Most people who attend a gym aspire to have the elusive ‘Six-Pack’. However, most people struggle to achieve a flat tummy and defined abdominals. Here’s ten top tips that will not only help you to achieve a more aesthetically pleasing midrift but also keep a functionally strong core.
The underling ethos here is ‘Balance’. By learning how to balance your diet, your exercise and your lifestyle you can boost your metabolism, burn unwanted fat, have robust health and keep yourself looking and feeling great… forever
It’s not all about sit ups or exercise. Contrary to popular belief its more about nutrition. Remember, you are what you eat. Just eat real food. Avoid anything that has been denatured or processed. Stick to wholefoods only, i.e. anything that nature provides that hasn’t been altered by food manufacturers by adding ingredients such as sweeteners, flavouring or colouring, extending shelf-life (preservatives, pasteurisation) or even removing nutrients. In order to be able to see your abs you need to be able to burn fat and therefore you need to control blood-sugar levels. You also need to boost your metabolism and in order to do that you’ll need to strengthen your muscles (which will also help with blood-sugar management). To strengthen your muscles you’ll need the right nutrients in the right proportions for your body. Eat a balanced diet including a wide variety of fresh meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, dairy, wholegrains and legumes. Go Organic, grass fed, free range whenever possible. As well as controlling the quantity of food you eat, pay close attention to the quality too. This also applies to water, the most important nutrient.
As mentioned earlier, to see your abs you need to burn fat, and to burn fat you need to boost your metabolism, to boost metabolism you need to develop muscle and to develop muscle you need to stimulate the muscles with exercise. For the biggest bang for buck, and therefore the biggest impact on your metabolism, primarily train the largest muscle groups by using full-body, compound movement exercises. Try to train movements instead of muscles, focusing on the primal movement patterns; squat, push, bend, pull, lunge, twist and gait which are the movements which humans have performed throughout our evolution. A common mistake people make is to do lots of cardio and just target the abs but this only really works a handful of muscles which soon become over-trained leading to postural problems, fatigue and ultimately a lack of results.
One of the reasons a lot of people never get to see their abs is a result of poor posture. Poor posture is often a result of sitting for prolonged periods every day but it can also be a result of a poorly balanced exercise programme. Over training or overusing muscles without training/using the antagonist muscles can cause your posture to alter. One of the most common mistakes people make is doing too many sit ups without reciprocally training the muscles of the lower back or encouraging the spine to remain neutrally aligned by equally strengthening the extensor muscles in comparison to the flexor muscles etc. Stretch the tight muscles and strengthen the weak.
In order to look healthy & fit on the outside, you need to be healthy & fit on the inside. You are what you absorb. In order to absorb lots of nutrients to replenish and strengthen your muscles so you can boost your metabolism and burn more fat you need to have a healthy digestive system. Also, if your digestive system is damaged, your gut will become inflamed and bloated meaning bye bye abs and hello belly. Over an extended period of time this can cause your immune system activity to become heightened leading to potential auto-immune problems such as ulcerative colitis, crohns and MS. Leaky gut syndrome is a common cause of inflammation which leads to a bloated belly. The most common causes of leaky gut syndrome are: • Processed foods e.g. sugar, sweeteners • Alcohol especially beer • Gluten e.g. gliadin (wheat) • Any form of stress (physical, mental or emotional) • Anti-biotics Improve your digestion by removing the common causes of leaky gut and by including pro-biotics, eating pre-biotics (i.e fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kefir) and by including good omega-3 rich fats such as chia or flax seeds, eggs, fish, butter and coconut etc
Your core is a group of muscles, not just your rectus abdominal (six pack) muscles. A key mistake people make is targeting the superficial muscles by doing hundreds of sit-ups without paying sufficient attention to the deeper inner core unit muscles first. By training the inner core unit muscles like the diaphragm, transverse abdominals, internal obliques and pelvic floor you can create a solid base on which the six pack muscles sit, thus improving definition and flattening the tummy. Train from the inside out. Training these inner ab muscles will also significantly improve your sporting performance and protect your spine from injury too.
