t’s usually the first thing we get told when we meet with someone for the first time during their fitness assessment: “I want to have 6-pack abs.” At some point in the long history of human aesthetics, seeing ones abdominal muscles has become the pinnacle sign of someone’s fitness level. Each year, millions of people blindly spend money on magazines, fitness gimmicks, and bogus nutrition supplements solely on the fact that these products make the promise of giving you the flat, rigid stomach that you are supposed to have. However, there is one problem: none of these sources that claim to be “the only thing you need to get the body that you want” actually educate the person.
When it comes to achieving a look that allows for your rectus abdominus muscle to show through, there are two main things to keep in mind, one which you can control, and the other you can’t: your body fat and your genetics. When it comes to the former, there are a few variables that you can manipulate that will help put you in position to have the best chance of achieving the look you want, the first being diet. One of the biggest inhibitors of getting a lean midsection is the quantity and selection of food that is being placed in the body. Any extra calories, in the form of the food we eat, that is not used up through the course of our daily activity will ultimately be stored as fat. More so, carbohydrates in particular create issues because their caloric content has a way of sneaking up on you without you realizing it. Therefore, try to keep your calorie intake managed by getting an understanding of how many calories you actually need per day given your lifestyle and activity level. This way you will have an idea of how much you can eat in a day without going over and putting yourself at risk of having left over calories to be stored as fat (a great way to calculate your needs can be found on this site: http://www.active.com/fitness/calculators/calories ).
Additionally, when choosing your dietary carbohydrate options, try to make most of your carbs come from fruits and vegetables. This will allow you to get the carbs that you need, plus have the added benefit of fiber which will make you feel fuller faster and curb your appetite.
The next way that you can help yourself get closer to a washboard stomach is to manipulate the type and amount of cardio vascular exercise you are doing. As we stated before, if extra calories left over to be stored as fat (i.e. unused energy) is the main problem we face in order to see the abs we want, then burning those calories (i.e. using that energy) must become a primary focus. So, if you typically live a relatively sedentary life, make sure you get up and take a walk, go jogging or go for a swim as a way to add activity into your schedule. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention require adults to do at least 20min of cardio activity every day just to stay healthy (http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/).
However, in order to do real damage to those fat stores, try increasing that to 30-45min per day. Doing physical activities can also serve as time for you to de-stress from your day, which helps your mental health as well! If getting out and running is not usually an issue for you, try changing up your routine by doing intervals where you sprint for 1min and jog for 3min on and off again over a period of 30-45min. The interval method is an extremely simple way to get more calories burned per session. Whatever activity you choose to perform, remember the key is to always use up more calories than you take in. If you ever need help finding an activity that works best for you, never hesitate to ask an expert! (Feel free to mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org).
In addition to cardio activity, resistance training is vital to helping you cut body fat and help you trim the midsection. Specifically, by building your lean muscle mass through progressive strength training, you are creating a constant fat-burning environment inside your body because maintaining muscle requires more energy than storing fat. Over time, this process raises your metabolism or the amount of energy required to power you through your daily life, making you more efficient at using the calories you get from the food you eat, and protecting you from the dangers of over eating. The best way to make your workouts as efficient and as fat-burning as possible, is to be sure to work all major muscle groups including your chest, back, legs and glutes.
As you can see, there is a little more effort, discipline, and work that needs to be applied in order to get that coveted 6-pack. Unfortunately, contrary to what marketers would like you to believe, buying the new crunch machine, or shocking your abs with electrical stim pads, or simply doing 1,000 sit ups will never get you to where you want to be. That being said, there is hope! The body is capable of achieving seriously high levels of performance and appearance when it is stimulated and stressed in the appropriate way-the only thing you have to do is ask! (You should begin sooner rather than later, because swimsuit season will be here before you know it!)
Motivation: as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is a force or influence that causes someone to do something
It’s one of the great mysteries of human nature, whether we are aware of it or not, there is a constant all-out war going on within us between our will and our body. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” is a popular saying that illustrates this fact: no matter how motivated we are to make a positive change in our lives, we still need our bodies to be on board to carry out the act. As a result, you wouldn’t have to look very far to find someone who would agree with you that the hardest part of maintaining a fit lifestyle is exactly that-the maintenance. There are so many factors that can interfere with a person's ability to stay on track; whether it’s lack of sleep, too many other things to do, improper eating habits, and the list goes on. But while the decision to make regular exercise a continual part of your daily lifestyle ultimately depends on you, there are a number of resources and habits that you can utilize to help you stay consistent in the gym.
Keep your goal to yourself (or at least, tell very few people about it). Psychologists who study human motivation have discovered that when you tell someone that you are about to do something great or meaningful before you actually do it, the positive feedback that you receive from your friends triggers the reward center in your brain in the same way that actually accomplishing the task does. In other words, you get the same good feeling of accomplishment without actually doing the work to achieve it (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHopJHSlVo4). Therefore, as much as possible, try to keep your goal to yourself, telling only one or two of your closest allies if you need their support to help you, and in the end, your hard work and results will reward you.
