All About Abs
By: Alison Hall
It is commonly believed that six-pack abs are the product of the most popular workout fad. In fact, a library search for “six-pack abs,” came up with 537 hits, yet only 14 were scholarly, peer-reviewed sources. The rest were magazine articles with the next great workout supposedly designed to “shred your abs” or get “rock solid abs.” The workouts were complete core workouts, but most of them made no mention of cardio for overall fat loss or a good clean diet. A well-rounded approach to abdominal training and the coveted six-pack needs to consist of all three.
Core Strengthening Exercises
While the six pack is aesthetically pleasing, it is more important to strengthen your entire core. The core refers to the abdominal and lumbar spine areas. While strong abdominals can be shown off as the six-pack, a strong back is equally important for good posture and muscular balance. To begin strengthening your core, you should first strengthen your deep core stabilizer muscles. Core stability, defined as a dynamic equilibrium between whole body movement and controlled motion or stability of the spine,1 is critical for controlling the motion of the trunk over the pelvis. This leads to control of your body from head to toe as you move. Once the spine and pelvis can be controlled, dynamic core strengthening exercises can be performed. A variety of equipment can be used, including stability balls, medicine balls, BOSUs, weights, and machines. If you are unsure how to use them, consult a personal trainer. Pilates is a type of exercise that works both core stability and mobility. Joseph Pilates created his exercise series to concentrate on controlling your “powerhouse,” which consists of the core muscles, while moving your limbs with fluidity and precision.2 Mason fitness offers Pilates classes at the RAC. Visit fitness.gmu.edu for more information.
No matter how strong your abdominal muscles are, you can’t see them if they’re hidden under a layer of fat. Cardio exercise is essential for many reasons, including improving cardiovascular health, but especially if showing your abs is your goal. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) recommends at least five days per week (150 minutes total) of moderate intensity cardio, at least three days a week (75 minutes total) of higher intensity cardio, or three to five days per week of a combination of the two.3 Following these recommendations will increase your calorie deficit, helping to lose any unwanted belly fat.
There’s a saying “you can’t out exercise a poor diet.” All the cardio and core training in the world won’t make a difference in the appearance of your abs if you don’t eat clean. Avoid as much processed food as possible. Select whole grains over refined. Limit soda, alcohol, and sugary foods. Pay attention to serving sizes, and eat an appropriate amount of calories for your activity level. Include a full rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day. The USDA site choosemyplate.gov is an excellent resource for a proper diet. Following these dietary guidelines will help show off all your hard work.
Remember, healthful habits are far more important than how you look. If you train and eat smart, you will reap more benefits than you could ever imagine.
- Weeks B, Horan SA. Core Stability for Performance and Injury Prevention. Modern Athlete & Coach. 2013:51(2);13-16.
- Fitour Primary Pilates Certification Manual, 2008.
- Clark MA, Lucett SC, Sutton BG (Eds.). NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training (2012). Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Does Exercise Really Boost your Metabolism?
By: Anya Sailey
There are many claims of “boosted metabolism” as a result of exercise in the fitness industry today. Both journal articles discussed herein address the human metabolism and energy expenditure in relation to post-exercise thermogenesis. Additionally, both articles seek to disprove the common theory that “the human metabolic rate remains elevated for up to 48 hours post-exercise” (Bingham et. al., 1989). The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition article discusses the efficacy of several weight-loss strategies pertaining to variation in macronutrient distribution. This article’s main research topic seeks to “investigate whether or not there is a sustained effect of either moderate or intense exercise on metabolic rate.” (Freedman-Akabas et al., 1985) The British Journal of Nutrition article authors seek to determine “whether or not there is a sustained enhancement in metabolic rate following physical exercise.” (Bingham et. al., 1989) The significance of this experiment relates to the author’s challenge of the efficacy of weight-control solely based upon the exercise component of a fitness program.
The objective of both articles is to investigate the effect of moderate or intense exercise on metabolism. The first study used VO2 (volume of Oxygen consumption) to evaluate the fitness level of participants before and af
ter exercise. Researchers found that VO2 levels returned to their baseline values 40 minutes after exercising and remained for at least 3 hours, regardless of gender or fitness level. In the second study, volunteers’ vital signs, physiological compositions, intakes/outputs, standardized diets, and exercise methods were observed over time. Researchers found that metabolic rates did not change over time when measured up to 24 hours post-exercise.
Both articles concluded that there are no significant sustained effects on resting metabolic rates post-exercise. (Freedman-Akabas et al., 1985, Bingham et al., 1989) Both studies show that the human metabolism is not significantly “boosted” as a result of exercise for a longer period of time than the duration of the exercise itself. This finding is discouraging for marketing schemes targeting those who want to believe that their metabolism will increase as a result of a certain product or repeated physical exercise. Both studies highlight the beneficial effects of exercise, and conclude that the component of sustainability in terms of physical exercise is crucial: it is not possible to expect significant results in the resting period between exercises. Additionally, both articles stress the importance of diet in terms of weight-control program implementation.
Bingham, S.A., Goldberg, G.R., Coward, W.A., A.M. Prentice, and J.H. Cummings. (1989). The effect of exercise and improved physical fitness on basal metabolic rate. In British Journal of Nutrition 61, 155-173.
Freedman-Akabas, S., Colt, E., H. Kisseleff, and F. Xavier Pi-Sunyer. (1985). Lack of sustained increase in VO2 following exercise in fit and unfit subjects. In American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 41, 545-549.