This may sound counter-intuitive, but if you can’t see your abs, it’s not an issue of “muscle development” at all. You simply have too much body fat covering up the ab muscles. The lower abdominal area also happens to be the one place that most people—especially men— store body fat first.
There's a Scientific Reason Why Your Lower Ab Flab Is the Last to Go: Belly Fat—A Big Problem
Most people don’t have their fat distributed evenly throughout their bodies. Each of us inherits a genetically determined and hormonally-influenced pattern of fat storage just as we inherit our eye or hair color. In other words, the fat seems to “stick” to certain areas more than others.
There’s a scientific reason for this. Your fat cells are not just inert “storage tanks” for excess fuel. They are actually endocrine glands which send and receive signals from the rest of the body. You could say that your fat cells “talk to your body” and your body “talks to your fat cells.” This occurs through a hormone and receptor system.
For body fat loss to occur, you must first get the fat cells (adipocytes) to release the fat into the bloodstream. THEN, the free fatty acids must be delivered to the working muscles where they are burned for energy.
For fat to be released, the hormone adrenaline (epinephrine) must be secreted and send a signal to your fat cells. Your fat cells receive this hormonal signal via adrenaline receptors called adrenoreceptors.
Fat cells have Beta 1 (B1) and Alpha 2 (A2) receptors. B1 receptors are the good guys. They activate hormone-sensitive lipase, the enzyme that breaks down the fat and allows it to be released into the bloodstream to be burned. A2 receptors are the bad guys. They block the fat releasing enzymes in the fat cell and encourage body fat formation.
How Body Fat Storage Patterns Affect You and Keep Your Abs from Showing
What’s the point of all this physiology? Well, it turns out that in men, the lower abdominal region has a higher concentration of A2 receptors, so this gives us one possible explanation of why the lower abdominal region is often the first place the fat goes when you gain it, and the last place it comes off when you’re losing it. (Incidentally, the fat in women’s hips and thighs is also higher in A2 receptors.) This situation is dictated by genetics and by the hormonal and enzymatic pathways just discussed.
Think of ab fat like the deep end of the swimming pool. No matter how much you protest, there is no way you can drain the deep end before the shallow end. However, don’t let this discourage you. Lower ab fat WILL come off, it will simply be the last place to come off. Simply put: First place on, last place off.
This helps to explain why abdominal exercises have little impact on body fat loss. It’s a huge mistake to think that hundreds or thousands of reps of ab exercises will remove lower abdominal fat, except to the degree that it burns calories and contributes to a calorie deficit. What removes the fat—all over your body—is a calorie deficit and that comes from decreasing food intake, increasing activity, or a combination of both.
How to Use Cardio for MAXIMUM Fat Burning
Times have changed since the aerobics revolution of the 1970s and 1980s. For years, aerobics was the darling of the fitness world. Then scientists began to acknowledge the benefits of weight training—for everyone, not just for bodybuilders.
Recently, the pendulum has swung the other direction and we’ve actually started hearing fitness “experts” suggesting that cardio should be kept to a minimum or even avoided completely. That’s the way things tend to go in the fitness world: they swing back and forth in trends, from one extreme to another. Lots of cardio or no cardio.
You can avoid trend-hopping and pay close attention to what actually works, by people who know what they are talking about. Doing nothing but cardio is a mistake. But cutting your cardio completely is also a mistake. The truth lies in the middle. Maximum fat burning occurs when you combine cardio training and weight training together. Those who are genetically gifted with above average metabolisms will find that a slight drop in food intake and just a few days a week of cardio will usually do the trick. However, most people who are struggling with fat loss (sometimes referred to as “endomorph” body type) are simply NOT burning enough calories to get the results they want. The answer for them is more activity to burn more calories.
For health and weight maintenance, 3 short cardio workouts per week, about 20-30 minutes per session. But for maximum fat loss, 4-7 days per week of cardio or other physical activity for 30-45 minutes (based on results), at a moderate pace. You can mix up the type of cardio you do, or choose the type you enjoy the most—stationary cycling, stair climbing, elliptical machines, aerobic classes and other continuous activities are all excellent fat burners (it doesn’t have to be indoors or on a cardio machine). If time efficiency is a concern for you, you could do 2-3 of these cardio workouts as high intensity interval training and you’ll achieve very good results with briefer workouts. Even as little as 20-25 minutes per session can get great results IF your intensity level is high enough.
Remember, seeing your abs is about low body fat. Low body fat is about burning calories and creating a calorie deficit. You create a calorie deficit by increasing the number of calories you burn and/or decreasing the amount of calories you take in from food. Increasing intensity is one way to burn more calories in less time. NOTE: To reach the “ripped” 3.7% body fat level, suggestions are 7 days a week for 30-45 minutes per session, in addition to 4 weight training workouts per week.
7 Nutrition Secrets for Great Abs
That leads us to nutrition. Many people say that “abdominals are made in the kitchen, not in the gym,” and there’s a lot of truth to that. You can do thousands of reps of ab work every week, but if your nutrition is not in order, you can forget about getting a great set of 6-pack abs.
Here are 7 nutrition secrets for great abs:
1. Eat about 15-20% below your calorie maintenance level. If you use a more aggressive calorie deficit of 25-30%, then do not keep calories too low for too long; increase your calories to maintenance or maintenance +10-15% 1-2 days per week.
2. Spread your calories into 5-6 smaller meals instead of 2-3 big ones. Be very conscious of portion size. If you eat too much of anything (even “healthy” food), you can say goodbye to your abs. Period.
3. Eat a source of complete, high quality lean protein with each meal (egg whites, lean meat, fish, protein powder, etc.)
4. Choose natural, complex carbs such as vegetables, oatmeal, yams, potatoes, beans, brown rice and whole grains. Start with approximately 50% of your calories from natural carbs and reduce carbs slightly (especially late in the day) if you are not losing fat.
5. Avoid refined, simple carbs that contain white flour or white sugar.
6. Keep total fats low and saturated fats low. Aim for 20% of your total calories from fat (and no more than 30%). A little bit of “good fat” like flaxseed oil, fish fat, nuts and seeds, and so on, is better than a no-fat diet. Essential fatty acids actually assist the fat burning process.
7. Drink plenty of water—a gallon a day is a good ballpark to shoot for if you are physically active. 1000 or more reps of daily ab work is an amazing feat of endurance, but that’s not how you get visible, 6-pack abs! If you were to do 1,000 reps of ab exercises every day, you would have outstanding development in your abdominal muscles and you would definitely have great muscular endurance. Unfortunately, if your abs are covered up with a layer of fat, you will never see them even if you do 10,000 reps a day!
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