They say abs are made in the kitchen, but you’ve got to work ‘em if you want to see a six-pack by summer! That’s why part one of “Tight & Toned Abs” is about training. I will tell you more about diet tomorrow in part 2!
Although diet plays the most important role in losing abdominal fat, exercise is a key ingredient in the belly fat-burning process. During exercise, the stress hormones norepinephrine and epinephrine are released, which stimulate lipolysis, the breakdown of stored fat molecules. When these hormones are released into the blood, they cause a metabolic reaction, resulting in the activation of the enzyme Hormone Sensitive Lipase (HSL). HSL triggers the breakdown of a stored triglyceride molecule in adipose tissue to release free fatty acids, which can then be further oxidized, producing a loss of body fat.
Combining different types of exercise is the best cocktail to burning fat. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends moderately intense cardio-respiratory exercise 30 minutes a day, five days a week, or vigorously intense cardio-respiratory exercise 20 minutes a day, three days a week, with the addition of eight to 10 strength-training exercises (8 to 12 reps of each exercise), twice a week.
During aerobic exercise, your body goes through several stages before it reaches the point where you are burning fat. You will hear people say that you are only burning sugar (carbohydrates), not fat, during the first 10 minutes of exercise. This is true to a certain extent. Stored carbohydrates in the form of glycogen can be used for fuel during exercise up to 60 minutes depending on the intensity of the exercise and the type of diet consumed. If you consume a low-carbohydrate diet, glycogen stores will be depleted sooner, causing lipolysis to be activated sooner rather than later. Also the intensity of the exercise will determine if you are utilizing your stored fat.
A study performed by The Cooper Institute in Dallas found that the duration of aerobic exercise was more beneficial than the intensity of exercise for decreased bodyweight and waist circumference. A longer duration produced the greatest loss of bodyweight and body fat.
Weight training is a vital component in decreasing abdominal fat and the key to burning fat at rest. Weight training is an anaerobic activity that will often cause you to burn more calories per minute than aerobic exercise. The calories that you are burning during weight training exercises are mostly calories from carbohydrates (because weight training is usually shorter in duration than endurance exercise), but the calories you burn at rest are mostly calories from fat. The reason you are burning fat at rest is because weight training increases lean muscle mass, which is highly metabolic and therefore increases your basal metabolic rate, which uses your stored fat as energy. To make your body the ultimate fat-burning machine, you should do a combination of aerobic (cardio) and anaerobic (weight training) exercises.
In addition to proper dieting for reducing abdominal fat with aerobic exercise and weight training, you should incorporate abdominal exercises into your exercise routine to strengthen the core. Some of my favorite and most effective abdominal exercises include:
Stability Ball Crunches: Lie on the ball, positioning it under the lower back. Cross your arms over the chest or place them behind your head. Contract your abs to lift your torso off the ball, pulling the bottom of your ribcage down toward your hips. As you curl up, keep the ball stable (i.e., the ball shouldn’t roll). Lower back down, getting a stretch in the abs, and repeat.
Stability Ball Reverse Crunches: Lie on the floor and place hands on the floor or behind the head. Place both of your legs over the stability ball. Bring the knees in toward the chest, rolling the ball up toward your chest until they’re bent to 90 degrees. Contract the abs to curl the hips off the floor, reaching the legs/ball up toward the ceiling.
Captain’s Chair Knee Raises: Using a vertical knee raise chair, start with your legs hanging straight down and slowly lift your knees in toward your chest. The motion should be controlled and deliberate, as you bring your knees up and return them back to the starting position.
Hanging Leg Raises: This exercise is similar to the captain’s chair, except you will hang from a bar or use straps if they are available. You will start with your legs hanging straight down and slowly lift your knees in toward your chest. The motion should be controlled and deliberate as you bring your knees up and return them back to the starting position. Try not to swing as you perform the movement.
Scissor Kicks: Lay flat on your back with your legs straight on the floor. Lift your legs together six inches off the ground. Cross your feet (right foot over left foot); make sure to keep toes pointed up. Return your legs to the original starting position. Cross your feet again, this time left foot over right foot.
Seated Knee Raises: Sit in the middle of a bench with your knees and feet together. Grasp the back of the bench and lean backward, making sure your shoulders are pulled back. Lift your knees toward your chest and then extend them back out. Make sure to use your arms to support your body and maintain balance.
30-Second Plank Holds with feet on a Bosu Ball: Lie facedown on mat, resting on the forearms, palms flat on the floor, and place your feet on a bosu ball. Push off the floor, raising up onto toes and resting on the elbows. Keep your back flat, in a straight line from head to heels. Tilt your pelvis and contract your abdominals to prevent your buttocks from sticking up in the air or sagging in the middle.
Depending on your fitness level, I recommend performing 1 to 3 sets of 20-50 reps of each exercise. You should train your abdominals 3 times per week or follow an “every-other-day” schedule. Remember all of the abdominal crunches and leg raises in the world will not produce a net result of the flat tight tummy without the partnership of diet!