Developing a lean, flat stomach takes time and patience, especially when it comes to those last few pounds in those hard to lose places. The lower abdominal fat and 'love handles' can be two of the most stubborn and exercise-resistant areas from which to lose abdominal fat. Some people slave away day in and day out on the latest new-fangled abdominal fat device or do countless sit ups, side bends, and leg raises every day, all to no avail. There is only one way to lose fat in the so-called 'stubborn areas,' and that is with the correct combination of proper diet, aerobic exercise, abdominal training, and weight training.
The first thing you need to realize is that it is impossible to 'spot reduce' fat from one specific part of the body. Fat loss occurs systemically, meaning that you can’t control where the fat comes from. When you burn fat for energy, you will draw it from all areas of the body, and the first place you tend to put it on will be the last place it comes off. The reason everyone has those 'stubborn' spots is because each of us is born with a genetic pattern of fat storage, just as we inherit hair colour, eye colour, and other physical traits. In women, the stubborn areas tend to be hips, thighs, and the waist. In men, the troublesome areas are usually the lower abs and the 'love handles.' Many people labour away month after month trying to exercise specific areas of their body with the idea that fat will be burned directly off the area they are working. Training the abdominals every day with hundreds of repetitions will certainly tighten and tone the muscles, but it will do almost nothing to remove the fat obscuring the muscles. In fact, it is possible to have a great set of abs that you can’t even see because they are covered up with a layer of fat!
Contrary to popular belief, the best way to burn the layer of flab from your midsection is not to do more abdominal exercise, but to do more cardiovascular exercise. Aerobic exercise is the real secret to burning fat. Walking, jogging, bicycling, elliptical exercise and stair climbing are all great fat burners. Most people give up too early in the workout. During the first 10 minutes of aerobic activity, glycogen (stored carbohydrates) is the primary fuel source. If you stop after 20 minutes, you’re only getting half of your workout done! You get the cardiovascular health benefits, but you don’t get much fat loss. Because you don't burn significant amounts of fat until glycogen stores are depleted, the key to maximum fat loss is to work out aerobically for 30-60 minutes continuously per session. Don't worry though every workout should be easy, like strolling around the shopping malls for an hour can be beneficial, although it would be best if you try not to stop moving!
Even if you’re doing cardio every day, without a good diet, you still won’t see results. Abdominal fat loss is a 50% exercise, 50% nutrition combination. A fat loss diet must be low in calories. Regardless of how much you workout, if the number of calories you take in is greater than the amount you burn, you’ll still put on abdominal fat. Ideally, you should spread your calories out into five small meals a day instead of 2 or 3 big ones so that you don’t overeat in one feeding. Eat a variety of foods that are all natural, low in fat and low in sugar, with about 55% of the calories coming from carbohydrates, 30% from protein, and 15% from fat. If you’re having a really difficult time losing the last few pounds, keep the protein up and decrease your carbohydrate intake, especially late in the day and at night.
Next to 'spot reduction,' the second most common myth about abdominal training is that sit-ups and leg raises are the most effective exercises. Actually, these movements don’t even isolate the abs; they recruit the hip flexor muscles, which are the same muscles used to punt a football. The hip flexors attach the thigh to the spinal column; so working them with exercises such as straight leg raises creates a strong pull on the lumbar area, which is one of the most common causes of lower back pain. Safer, more effective alternatives are crunches, crunch machines (or ab rollers), hip lifts, and reverse crunches.
The final component of your abdominal fat-reducing program is resistance training. It is important to train the entire body. Working one muscle group to the exclusion of others is a common cause of muscular imbalance. Building strong abdominals without also developing the antagonistic spinal erectors of the lower back could easily lead to injury. Many people are under the impression that they should only do cardiovascular activities until the weight comes off, and then add weight training later on. It’s true that weight training is an anaerobic activity, so it burns more glycogen than body fat. However, working out with weights will increase your lean body mass, which in turn raises your resting metabolic rate. The faster your metabolism is, the more fat you will burn! A complete program should always include aerobic exercise and weight training for every muscle group.
Before you decide to resort to drastic measures, give these guidelines an honest try. Losing abdominal fat is not easy, but it is simple if you know the formula. To recap, the formula for losing the last few pounds of abdominal fat is as follows:
- Losing fat takes time, so get started now! Be patient and don’t expect to get 'ultra lean' overnight
- Burn the fat off the abdominal muscles with lots of cardiovascular exercise or you won’t be able to see them.
- Choose biomechanically correct exercises to train the abdominal area, including crunching type exercises and avoiding hip flexor exercises
- Eat natural, low fat, low sugar, low calorie foods in small servings throughout the day
- Work out with weights; don’t just train your abdominal, train your entire body.