Commonly our clients will express a desire to work on their “abs” (abdominal muscles) with the intention of achieving a flat stomach. There are many misconceptions about how to accomplish this goal. The aims of this article are to bring awareness to unhealthy practices commonly applied by misinformed people, explain the keys to accomplishing this goal and safe tips everybody can utilize.
I exercise every day – why isn’t that enough?
Firstly, it is important to understand the mechanism behind achieving wash-board abs. Believe it or not, we all have abdominal muscles; however, for some (most!) of us they are hidden behind layers of adipose tissue (fat). So in order to reveal our abs, the main goal must be to shed the excess fat covering the stomach. This leads us to diet.
It is important to consider what food we are eating and the number of calories we are consuming. While there are other factors (such as genetics, metabolism, nutrition content of food being consumed, metabolic disorders etc.) weight loss essentially comes down to our calorie intake (food) versus calorie expenditure (how much energy we burn through exercise and by simply being alive – even when we sleep we are still burning energy).
Diet generally has a greater influence on our body shape than exercise. This is because a small amount of “bad” food can negate a large amount of exercise. Take the following examples. In terms of calories (as a vague guide):
- 15 potato chips = 12 minutes of skipping
- 1 slice of pizza = 30 minute bike ride
- 1 can of coke = 55 minute walk
So you can see from the above figures that even if we do an enormous amount of exercise, the weight-loss benefits can be quickly lost by eating calorie-dense foods – even just a small amount. Theoretically, you could reveal your abdominal muscles without doing any exercise at all; however, this is not a recommended approach as exercise has an enormous amount of benefits to our health, including improved mood state, disease prevention and many others.
How can Clinical Pilates help me to achieve flatter abs?
Clinical Pilates is one of the only types of exercise which really helps to achieve flat abs. The reason it does this is that during Clinical Pilates sessions we primarily focus on your core strength. This is the first step towards achieving a flat stomach as it gives you the base to work on. It's also important to understand that if you just do crunches or sit-ups you will actually often end up with bulging stomach muscles but not flat abs. In fact sit-ups should only be done on top of core strengthening, not the other way round. Core strengthening also reduces your risk of injuring your back while performing general abdominal exercises. Real Time Ultrasound is a highly effective tool for core strengthening.
So why can’t I just do 100 sit ups every day?
Sit-ups or crunches, along with other abdominal exercises, are commonly overused and can lead to detrimental adaptations. Over-working your abdominal muscles can result in a muscle imbalance, as well as back and neck pain. Too much emphasis on the ‘front’ muscles and not enough on the ‘back’ can lead to a forward, flexed posture. Too many conventional sit-ups or crunches can put excess pressure on your lower back and lead to straining through the neck. There are a large variety of abdominal exercises which do not require constant flexing of the back – it is best, however, to ask your physiotherapist or other trained professional for advice when attempting new exercises. It is also important to balance your exercise focus so as to not neglect the lower and upper back, glutes and general ‘core’ strength.
If I want to lose weight around my stomach, shouldn’t I focus on abdominal exercises?
This is one of the biggest misconceptions about exercise, body shaping and weight loss. It has been proven through studies that exercising a body part does not lead to fat loss in that specific area more than any other body part. This means, regardless of whether you do 100 sit ups, run for 5 minutes or complete 50 push ups, any fat burn achieved will be a ‘global’ body fat loss. You will not lose more fat around your abs, legs or arms. Essentially, you could do absolutely no abdominal exercises, yet still achieve a flat, desirable stomach.
Things to remember
If you’re wanting to tone up or just maintain your figure, don’t neglect your diet. This could be the key difference between making a noticeable change or not. Don’t become addicted to abdominal exercises as this can lead to negative changes to your posture, weakening of the important posterior muscles, such as the back and glutes and development of back and neck pain. Finally, keep your exercises varied as there is no benefit (in terms of fat reduction) to only focusing on one area. It is also important to exercise all muscle groups, such as upper and lower body, and work on a variety of systems including muscular strength, aerobic fitness, balance, flexibility and others.