CindySays: Strong core, healthy eating key less fat
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Dear Cindy,
I am a longtime workout guy who for 45 years was really proud of my physique. Active all my life, but lately I'm losing pride because I'm gaining a gut! I'm not doing anything different. I think I eat about the same amount of calories and do the strength training. In fact, I was the reigning champion of crunches for many years. I could do hundreds at a time, and now that doesn't help me lose the inches it once did. I see people doing lots of stuff on balls and such and want to know it that is what I should be doing. Bottom line, how can I get back in the groove and leave the gut behind? -- Bill
Your quest is common. In fact, type "core training" or "abs" in your computer's search engine and no less than 24.7 million results will pop up. Gee -- so much to read, so little time to work out!
Belly fat, core training, ab workouts, flat stomachs are all über-popular subjects, especially since most every fitness magazine you glance at has a headline concerning it. Let's face it -- it's simply irresistible, and since it is such an appealing topic, and flat bellies are so desirable, I urge you to rethink the possibilities of ab training.
History of abdominal training
Partner-assisted exercises began by lying on the floor with straight legs and a friend holding your feet so you could curl up. Not a problem for adolescents, but good luck with that technique later in life.
Fast-forward to Jack LaLanne
We all remember this incredible fitness guru and the multitude of Herculean efforts LaLanne performed on his morning television show challenging his physical limits. He once did 1,033 sit-ups (as they were called at that time) in 23 minutes. And since then, many sit-up/crunch records have been set and reset. Can you imagine how fast the sit-up (knees bent and chest raised toward them) would have to be to complete that many -- not exactly healthy, but definitely worthy of interest.
Suffice it to say that Jack LaLanne was a pioneer of fitness and had to attract attention to get people moving. I love him forever for that. However, this is not the way to train your abs and flatten your stomach.
Creation of crunches
Sit-ups became crunches, and we learned in the fitness world that these were safer and more effective than previous forms of abdominal exercise. Fitness instructors tried to fine-tune form by cueing, which is with knees bent, chin-to-chest as if you're holding an apple between them, and elbows back. Keep it slow and controlled. Definitely an improvement, but people still tried to lift too far from the floor and used momentum and bought quickly into the myth that more is better.
$ketchy $cience and lots of marketing 'must-have' core tools
Multimillion-dollar businesses were launched and start-up fitness companies sought to create better core training (aka new buzzword) equipment to cash in on America's obsession with the illusive six-pack. Rollers and twisters and balls -- oh my! Consumers were convinced that they required a specific piece of equipment to get rid of their gut, and inexperienced trainers decided to build all their training regimens around circus-like equipment to add variety and appear "current."
What is an effective core training program?
Too much conflicting information can make it impossible to determine the best way to strengthen the muscles of the abdominal region and the back (the core). Keep in mind the core is responsible for transferring forces from the ground, through the legs and trunk and out through the upper extremities. We don't train the core to prepare us to lie down, so why should we think that lying on our backs and doing crunches is an optimum exercise? It's not. Crunches do serve a purpose for those who lack basic core stability. But once that is achieved, the work must continue in other planes in order to support the dynamic forces the body deals with in an upright posture.
Stabilize the body against gravity
A few initial exercises to begin building core stability are: bird-dog, front plank, side plank, glute bridge and stability ball crunches. Then integrate core strength and dynamic balance by doing medicine ball chops, inverted flyers, glute lunges and lunges with rotations. If you are strength training with free weights or kettle bells, know that you are challenging your core with every rep otherwise you would lose your balance.
Now, the bottom line
Like it or not, the truth is you can crunch, plank, lunge, rotate and break every record for the number of abdominal exercises you want, but if you are carrying a excess body fat, you will never see a six-pack and your gut will never disappear.
If you want to have a lean stomach, you must have a lean body. There is no such thing as spot-reduction, so crunching won't eliminate the fat in your belly. Diet and good nutrition will. Seventy-five percent of what your body looks like is due to nutrition, and 25 percent is due to training. Healthy eating not only supports your workouts, it can get you back in the groove and help you leave your gut behind.
Cindy Boggs, fitness presenter, author and Activate America director, has been an ACE-certified instructor/trainer since 1989. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to her at YMCA of Kanawha Valley, 100 YMCA Drive, Charleston, WV 25311, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Look for Cindy's award-winning fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World," at www.cindysays.com, or contact the YMCA at 304-340-3527.