Forget for a moment that the shape of your midsection largely determines how good you'll look on the beach this summer -- and how well you'll play volleyball. We'll get back to that in a minute.
The pursuit of abs goes deeper. You strive for a six-pack as if your life depended on it, and now science proves that it does. At a meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, research was presented declaring that waist circumference is more conclusive than either weight or body-mass index (BMI) as a measure of disease risk.
Miami cardiologist Arthur Agatston, M.D., author of The South Beach Diet, puts it this way: "Abdominal fat is different and more dangerous than fat elsewhere. Unlike fat directly under the skin, belly fat, which adheres to organs, is associated with increases in C-reactive protein (CRP) and other markers of inflammation that can lead to heart disease."
Motivated yet? Good. We trust you'll lay off the fries and onion rings. Remember, if your body fat is too high, it doesn't matter how wisely you work your abs--they won't show. (For most men, anything over 10 percent body fat keeps your abs in hiding.)
For the next month, work your abs according to the following steps and try this eating tip from Nancy Clark, R.D., author of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook: "I make two peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches every day; I eat one for lunch at 11 and one for my second lunch at 3," Clark says. Notice that the 3 o'clock feeding is a "second lunch," not an "afternoon snack." Too many men equate snack time with, well, snacks--junk food. You'll eat smarter (whole grains and muscle-building protein) and not need as big a dinner if you allow for a second lunch. Plus, you'll have more energy for a better workout in the afternoon or evening.
This, in turn, will keep your insulin levels steady. When insulin is in excess (from too much sugar and not enough exercise), it can turn on you, depositing fat into your gut. Or worse. "When the pancreas burns out after years of producing excess insulin, that's when buildup begins in arteries; that can cause heart attacks and strokes," Dr. Agatston says.
But enough scary stuff. Time to hit the gym--and then the beach.
1. Train Your Abs With Two Types Of Exercise
Some ab exercises are based on movement. Others focus more on balance, so your abs contract harder to keep your body stable. "Most men have difficulty with either stabilization or mobilization," says Carter Hays, C.S.C.S., a Houston-based personal trainer and a performance-enhancement specialist for the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Include both types of moves in a workout to challenge your abs.
For instance, try performing a Swiss-ball rollout (mobilization), followed by a Swiss-ball crunch (stabilization). To do the rollout, kneel in front of the ball with your forearms pressed against it. Keeping your knees and feet in place, roll the ball in front of you so your hips, torso, and arms slide forward. Advance as far as you can without arching your back, then pull back to the starting position.
2. Get More From Your Cardio
Strip away abdominal fat by switching around your cardio routine so you run hard early. In a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, eight men ran for 30 minutes on 2 separate days.
In the first session, the men ran at a relatively high intensity--80 per cent of their maximum heart rate--for 15 minutes, then slowed to 60 per cent for the final 15 minutes. In the other session, they ran the slower part first.
The men burned 5 to 10 percent more fat when they ran faster at the start of the workout. "And this is only a 30-minute workout," says Jie Kang, Ph.D., the study's lead author. "If you extrapolate that to a longer workout three to five times a week, things can add up."
Here's why it works: To burn fat, your body first breaks down fat tissue into fat molecules.
"Our study found that this works better when your abs exercise is done at a relatively high intensity," says Kang. Next, molecules go to your cells to be burned, which Kang says can occur at relatively lower intensities.