Toning a Trim Tummy and Finding Your Six Pack Abs

Written by Philip Walter on Dec 11 at 12:14 am in bodyweight, cardiovascular training, core, itBODYnature, resistance training, total body

 It seems that the physical fitness Holy Grail for the majority people I work with is a killer core. If you’re a guy, you want ripped, 6-pack abs. If you’re a girl, you want a sleek and sexy, well toned midsection. Problem is, most people don’t employ an effective strategy for toning their core muscles and bringing out their latent 6-pack. Crunches alone aren’t going to do the job. Neither will starving yourself and running 5 miles a day.

The first step is dropping the ego a bit and mentally preparing yourself for the fact that the perfect body doesn’t really exist, and that for most of us, simply having a flat stomach is sexier than, and just as good for our long-term health as a ripped-to-shreds six pack. Having established that, the best way to pull every bit of sex appeal you can from your midsection is to take a two-pronged approach to your workout routine. This means regularly performing exercises that build and tone the abdominals, obliques, and other muscles of the core while at the same time adopting a cardio program that effectively burns fat from your tummy. The former without the latter only serves to increase the pooch above your belt buckle, while the latter without the former only turns you into a skinny waif. Of course, diet figures heavily into this equation, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the combination of toning your core and getting cardio designed to burn fat in order to unleash those sexy abdominals.

Effective Core Strengthening Exercises

First off, rid your mind of the two following myths:

  1. Since the rectus abdominus (down the center of your stomach), is what we actually see as the “six pack,” I should concentrate on bulking it up and forget about the transversus abdominis, obliques, and other core muscles. Not true – a tight, sexy abdomen has as much to do with these other, more behind-the-scenes muscles as it does with the star of the show.
  2. I should keep a running tally of how many crunches I can do while I watch American Idol, and shoot for doing more in a row each night. Again, not true – you’re better served performing fewer, more concentrated exercises if achieving the 6-pack is your goal.

Okay, so now that you’ve purged your mind of this nonsense, let’s talk about the single greatest piece of workout equipment ever devised for increasing core muscle strength and tone: the ab wheel. That’s right, this cheap, simple, unassuming little gadget will do more for your midsection than anything, ever. How can this be true, you might ask?

Well, the most effective way to build strength is to challenge your muscles to work harder. Doing tons and tons of crunches is great for your muscle endurance, which does contribute to tone, but if you want definition (even just a little bit), you need to get your muscles to work harder. This means doing fewer reps per set at a higher rate of work. Enter the ab wheel. When I recommend this thing to people, most of them find that doing 5-7 reps in a row is nearly impossible, even using their knees as a fulcrum. This means you are forcing your core muscles to increase the amount of fibers they have, thus increasing the amount of work they can do. And what’s even better, you are asking all the muscles of your midsection and even beyond to work in concert with each other, so really are getting more bang for your workout buck.

So my advice is, dump your current regime of 275,000 crunches a week and combine 2-3 sets of 5-7 reps on the ab wheel with the following exercises as part of your normal workout routine. Do the core work 3 days a week with a day of rest between, throw in the fat-burning cardio below, and you’re sexy core will be the talk of the town … or at least your own bedroom.

Effective Fat-Burning Cardio

It’s not the purpose of this article to go into great detail about metabolic pathways and how they affect your training, but know that the oxidative pathway is the one that primarily burns fat. Glucose (in the form of glycogen) is the main source of fuel for your body, and when you run out of glycogen stores, your body makes more by pushing fat and protein through what’s called the Krebs Cycle.  This is the oxidative pathway, and it only kicks in after you’ve been working a while (at least 1-2 minutes), but once you’re there you can stay a loooooooong time.

The good news is you don’t have to run a 6-minute mile to burn fat effectively. In point of fact, you are mostly mining carbs for the necessary muscle fuel at that rate of cardiovascular effort. You really need to be lower on the output scale, say 60% of your max in order to efficiently burn fat.

Let me be clear – this does mean you have to exercise longer to burn the same amount of calories – and by no means am I discouraging you from training at a high level of cardiovascular effort as that’s still the best way to burn the most calories in the shortest amount of time. I’m merely saying you don’t have to running ninety-to-nothing to burn fat.  For more details, check out Lauren’s great article on the cardio dilemma.

The Ab-Tastic Conclusion

So if you’re out to out your 6-pack, try working the ab wheel, plank, and yoga sit-up I recommended into to your workout routine, because when it comes to building strength and adding definition, fewer reps with more work per rep is better. And don’t get discouraged if you can’t even run a mile in the beginning.  Start wherever you can with cardio and know that even at a lower level of effort, you are burning fat.  Oh, and don’t forget check out some of my favorite healthy recipes while you’re at it.

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