Having said that, it can be helpful to have an "account-abili-buddy"(South Park). Pick someone who you trust to be tough with you should you ever try to deviate from your exercise program, and even better, someone who would be willing to go with you to the gym at the same time. Not only will this person create a positive social pressure to keep you going, they can also be someone you can commiserate with. As trainers, we have seen this in action time and time again through training married couples, which is why we always say: “the couple that lifts together, stays together!”
Make a plan (or have someone help you make one). Empirical evidence suggests that writing down a list of tasks to be accomplished is much more helpful at getting things done than just trying to remember what you need to do. This theory can easily be applied in the gym as well. For example, having an established list of exercises to accomplish for the day will do a better job of keeping you on task better than just “making things up as you go until you feel like you’ve done enough.” Don’t know what exercises you should do, on which days, in which order? Ask an experienced trainer! You can meet with one locally or find a great online training program to guide you through! (http://sentinelperformancellc.trainerize.com).
Create small rewards for when you reach different milestones. The human mind is wired to reward the body whenever it receives a positive stimulus, mainly as a means of survival. For example, we feel satisfied after eating because the body doesn’t want to be hungry. Likewise, we can give ourselves different small rewards if we reach fitness goals: get a massage after 4 months of not missing a workout; let yourself have a cheat day at the end of a week of strict eating; get yourself a stylish pair of slacks once you get down to a new waist size; etc. The idea is that you give yourself something small that you want ONLY after doing what you have set out to do in the gym to earn it.
The human mind-body connection is an incredibly powerful phenomenon. Without it, the history of human achievement would have never occurred. However, it does require mastery in order to be utilized effectively. The good news is that there is hope! Taking big goals piece by piece, working modestly, and surrounding yourself with people who you trust to help you are just a few ideas that can produce massive results. We are all given the ability to achieve something special; we can’t wait to see what you do with yours!
When you have spent as much time in the gym as we have, you come to notice some pretty crazy stuff.
Most of the time this is due to the fact that the general exerciser, through no fault of their own, is trying to do the best they can by themselves to recreate a movement they saw in Women’s Health Magazine, or trying to remember the workout routine they followed from the poster in their high school weight room. These are pretty easy situations for us to fix; a little gentle correction and instruction is all it really takes to get the person on the right track.
But what happens when you look around as you rest between sets, and notice A TRAINER demonstrating a clearly asinine exercise to some unsuspecting individual? It’s an unfortunate reality that is all too common in our industry: uneducated “exercise professionals” trying to find new variations of traditional movements for the sake of looking cool in front of their clients and other gym members. But no need to worry; we are here to help you! The following are a handful of made-up exercises that we’ve noticed through the years, that you should avoid at all costs (including running in the opposite direction if a trainer ever tries to make you do them!), and what exercise you should substitute it with instead.
“It’s like riding a bike.” We use this phrase all the time when we talk about things that come seemingly automatic for the body. Whether it’s swinging a baseball bat for the first time all winter, throwing a perfect spiral in a backyard game of football, or actually going for a bike ride, the body has the astonishing capability of being able to complete previously-learned tasks very efficiently, even if those tasks haven’t been done in a few weeks, months, or even years! The same holds true in the weight room. When you hit the weights for the first time after a break, you might notice that your muscles bounce back faster than they did when you first started working out. Most people use the term “muscle memory” to explain this phenomenon.
However, this phrase isn’t actually accurate, and the actual process entails a much more interesting process than you might think.
Any time the body completes a movement, whether it’s writing your name or deadlifting 300 pounds, the brain sends an electrical signal to the muscle fibers that are responsible for completing the action. Once the signal reaches the neuromuscular junction (the location where a motor neuron connects with all of the muscle fibers that it controls), the muscle fibers are stimulated, and the action is completed. Over time, if this particular action is repeated numerous times, a neuromuscular pathway is created so that the brain can communicate to the appropriate muscles as quickly and efficiently as possible. This process is separate from the idea that our muscles “remember” the action and just do it automatically themselves.
This phenomenon can be described in a different way. Let’s say you are needing to get through a dense forest in order to get to your grandma’s house. The first time you get to the forest, you have never seen it before, and so you are not sure what the most efficient route is, forcing you to take quite a while to get through to the other side. Over time, after you have made the trip multiple times, you begin to notice that there is a shorter, easier route that you can take that makes your trip a lot quicker. Once you start using this route over and over again, you start wearing a path on the ground from walking the same way every time you journey through the woods. Soon, you get to the point where you are able to complete the task of getting to grandma’s house very easily and quickly, not because you have to remember how to do it each time, but because you just simply follow the pathway that you’ve created by practicing the journey time and
One last key point that is helpful to keep in mind, is how the body reacts physiologically after coming back from a period of time-off, or detraining. When the body is regularly doing resistance training, scientists have discovered that one of the adaptations that occurs is the addition of cell nuclei in the muscle fiber cells. It was found that the stimulus placed on the muscle cells, from the added resistance of the weights you lift, actually forces the cells to create new nuclei in each muscle cell. This adaptation occurs so that the nuclei can elicit more protein synthesis to take place, which in turn grows the muscle belly bigger and stronger. If you have to stop training for a period of time, like in the case of injury, the newly-formed nuclei that you created while you were regularly training never goes away; they just stay dormant. Once you resume training, your body can skip the first step of creating new nuclei, and go right back to where it left off before you took your break! Therefore, the body performs better after going through a period of detraining, not because the muscles themselves “remember” how to do an action, but because of the physiological changes that occur in the body as a result of the previously sustained regular resistance training.
