Welcome to my personal training blog. There is so much information around regarding exercise and diets it's hard to know what is going to work for you. With over 12 years in the industry, I aim to bring my experience and knowledge to this blog so you can learn the best way's to achieve your health and fitness goals.

Monday, 2 March 2009

How many sit ups does it take to get a flat stomach?

Almost all of us have at some stage desired a flatter or more defined set of stomach muscles. Companies have developed hundreds of machines promising just 5 minutes a day will give you the stomach you've always wanted and we have performed hundreds of situps or crunches in our quest for the perfect stomach. Has this worked? As most of you can testify to, the answer is a resounding no.

So what is going wrong? We want a flat stomach so we do lots of exercises that work the stomach muscles and yet nothing happens. Why not?. A better understanding of how the body works will explain why this theory doesn't work in practice and what does work.

What we actually want to do is reduce the amount of body fat that covers our abdominal muscles and train our abdominal muscles to give us the shape we want in our abdominal area. All of us have a "six pack" , most of us have a layer of fat that covers it hiding it from view.

First of all lets look at reducing body fat. We know that spot reduction doesn't work i.e if we exercise one part of the body that will not influence where our body burns fat from. Our body burns fat from wherever it is genetically programmed to burn fat from. It differs for everybody and cannot be influenced by exercise. What we can influence is how many calories are burned during and after exercise. If we combine this with a good diet it will effect how much fat is burned.

How do we do this? It is very simple - the bigger the muscle group the more calories you burn. So using this knowledge you can easily see that doing a few extra sets of squats in your gym program and skipping the 100's of situps at the end is much more likely to give you a better looking set of abdominals.

Just so there's no confusion let me repeat that - if you want better looking abdominals doing squats will have a much greater effect than doing situps.

"How is doing a leg exercise possibly going to give me better abs - I dont even feel my abs when I do squats?" I hear you ask. Feeling your abs and burning calories are two very different things. When you do squats you use your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, abdominals, back muscles and the biggest muscle of your body - your glutes. Every one of these muscles is much larger than your abdominals and will burn a lot more calories. Remember what you want to do is burn fat and the more calories you use the more fat you can burn.

What burns the most calories? The bigger muscles you use the more calories you burn. So exercises like squats, lunges, push ups, chin ups will use a lot more calories than crunches.

Now once we've started reducing our bodyfat levels we can give some thought to the shape of our abdominals. Many people don't realise your stomach muscles are made up of 4 different muscles and between them they bend you forwards, bend you sideways, rotate your spine and stabilise your spine. Most stomach exercises focus on the bending forwards aspect and ignore everything else. Often when doing these exercises people use their hip flexors instead of the abdominals. The net result of this is tight hip flexors, increased curve in your lower back and weaker stomach muscles giving the appearance of someone whose belly is sticking out. Not exactly what you are after I'm guessing.

I often see people doing crunches on a ball in the mistaken believe that doing them on a ball is better than doing them on the ground. Poor technique is poor technique whether you do them on the floor or on a ball. Even if you do them correctly you are still only working one small muscle to the detriment of the other abdominal muscles and burning very few calories.

So if situps or crunches aren't any good in burning body fat and aren't any good for working your abdominals should you bother doing them at all if you want a great set of abdominals?

In a word NO. They are among the most poorly performed exercise in the gym and even when done correctly give you very little benefit. There are hundreds of other exercises that will work your stomach muscles more effectively and burn more calories.

Exercises such as Prone ball rolls , standing medicine ball rotations, cable wood chops are a good start. If you dont know how to do them see an instructor who knows how to exercise all four muscles of the abdominals effectively. How will you know if they do or not? First step is ask them to name the four muscles of the stomach - if they dont say rectus abdominus, external obliques, internal obliques and transverse abdominus ask someone else. You can be fairly sure if a trainer can't name the four muscles they are going to have even less idea how to train them!

SO if you want great looking abs do lots of compound exercises that use lots of muscles, incorporate exercises that work all four abdominal muscles and eat a healthy diet. Dont do a thousand sit ups!

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