Any form of stress places a load on your physiology. Some stress in small quantities is good for us. For example, exercise is a stress. Every time we train we break down muscle fibres stimulating the body to rebuild stronger than before. Sunlight is also a stress that, in the right amount, helps us to produce vitamin D. However, excessive stress or load causes a sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) response meaning your body is in survival mode which leads to the body holding on to body fat stores. It also leads to an increase in the levels of cortisol (the hormone we release in response to stress) in the bloodstream creating a catabolic state where your body actually breaks down muscle. This obviously can become detrimental to your metabolism, your ability to burn fat as well as your abdominal muscle development. Stress comes in many forms; • Nutritional (processed foods, starvation/over-eating) • Chemical (drugs, pollution, food additives, pesticides) • Physical (posture, injury, under/over training) • Mental/emotional (workload, anxiety, depression) • Electromagnetic (sunlight, wifi, tv/phones) • Thermal (body temperature, climate) The problems occur when our bodies experience excessive amounts of stress for prolonged periods of time. When this happens we don’t digest our food very well, we lose muscle, our metabolism slows down, we gain fat, we lose the ability to repair and regenerate and ultimately we become ill and get diseases.
(Whole) food consists of three types of macronutrients: Proteins, Fats and Carbohydrates. All three are essential to health. Proteins are critical to growth, repair and healing and form the building blocks of most tissue such as muscle, tendon, ligament, cartilage, skin and even enzymes. Fats are used to make hormones like insulin and growth hormones, our brain cells, in fact all cells and even our nervous system. Carbohydrates (please notice I didn’t just spell it g-r-a-i-n-s) provide us with vital energy, and once broken down into glucose are our cells preferred form of fuel. The question is how much of each macronutrient should we have ? That’s a very interesting question and since we’re all different, we’re all unique and have differing biochemistry, our genetic requirement for each macronutrient varies from person to person. The problems (weight gain) can occur when we put the wrong blend of fuel (proportions of macronutrients) in our vehicle (body). However, our genes just load the gun, it’s our lifestyle and environment which pulls the trigger and therefore in order to correctly identify the exact amounts of each macronutrient that YOUR body needs to function optimally, I suggest you look into Metabolic Typing®. That said, assuming your meals consist of only unprocessed, real food, it is a good starting point to ensure that your diet contains a fairly balanced amount of each.
REST, RECOVERY & SLEEP
Another really common mistake people make is simply trying too hard, doing too much or overtraining. I call it achiever fever. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to be able to train hard and work hard, but at the same time it’s equally important to balance your training and your lifestyle by resting and allowing your body to recover, repair and re-build. Often, less is more ! Without ample rest, you’ll find you just don’t improve and soon hit a plateau with your progress. Research has shown that it’s during sleep when we produce the hormones that allow us to fix up and develop muscle which helps stoke our metabolic fire and keep us burning our fat as our primary fuel. Work hard – play hard – rest hard
I’m going to state the obvious – breathing is essential ! But you’re probably wondering why breathing is so important for your core ? It’s a case of breathing properly i.e. breathing primarily from your belly and not solely through your chest and shoulders (inverted breathing pattern). Belly breathing uses the diaphragm muscle which is a vital inner core unit muscle that supports your spine, improves posture, improves digestion and can trigger the parasympathetic nervous system.
As mentioned earlier, the trick to maintaining health, fitness and flat six-pack abs is balance. Specifically I refer to a balance between the two opposing branches of the autonomic nervous system. They are the Sympathetic (fight or flight/survive) branch and the Parasympathetic (rest & digest/thrive) branch. When you’re stressed or your body is under excessive load, your autonomic nervous system shifts toward the sympathetic (SMS) branch. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, your body prepares for survival, for a fight or for flight (runaway), your heart rate increases, blood pressure increases, you take quicker, more shallow breaths and you release catabolic hormones like cortisol which breaks down muscle, coverts it to sugar so you have immediate energy. I should point out that there’s nothing wrong with activating your SMS, in fact without it we’d have struggled to survive to be top of the food chain today. But the problems occur when we remain sympathetically active for a prolonged period of time, eating away at our muscles and causing our metabolism to slow right down over time. Equally importantly, whilst your sympathetic nervous system is active you don’t burn fat, your digestive system is impaired and your parasympathetic nervous system is surpressed. Your parasympathetic nervous system allows your body to rest and digest. It slows your heart rate, lowers blood pressure, slows and lengthens your breaths, increases digestion and releases growth and repair hormones which help to build muscle, increase metabolism, burn more fat and stop us from eating away at our hard earned muscle. Try and use the 80:20 rule. If you look after your body 80% of the time then your body is more than capable of looking after you for the remaining 20%…
By Duncan Edwards BSc Hons Sports Science, HLC 2, CP2, CMTA
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