Most people believe that doing hundreds of sit-ups or abdominal crunches will automatically reduce your waistline and give you a rock-solid six-pack. Wrong! The reality is that you’ll also need to reduce the layer of body fat covering your midsection in order to see those toned abdominals. Plus, as far as stomach exercises go, sit-ups or crunches alone are not the solution. Dr Guy Ashburner shares his exercise programme for middle-age spread.
‘The core, the core is the way!’ I hear people exclaim almost every day. Well, in fact it’s not all about the core. You can’t separate one part of the body from another. Mother Nature didn’t. Are there any other mammals that focus on the core? The answer is a definite no.
In osteopathy one of our guiding principles is that the body is a unit, which means that everything and every muscle works together and in unison. Our muscular anatomy can be visualised as one continuous sheet of muscle, attaching to the bones along its path. In sport you use every muscle of your body in a kinetic chain of activity to achieve every desired action.
GETTING IN SHAPE
There is no magic pill for losing weight and getting into good physical shape! While many of us want to believe that there is some miraculous piece of equipment that will give us the toned tummy we aspire to, the bottom line is we have to eat healthily and be active, as Mother Nature intended. It’s that simple, but somewhere along the line our lives got too busy and we forgot to look after ourselves. If you want to have toned abs that look as if you’ve put effort into producing them, effort is exactly what you are going to have to put in. Do it properly and the results will come. Hormonal changes and loss of lean body mass (muscle) contribute to the ‘waist creep’ that tends to accompany the forties (and beyond).
A well-balanced diet is essential. How can you expect to achieve a six-pack when you are consuming foods that increase body fat? Look around and see how many ‘pregnant’ men there are! If your gastro-intestinal tract is bloated, your abdominal muscles will be inhibited from normal function. So there’s no point in doing an abdominal workout until you have addressed the basic cause of your bulging midriff. One of the most common reasons for a spreading waistline is a diet full of rubbish, the worst culprits being calories from sugar, processed food and too many carbohydrates – especially towards the end of the day. Limit alcohol, avoid bread, milk and soy, and remember to control portion size!
EXERCISING THE WHOLE BODY
Always consult a health professional before trying any new exercise programme. Your body is an amazing machine. Take care of it, and it will take care of you. Remember, you cannot spot reduce. You cannot just train or exercise one body part alone, such as your abs, and expect to see a whole new look. You need to perform a full-body programme rather than concentrating on your abdominal region. The key to reducing body fat is a comprehensive workout plan that includes cardiovascular and strength exercises.
Good examples of cardio exercises are cycling, working out on the step machine (remember, you are not supposed to hold on – there are no handlebars on the mountain!), hill walking, running, and aerobics classes such as spinning. Try breaking up your daily 30 minutes of cardio into 10 or 15 minute increments throughout the day, or however it fits into your life best.
Progressive resistance training or weight training can be done with free weights, machines, and even just your own body weight. Many body resistance exercises also work your abdominals, meaning that your midsection is getting a workout as well as the rest of your body. Use large muscle groups. Combine movements. Pushups work wonders for the upper body. Use as many muscles as possible within each exercise – don’t waste your time isolating individual muscles. Get up 20 minutes earlier in the morning to fit in some strength training and abdominal work. Less time means higher intensity. Work each muscle until fatigue, with a weight you can lift at least eight times but no more than fifteen. Experiment with a circuit.
Now to the specifics of abdominal training. Traditional crunches can certainly be a part of this, but should be limited and certainly shouldn’t be the only part. Don’t forget the importance of form. If you don’t use correct form when performing abdominal exercises, you’ll severely limit their effectiveness and may even cause an injury.
Don’t overtrain your abs. Three quality training sessions per week is ample. Remember that muscle needs recovery time to repair and grow. It’s muscle growth that increases muscle development in the midsection. Overtraining can actually deplete the muscle instead of increasing it. Prioritise your abdominals by training them at the start of your workout or in between sets of other exercises.
Don’t go overboard and perform loads of repetitions. Hold each rep you perform for a count of 2 to 3, using 3 sets (per exercise) × 10 to 15 reps. This will help you gain better results. Your goal is to stimulate the muscle to promote its growth, so that you’ll have nice strong toned abs to show off! As you progress over the following months you can aim for 4 to 5 counts per repetition, as long as it doesn’t place a strain on your neck or lower back.
To get you started, here are a couple of sample exercises with instructions.
Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands lightly behind your head for support. Using your abdominal muscles, lift your shoulders a few centimetres off the ground, pause briefly and return to start position. Complete at least one set of 10 to 12 reps.
Bosu ball crunch
Begin by sitting on the floor in front of the Bosu ball. Place a small squeezable ball (soccer ball, small medicine ball, rugby ball, small basketball) between your knees, and squeeze your knees to keep it in position. Now lie on your back on the Bosu ball with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands lightly behind your head for support. Start in a horizontal position and lower your supported head and shoulders as far as comfort allows, or until the head and shoulders are near the floor (this will partly depend on your size). Slowly crunch up using your abdominal muscles, lifting your shoulder blades, but only as far as a horizontal position. Complete at least one set of 8 to 10 reps.
NO EXCUSES PLEASE!
It’s the body’s job to burn calories. Your body is not in the least concerned about the image you present while it is doing so! Too much focus on non-essentials such as your workout wear makes it easy to wriggle out of doing exercise – we don’t have time to go the gym, or the right outfit, so we end up doing nothing instead. In reality you can exercise and burn calories any time or anywhere, as part of everyday life. To put it simply, the human body is designed by nature to move, so give it a chance to do so. Find ways to move that body, and you will see the results. But please ensure that you maintain good posture while you are doing it!
Important note: Most people use the Swiss and Bosu balls incorrectly. The majority of people spend their lives hunched forward with poor posture. Curling up from a horizontal position during exercises will only reinforce faulty posture, shorten the abdominal muscles, emphasise your fat rolls and lead to injury.