As is the case with so much in the world of exercise and resistance training, there are quite a few misnomers and myths out there that are used to describe how the body adapts to exercise. While “muscle memory” might be a quick alliterative way of explaining the body’s efficiency, we can now see how sorely lacking it is in explaining the true phenomenon of the body’s ability to adapt to exercise. Additionally, now that you know a little bit about the ins and outs of how neuromuscular pathways and muscle adaptations truly work through consistent training, we hope that you can put to rest an inaccurate phrase with a different one that is just as popular and much more applicable: “practice makes perfect!”
There are few things in life more frustrating than waiting for the visual results of exercise to appear. Whether we verbalize it or not, we have all thought it before: “I know exercise works, but how much longer do I have to do this before I SEE a difference? It’s enough to make you want to abandon the gym altogether and go on a crash diet. However, as is the case with so much else in life, changes must take place on the inside of your body before any kind of changes on the outside can appear. That’s where understanding a little bit about what goes on in your body when you embark on a workout program becomes little helpful.
By its nature, the body has built-in response capabilities that allows it to overcome and adapt to the millions of stressors of its external environment. When you breathe in dust, your body coughs it out in order to keep it out of the lungs. When you get cut, your body develops a scab in order to keep dirt from getting into your blood stream and causing infection. Likewise, resistance training is also a stress (albeit deliberate) that is placed on the body that requires a number of adaptations to occur in order to overcome them. Namely, these adaptations effect the body at the neurological, muscular, endocrine, and anthropomorphic levels.
Neurological changes are the first to occur when working out. Because our muscles are controlled by the firing of neurons, over time the body must learn to increase both the intensity and the frequency of these firings in order to allow the muscles to repeatedly work over a given number of repetitions or at a given amount of load. The increase in frequency of the neuron firing a muscle fiber is known as “rate coding,” and is responsible for developing efficient coordinated movement in your muscles over time. Additionally, the body’s ability to lift heavier loads with training is due to “increased motor unit recruitment,” which occurs when the amount of muscle fibers that a given neuron innervates is increased-the more muscle fibers that fire at one time, the more weight you can lift!
The next adaptation the body goes through occurs within the muscle belly itself. Within each muscle group in our body, we have two basic types of fibers that are responsible for completing different activities. Type I muscle fibers are responsible for activities that require long duration and low loads like running, walking, and maintaining our erect posture. Type II fibers are the ones responsible for quick bursts of energy, under heavy loads, for short duration like weightlifting and jumping. Specifically in regards to the type II fibers, chronic and progressive resistance training causes these fibers to grow in size, known as “hypertrophy,” which allows the body to lift heavier weight.
Third, the endocrine, or hormonal, system must undergo some changes, typically occurring a few months after you have stayed consistent with your training program. Although there are a plethora of different hormones that have a role in the body’s development from resistance training, growth hormone and testosterone are the two most important when it comes to muscle repair, development, and maintenance. After each workout that you complete, testosterone and growth hormone are released in order to take protein and repair the muscle fibers that were damaged from the weight that you lifted. As a result, over time and repetitive bouts of resistance exercise, these hormones build your muscles stronger, leaner, and denser so that they can withstand more and more weight as you go through each workout of your program.
Lastly, the anthropomorphic, or body-shape, changes occur. This is where the fun begins! As a result of all the internal changes that occur over months of regular resistance exercise, the body finally starts to take the desirable shape and appearance that you want. Namely, due to the increased percentage of your body weight now being comprised of muscle, your body uses any stored fat you may have in addition to the calories you consume from food, and devotes them entirely to maintaining your muscles. Your muscles literally turn your body into a fat-burning machine! Furthermore, since you have less fat underneath your skin, your muscle definition begins to appear more prominent, giving you an overall tighter, firmer, and slimmer figure. FINALLY!!
Lift after lift, workout after workout, you put all your effort in and see little immediate results in the end. It seems like it takes forever for all these adaptations to occur! Until that day when you catch yourself in the mirror and you see an ab muscle. Or, you get praised about how good you look by a friend or family member who might not have seen you in a while. And finally you realize your patience and hard work WAS ALL WORTH IT.
Joe Gernetzke CSCS