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The big abs mistake Crunches and sit-ups and still no visible abs

Der große Bauchmuskelfehler Crunches und Situps und immer noch keine sichtbaren Bauchmuskeln

Do you want great abs? Are you desperate for a defined six-pack? Here are specific workout plans and nutritional guidelines.

After 18 years in the fitness business, "How do I get great abs?" is still by far the most common question I get asked every month. This is no doubt because abs are the one muscle group that people are most frustrated with. Even though their questions are often phrased differently and each person's situation seems to be different, my answer to the question "How do I get great abs?" is always the same... and I'll give it to you here....

"1,000 situps and crunches a day and I still don't have visible abs!"

A question I got recently caught my attention because a young exerciser told me that he was doing 1,000 crunches and situps a day and still couldn't see his abs. He wrote me the following:

"I've been working out for a year now and just can't seem to get my lower abs even remotely in shape. I am starting to see my upper abs a little, which is great, but despite doing 900 reps of different variations of crunches and 100 sit-ups four days a week on top of my regular workout, I still have a life preserver around my midsection. What else can I do?"

What did I tell him? Well, I gave him the same answer I've given to thousands of people over the years and which is the only true "secret" to great abs....

You need to train for increased strength, build endurance and develop the abs, but to see definition around your abs you need - and this applies equally to every other muscle group - to achieve a low body fat percentage.

This may seem counter intuitive, but if you can't see your abs, then this is not a muscle development issue. You are simply carrying around too much body fat that is hiding your abs. The lower abs are also the area where most people - especially men - store body fat first.

There's a scientific reason why fat around your lower abs is the last to disappear: Belly fat - a big problem

For most people, body fat is not evenly distributed across the body. Each of us inherits a genetically determined and hormonally influenced pattern of body fat distribution - in much the same way that we inherit our eye and hair color. In other words, fat seems to "stick" to certain areas more than others.

There is a scientific reason for this. Your fat cells are not just simple storage tanks for excess fuel (energy). They are actually endocrine glands that send and receive signals to 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 communication takes place via hormones and receptor systems.

In order for body fat loss to occur, you must first get the fat cell to release stored fat into the bloodstream. Then the released fatty acids must be transported to the working muscles where they can be burned for energy.

In order for fat to be released, the hormone adrenaline (epinephrine) must be released and send a signal to your fat cells. Your fat cells receive this hormonal signal via adrenaline receptors known as adrenoceptors.

Fat cells have beta 1 (B1) and alpha 2 (A2) receptors. Beta 1 receptors are the good guys. They activate the enzyme hormone-sensitive lipase, which breaks down fat and allows it to be released into the bloodstream for burning. Alpha 2 receptors are the bad guys. They block fat-releasing enzymes in the fat cell and promote fat storage.

How fat storage patterns affect you and prevent your abs from showing?

What's the reason for all this physiology? Well, as it turns out, the lower abdominal area in humans has a higher concentration of alpha 2 receptors, which gives us a possible explanation for why the lower abdominal area is often the first place we store fat and the last place we lose fat. (Coincidentally, the fat around the hips and thighs also has a higher concentration of alpha 2 receptors in women). This situation is dictated by your genetics and the hormonal and enzymatic pathways described above.

Think of belly fat as the deep end of a swimming pool. No matter how much you protest, there is no way to drain the deep end until you drain the shallow end. However, don't let this discourage you. The fat in the lower abdominal area will disappear - it is simply the last fat that will disappear. The area where fat is stored first and the area where it is broken down last.

This helps to explain why abdominal exercises have little effect on body fat loss. It is a big mistake to think that hundreds or thousands of repetitions of different abdominal exercises will help you lose fat in the lower abdominal area - at least not beyond the fact that these exercises burn calories and contribute to the calorie deficit. What the fat is shedding - all over the body - is a calorie deficit and this comes from a reduction in food intake, an increase in activity or a combination of both.

What I suggested to this young man was to cut back on his ab workouts, use the time he had previously spent doing excessive ab workouts for more intense, calorie-burning cardio and training with weights, get his diet in line and reduce his calories slightly if necessary.

As it turned out, his diet was a mess and as nutrition experts like to say, you can't make up for a lousy diet with exercise.

It's a monumental mistake to think that 1,000 reps of ab workouts a day will make your abs pop if your diet is a disaster and this leads to fat storage. I'm not saying that ab exercises are unimportant. But all the ab exercises in the world won't help as long as you continue to have body fat covering your abs. You can't target one area to lose fat with ab exercises. And you can't see your abs under a thick layer of body fat.

My award-winning abs program

Personally, I only do about 15 minutes of ab workouts twice a week, using between two and four exercises with 10 to 25 repetitions per exercise. Forget thousands of repetitions of sit-ups - that's a waste of time. The reason my abs look the way they do is not because of endless reps, but because I'm getting my body fat percentage into the single digits with a highly specialized fat-burning nutrition program.

Here's an ab program I've been using recently for bodybuilding purposes. I only do this program twice a week and change the exercises every month so my body can't adapt to them. I prefer slightly higher repetition ranges than for other muscle groups, but as you can see, this is far from a thousand reps a day.

