Monday, January 28, 2008

This Just In: Doing Crunches STILL Won't Get You a Six-Pack

Writer's note: I swore I wouldn't write about this stuff. In my mind it's the rhetorical equivalent of repeatedly punching someone in the face. I'd rather tell you a funny story about the desperate attempts of various gymgoers to achieve a washboard stomach than tell you how to do it yourself. You'll never listen. What do I know about it anyway? (Sigh.)

Here's what will:

1) Plenty of fat-burning (Read: Cardio) exercise. Unless you've been living under a rock, you've heard this before---all the crunches in the world won't help your abs look good if there's a layer of fat over them.

Aim for 5 days a week, 30 minutes per session, at a variable intensity. This means: do not get on the elliptical at Level 1 and read a magazine for a half hour. Instead, alternate brief bouts (30-60 seconds) of higher intensity cardio (think an 8 or even 9 out of 10 in difficulty) with bouts (60-90 seconds) of moderate intensity cardio (think a 6 or 7 out of 10). If this sounds like a challenge, it's meant to be. There's a reason we call it a workout.

That being said, you don't need to keep this up a full 30 minutes to see results. Do a 5-minute warm-up at a low intensity, followed by 20 minutes of intervals, followed by a 5-minute cool-down. You can do this on the treadmill, alternating (on an incline) between brisk walking and running, or on the stepmill, varying your speed, or on the elliptical, varying your resistance. Mix it up for optimal fat-burning results.

2) Full-body circuit-style strength training. This is not sitting on a machine, doing one set, resting one minute, doing another set, resting again, etc. Pick 8 or 10 exercises, ideally things you can do in one area of your gym or home (to minimize the time it takes to move from one exercise to the next). Go directly from upper body exercises to lower body exercises to core exercises, so that you don't need to take breaks between sets to rest your muscles (e.g. chest presses followed by squats followed by crunches). Choose exercises that will get you on your feet and moving your ENTIRE body, like lunges and push-ups. Even better: combine exercises like lunges and military presses, or squats and bicep curls, for optimum efficiency. Complete an entire circuit by going quickly from one exercise to the next with no breaks in between. Do the circuit 3 times.

Why whole body and not just crunches? Full-body strength training=More muscle tone all over=Increased metabolic rate=More calories burned, even while at rest=More fat lost. Got it?

Note: You CANNOT control which areas your body loses fat from (i.e. no spot reducing). Fat loss is an overall result. Where you lose your weight is likely the result of genetics. Tell your mom thanks.

3) Quit eating garbage. Try to cut back on the beer and fatty foods in particular; they go straight to your stomach. This should be a no-brainer, but if you're looking for more specifics:

Drink more water. This will cut back on water retention and may help quell the sensation of being hungry.

Eat less salt. Again, less salt, less bloat. Fried, frozen, and processed foods are where you'll find it.

Choose lean protein to aid muscle development without fat gain.

Fruits. Vegetables. Fiber.

Are you still reading? You're one step closer. Ok, you still have to go to the gym, but it's a start.

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