A number of well documented, peer-reviewed studies have demonstrated that “spot reduction” is possible with high-repetition toning exercises. A landmark Danish study proved that lipolysis (fat burn) increases in thigh muscles after sets of 25 repetitions of leg extensions were performed (Applied Physiology Nutrition Metabolism, 2011). Various studies have demonstrated that fat burn increases in adipose tissue (fat cells) following intense sculpting workouts. This occurs in the fat adjacent to, or in very close proximity to, working muscles. For example, 3 sets of 25 leg extensions will increase fat burn in the body fat near the thigh muscles (in this case, the quadriceps) for about 30 minutes. That would mean, according to the results published, you are burning fat from the front of the thighs, near the working thigh muscles, after you finish your workout!
Unfortunately, the abdominals seem to be the exception to this rule. According to the latest study published in Journal Strength Conditioning Research (2011), spot-reduction in the abdominal area is not possible. This information may help shed some light on why you are not getting the results you desire from your current abdominal training. Does this mean that you should ditch your 3-days-per-week abs workout and give up on reducing dangerous and often unsightly “belly fat?” Absolutely not! There are still solutions for toning the abs, even though they do resist spot-reduction. Many women have a tight, toned “8-pack” hiding underneath a layer of subcutaneous fat (the fat just under the skin), with a lot of muscular strength and endurance from some serious abdominal training. How do you reveal this hard-earned muscle definition? It may not be easy, but it can be done. Before you take my word for it, please understand that I speak not only from my education as a certified personal trainer but also from my own personal experience. In the months following my second back surgery, I gained quite a bit of central adiposity (ab fat) due to my inability to exercise. The fat made me miserable, but I shed it within a few months once I was able to exercise again. So, you CAN sculpt your abs!
The results of a study from Southern Illinois University indicate that proper diet is fundamental in losing ab fat. I couldn’t agree more; however, myriad evidence shows that there are more than just dietary aspects to solving the belly fat conundrum.
1. HIIT Cardio
Cardio is essential when attempting to reduce fat from all over the body, particularly the abs. Specifically, intervals of high intensity aerobic activity followed by rest or active recovery, known as HIIT, are particularly helpful for the abdominal area. This type of cardio isn’t easy, but it works. HIIT stimulates the release of fat-burning hormones such as epinephrine, norepenephrine, and growth hormone, which target abdominal adiposity. HIIT inhibits the activity of fat-storing enzymes such as lipoprotein lipase (LPL) while intensifying the fat-burning enzyme hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL). In addition, the EPOC (excess post-exercise consumption) effect, of HIIT cardio conditioning has been shown to last up to 72 hours! That is a long time to continue burning calories!
To reap the benefits of interval training, you can take any one of our HIIT classes or do an interval program on the cardio equipment at Lucille Roberts. For instance, you may try sprinting on the treadmill for 30 seconds to 1 minute at a speed of 7 or 8, then walk at a speed of 4 or jog lightly at speed of 5 for 2-4 minutes of “active recovery”. If you are unable to run, you can perform this type of activity by varying the intensity of the incline on the treadmill. You can also accomplish this on an elliptical or bike by varying the speed, resistance level, or both.
One caveat: HIIT training should only be done 2-3 times per week, due to injury risk. Alternate it with other “steady state cardio” aerobic workouts, such as a light jog or brisk walk. You can also take another one of our cardio classes like Zumba, Triple Fat Burn, or Step. These classes keep the heart rate up for about 45 minutes and will have you burning fat and improving cardiovascular fitness while using all of the major muscle groups in the body. Recent research from Texas showed that 4 days per week of cardio activity, performed for a minimum of 30 minutes at a time, seems to be the magic number for fat loss!
2. Strength Training
Strength training is also particularly helpful in the battle against belly bulge. You have heard it before: muscle burns fat. Muscles, particularly fit muscles, preferentially use fat for fuel from all over your body, including the abdominal area. The calorie burn from a fatiguing body-sculpting routine can be quite substantial during and after your workout is complete. After one of our Total Body, Tummy Tuck & Butt Lift, or Upper Cuts & Abs classes or after a toning workout on our equipment, you will continue to burn calories. Your body is now working to sculpt new muscle, and this process known as protein synthesis takes work. You will continue this afterburn effect for 48 hours, as your body works to build new muscle cells.
Adequate sleep is essential when looking to reduce ab fat and overall fat. Aim for 6-8 hours, even 9 hours, per night—no less and no more—for optimizing your body’s fat-burning potential. Sleep promotes muscle recovery and decreases the production of fat-storing hormones, such as cortisol and insulin, that encourage fat deposition in the midriff area. Proper rest also encourages improved insulin sensitivity. This allows your body to shuttle blood sugar more easily into cells for use, to discourage fat storage, and to increase the ability to burn fat, specifically from the abs. In addition, after a poor night’s rest, your hunger hormone ghrelin spikes, leaving you famished the following day.
As a certified nutritional counselor and weight-loss coach, I take this part very seriously. I have researched extensively the topic of “fat burning” and specifically “belly fat burning” foods. My clients get results! Every single one of my clients drinks at least one of our LiveRite whey protein shakes per day mixed with fat-free milk. (You may substitute almond milk if you are lactose intolerant.) Certain foods, such as those that mimic estrogen activity may cause additional fat storage in the abdominal area, due to hormonal manipulation. Fat-free or low-fat dairy is always my first choice in the “belly fat”-burning department. Whey protein, like that found in our shakes, has been proven to target abdominal fat and to increase thermogenisis (metabolic rate) after consumption. Whey protein, one of milk’s two proteins, also encourages improved insulin sensitivity, encouraging fat loss. Moreover, it increases satiety and helps you fight off additional calorie intake later in the day and evening.
Other belly fat-burning foods include high fiber whole grains, apples, blueberries, low-fat and fat-free yogurt (no high fructose corn syrup), lean proteins such as chicken and fish, and healthy fats like almonds, peanut or nut butter, avocado, and olive oil. Green tea and ice cold water are a must: 2-3 cups of strong caffeinated green tea per day and 8-11 cups of ice cold water are recommended.
Please remember always to pair some protein with your carbohydrate source, such as an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter or 3/4 cup of blueberries with yogurt. Cold, fat-free milk and cereal with a few berries and almonds is just one example of a belly fat-burning start to your day!
Hard work and persistence pays off when it comes to sculpting a sexy “six pack”, so don’t give up! Give yourself some time, put in the effort, and it will pay off. Keep up your hard work during your abdominal workouts, and your muscle definition will be revealed! Good luck!