Building a Summer Six-Pack

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Time to show off those chiseled abs. Summer is here for most of the country, and its bathing suit, swimming pool, and beach weather. If you’re like me you’ve been working all winter on revealing those illusive muscles in the midsection and now it’s time to show off the results of all that hard work and pain. If you’re still struggling though don’t worry, I’m going to share a few tips and nuggets of wisdom I use to help my clients find the six-pack lurking just beneath the surface of the stomach.

 
First and I can’t stress this enough; a tight toned core is made in the kitchen not the weight room. Granted once you whittle down your body fat percentage; abs specific exercises will help build up the size and definition of your Rectus Abdominis.  Until then you need to focus primarily on a diet that will promote fat-loss and muscle growth. It’s time to eliminate carbs from wheat and grains in your diet including beer. I didn’t say eliminate carbs altogether. Your body needs them for energy and strength. Believe it or not the metabolic process responsible for breaking down body-fat for energy requires carbs to complete. Your muscles also burn carbs for energy and only carbs. Anyone that tells you your exercises burn fat is twisting the truth and the facts. Fat is broken down to make glucose, and glucose is energy.

 
You also need fiber; from vegetables and a lot of it. Vegetables are also extremely high in essential vitamins, minerals, and even Omega-3 fatty acids. The more green and vibrant the color the better, here at Legion Fitness we love brussel sprouts, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, green beans, kale, onions, peppers, tomatoes, cauliflower, carrots, mushrooms, romaine and red-leaf lettuce, and dozens of others. The point is there are more vegetables then just what you find in a can. Explore your local farmer’s market or whole foods store for the freshest most nutrient rich kinds.  Try to keep your consumption of potatoes to once a week, preferably on the weekend as part of a “cheat meal.”

 
We indulge in a “cheat meal” once a week just to break things up and to help level cravings. This is also the only time you should be eating sugar in your diet. Modern food and even fruits just have too much sugar in them, sugar that just 100 years ago most people did not eat. Your body makes its own sugar by breaking down carbohydrates from your food. It doesn’t need more. If you’re a regular user of protein shakes after workouts then you’re getting more than enough sugar from these mixes in your diet. Limit fruit to your cheat day or only and I do mean only, immediately after a strenuous workout.

 
Muscle is built from protein and to make more muscle you need to stress them and trigger growth. The best way to shed stored fat is weight-training. As a certified fitness and nutritional specialist I can tell you that science backs this up. Yes you can burn a ton of calories from running for hours on end but those calories are mostly stored carbohydrates. If you’re already a runner don’t give it up, but you must start adding weight training into your routines at least three times a week if you’re serious about weight-loss specifically from body-fat. Weight training actually increases the aerobic system’s ability and drive to convert body-fat over to energy production during periods of inactivity. Unless you have the time and motivation to run hours a day like an ultra-runner you just aren’t going to burn through enough carbs in your workout to trigger true aerobic energy production. “Aerobic” contrary to catch phrases and marketing simply means “with oxygen.”

 

There is no real “aerobic exercise.” All exercise begins by making energy anaerobically or by burning through glucose and creatine stored in your body’s muscle tissues, bloodstream, and liver. Once these are depleted you body may begin aerobically producing energy by recycling lactic acid, which takes a while and is very energy poor or by breaking down fatty acids to re-synthesize creatine and phosphate. Most people just simply are not conditioned or well trained enough to utilize this while training. if you’ve ever hit a wall when running its because your body had exhausted its glucose stores and could not engage its aerobic energy furnace efficiently enough. Serious weight training exhaust’s your stored glucose so efficiently and totally that for hours after you end your routine your body is forced to produce energy aerobically to restock its reserves. So in effect you burn fat while you’re just sitting around or sleeping.

 
What are the best muscle building moves then? If it involves several groups of muscles like the Deadlift, squat, clean and press or similar moves you’re recruiting the maximum amount of muscle tissue and your body will respond with a flood of growth hormone and demands on the mitochondria to increase energy production (a similar response occurs in the muscles of ultra-runners, that’s why they can run for literally days on end; their mitochondria are converting stored fat from the liver and kidneys to make glucose.) More importantly though it’s not so important to do certain moves but to do whatever move you do with maximum intensity. I’m talking serious effort here folks. If your body collapses with exhaustion after a workout you have attacked it with maximum intensity.

 
After the workout nutrition again comes into play, you must refuel your body after a serious effort. If your goal is more muscle size and strength then focus on ingesting protein right after you lift with some carbs, but if you’re really after fat-loss, ingest a shake, bar, or meal that’s about half and half, carbs and protein. Also make sure to include some kind of healthy fat in your main meals, whether it’s from meat, nuts, oils, or capsules, your body needs fat. It relies on it to manufacture hormones, build cell walls, protect organs, and transfer nerve impulses.

 
Finally if you’re eating right, working out with intensity and dedication on a regular basis then your abs will reveal themselves in a few weeks to months depending on your body-fat percentage. You must get down to around 12% body fat or less to really see the abs. Most magazine models are below 8%. Once you achieved the body fat goal you’ve aimed for now is the time to add core specific exercises to your workouts. Heavy lifting and Olympic style lifts will build tremendous core strength on their own but to really make them pop you just need a few basic moves. Also we need to clarify your goals here as far as what you want to see vs. conditioning etc.

 
Let me explain, a boxer’s abs are usually very visible and chiseled, but they’re also very tough, thick, and rigid; they have to be. A boxer’s abs literally protects his gut from incoming punches. Boxer’s spend a lot of time doing traditional movements like sit-ups, crunches and hanging leg raises. Even though more and more coaches are starting to move away from the old-school approach it’s been around for a long time because it works; if you’re not a boxer though I’d advise you to stay off the floor. A power lifter has very low body fat yet his abs are not as defined as a boxer, they even protrude a bit giving him the look of a potbelly. I assure you though, his abs are forged from steel and hard as a rock. A power lifter’s core serves as their weight belt and foundation for every lift. The core of a power lifter is designed and conditioned to move maximum weight and like any muscle the more weight you move with your core the bigger it grows.

 
So what moves should the average Joe do then if he just wants to look good at the beach and wow his friends? There are three that cover just about every muscle in the core and will yield good results both visually and functionally. First and foremost make friends with the plank and its varieties. It conditions both the Rectus and Transverse abdominal muscles and will pull in a sagging gut and also build up the oblique muscles. Concentrate on actively clenching your gut when you do these. Your goal is not reps but time, start at 20 seconds and work up to a minute or more. Next is the “Myo” crunch performed on a Swiss ball. Extend the arms over your head and clutch a light weight, then crunch up keeping your arms in line and extended over your torso at all times then slowly lower yourself back down. Repeat 10-15 times adding more weight once you can do 15 reps non-stop, but never exceeding 25lbs total. Finally there’s the hanging leg raise. Hang from a Pullup bar or anywhere convenient. Lock your legs and then raise them slowly out in front of you until your body forms an “L” shape. Pause then slowly lower. For maximum impact you need to focus on form and control with all these moves. Rushing through them to complete the prescribed number of reps for each cycle is not going to deliver the results you want.

 
There you have it, a very simple guide to building a six-pack for the summer. Is it simplified, yes it is. For details and a personalized program tailored just for you email us at legionfitnesstraining@yahoo.com or check out our packages page.

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