Core-strengthening is a common activity recommended for patients with low back issues. The reasoning for this is due to the fact that the core is the largest low back stabilizer the body naturally has. However, many patients often ask about how to train their anterior core (the abdominal muscle group) for an aesthetic benefit as well. When this conversation takes place it is discovered that most patients are making the same mistakes when it comes to core-training.
- “Abs are made in the kitchen.” This is a pretty cliché phrase in the fitness world but that doesn’t make it any less true. If you aren’t going to eat clean your abdominal journey is going to be that much harder. Eating a proper diet that allows your body to both regulate and balance its insulin sensitivity will give you the upper hand in managing visceral fat in the belly. Your body uses the hormone insulin to regulate your blood sugar whenever you eat or drink something. Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between belly fat and insulin resistance. So don’t treat your stomach like a waste basket. You’re going to get out what you put in. Stop training so hard and undoing it all with reckless eating. You’ll thank yourself for the results.
- Déjà vu. If you’re doing the same ab workouts over and over and over, day after day after day, then you’re probably not getting the results you truly desire. The anterior core is super complex and for that reason you need to mix it up. When your muscles become acclimated to a movement that never varies, in any way shape or form, your body will strive to make itself more efficient at that movement. This translates to decreased calorie burn because your body requires less energy output as it gets more efficient at what it is performing. Constantly varying the way you train your abs will give you some extra security against this type of plateau. So have some fun, get creative, and mix it up!
- Quality vs. Quantity. It’s not HOW MUCH you train abs but HOW WELL. You don’t need to do a 30 minute plank or 400 sit ups every day to get results. In fact that kind of volume will likely run you into the previously mentioned issue. That much volume will really send your body scrambling to achieve maximum efficacy pretty quickly. Moreover from that, the muscle fatigue will translate to compensation quickly as well and put you at increased risk for injury; which no one wants. Then there’s more serious risks to overdoing it with quantity; such as muscle tissue breakdown creating systemic issues and causing your organs to shut down, for example rhabdomyolysis. Why risk all of that? If you are performing a high quality abdominal movement the right way 3 sets, each totaling no more than 20 reps, should do the trick just fine. Just focus on doing the right movements the right way and your results will show themselves.
- You may hate it and it may not be the “sexy” thing right now in terms of popularity but IT’S NECESSARY! Remember how we talked about calorie burning demand a little earlier? Well cardio is still one of the best ways to achieve that fat burn off; it just needs to be paired with your strength and ab work too. So find a way to get some quality cardio in your routine to help burn that belly down. If you’re easily bored and/or hate treadmills try an activity that is fun for you that can still safely get that heartrate up as your source of cardio.
- Remember to take your time. There’s no quick fix here. Results are going to come you just have to put in the work and be patient with yourself. Wanting to see it all happen “yesterday” is only going to stress you out. Higher stress levels trigger your body’s stress hormone, cortisol, causing you to hold on to belly fat. Sorry, it’s science. The other thing stressing about this will do is put you at risk of getting impatient and streamlining yourself to doing any one, or more, of the things we just talked about. So give yourself some time, do the work, work hard, BE PROUD.