Training session A1

  • A1 hanging leg raises
  • 3 sets, 15-20 repetitions

In superset with:

  • A2 knee raises (hanging leg raises with bent knees)
  • 3 sets, 15-20 repetitions
  • (no rest between exercises A1 and A2, 60 seconds rest between supersets)

Training session B1

  • B1 Swiss ball crunches with additional weight (or cable crunches)
  • 3 sets, 15-20 repetitions

In superset with:

  • B2 reverse crunches on the incline bench
  • 3 sets, 15-20 repetitions
  • (no rest between exercises B1 and B2, 60 seconds rest between supersets)

How to use cardio for maximum fat burning

Times have changed since the aerobics revolution in the seventies and eighties of the 20th century. For years, aerobic exercise was the darling of the fitness world. Then scientists began to recognize the benefits of training with weights - for everyone, not just bodybuilders.

Recently, the pendulum has swung the other way and we're starting to see fitness experts recommend that cardio training be minimized or even avoided altogether. This is the way things tend to go in the fitness world - swinging back and forth between trends, from one extreme to the other. Lots of cardio or no cardio at all.

I would recommend that you avoid trend hopping and instead pay close attention to what actually works. Listen to people who know their stuff and what they're talking about (like bodybuilders who are some of the leanest and most muscular people in the world). Doing nothing but cardio is a mistake, but completely forgoing cardio is just as wrong. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Maximum fat burning occurs when you combine cardio training with training with weights.

Those who are genetically blessed with an above average metabolic rate will find that a slight reduction in calorie intake and cardio training a few days a week will be enough to achieve what they desire. Most people who struggle with fat loss (sometimes referred to as people with endomorphic body types) simply don't burn enough calories to get the results they want. The answer for these people is more activity to burn more calories.

To support health and weight management, I would recommend 3 short cardio workouts of about 20 to 30 minutes duration per week. For maximum fat loss, however, I would recommend 30 to 45 minutes of moderate intensity cardio 4 to 7 days a week based on your results. You can combine different types of cardio training or use the type you like best. Training on the cycle ergometer, stairclimber, elliptical, aerobics classes and other continuous activities are all good fat burners (and your cardio doesn't have to be indoors on a cardio machine).

If time efficiency is an issue for you, then you can do 2 to 3 of these cardio workouts as high-intensity interval training and you'll get even better results with these shorter workouts. Just 20 to 25 minutes per training session can lead to great results if your intensity is high enough.

Remember that visible abs are all about a low body fat percentage. A low body fat percentage is all about burning calories and generating a calorie deficit. You achieve this calorie deficit by increasing the number of calories you burn or by reducing the number of calories you consume in the form of food. Increasing the intensity is a way to burn more calories in a shorter period of time.

7 nutrition secrets for great abs

And that brings us to nutrition. Many people say that abs are made in the kitchen and there's a lot of truth to that. You can do thousands of reps of ab workouts a week - if your diet isn't right, you can still forget about getting a great six pack.

  1. Eat about 15 to 20% below your maintenance calorie level. If you're using a more aggressive calorie deficit in the 25 to 30% range, don't keep calories too low for too long - increase your calories to or 10 to 15% above maintenance calories 1 to 2 days per week.
  2. Spread your daily calorie intake over 5 to 6 smaller meals instead of eating 2 to 3 large meals. Pay close attention to portion sizes. If you eat too much of anything - even healthy foods - you can kiss your abs goodbye.
  3. Eat complete, high-quality, low-fat protein (egg whites, lean meat, fish, protein powder, etc.) at every meal
  4. Choose natural, complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, oatmeal, yams, potatoes, beans, brown rice and whole grains. Start with about 50% of your calories in the form of natural carbohydrates and gradually reduce your calorie intake (especially in the evening) if you are not losing fat.
  5. Avoid refined, simple carbohydrates that contain white flour and sugar.
  6. Keep your total fat intake and saturated fat intake low. Aim for 20% of your calories in the form of fat (and no more than 30%). A few healthy fats such as linseed oil, fish oil, nuts, seeds, etc. are better than no fats. Essential fatty acids actually support the fat burning process.
  7. Drink plenty of water - a good 3 liters a day is a good amount to aim for if you are physically active.

1000+ reps of abdominal training per day is an amazing feat of endurance, but it's not the way to achieve a visible six pack! If you were to perform 1000 reps of ab workouts per day, you would have excellent abdominal muscle development and superior muscle endurance, but if your abs are covered in fat, you won't be able to see them even if you perform 10,000 reps per day.

You condition and strengthen your abs with specific ab exercises...But the secret to visible abs is to reduce your body fat percentage!

I once saw a photo of a man who broke a Guinness Book record for sit-ups. Paradoxically, this man had no visible abdominal muscle definition at all. He wasn't overweight or obese, but he had a thin layer of fat on his stomach that was enough to hide his abs. I've never seen a better real-world example of this that demonstrates the basic principle of this article:

You can achieve great abs by reducing your body fat using a calorie deficit through diet and metabolism-boosting, calorie-burning exercise.

I've spent my entire career, which includes more than 18 years of training and 28 bodybuilding competitions, studying the science and practical art of body fat reduction. I speak from experience and I live what I talk about.


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