for this brain buster… LEGS and other large muscles! Large muscles, especially your legs, hold a magical key to release powerful fat burning hormones and your heart rate response is far greater than working just your abs. We need to burn calories and get rid of that winter coat which is hiding are beautiful abs.  3500 calories burns 1lb of fat.  How many calories do you think you are burning when you do 100 crunches? Maybe 10 ok ill give you 20kcals.  Whoopiiieeee! That’s nothing. Try incorporating an interval set with prison squats, lunges and 30 seconds of wacky jacks. Or super set pull-ups, bar dips (assisted pull-up machine), step ups, frog jumps x20, and 1 minute of jumping rope. Challenge! Try waking up 20 minutes early, do 1 minute of jumping jacks, max out on push-ups and then hold a plank for 1 minute and repeat 3-5 times.  At the end, chug a glass of water then eat and you are off to a great start!  Never throughout this article did I say stop working your core.  Doing unit exercises such as the plank, Sumatra push-ups, bird dogs and lumber-jacks are all great exercises to target your WHOLE core, not just one area.  If you are still one of those people who HAS to do abs, just make sure to work everything out in an equal ratio; 1-1-1.  For every ab exercise you perform, make sure to do a low back exercise (back extension or superman) and oblique’s (side bends or bike kicks) to even it out.

Summary: Old wives tales such as “a crunch a day keeps the flap away” and infomercials such as 6 minute abs are not the key to successful abdominals.  You need to tap into your pirates gold chest aka your legs and other large muscles such as your chest, back and shoulderrrrrrrrs (release your inner pirate!)  Wouldn’t you rather shape up your whole body at the same time instead of trying to do the impossible and spot reduce?  (Just say yes out loud, even if you are at the library). To maximize your results, add in 10-20 minutes of cardio at the END of your workout and try to walk more; shoot for 2 miles a day.  Stop on by our school to have one of the trainers design an amazing program and/or become your true teacher and train you.  Prices are super reasonable, as low of $15 and make sure to check back soon because our San Francisco location is going to be opening!!!! As always… SHAKE AND BAKE and Go get those abs!!!