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Although I do believe that the kind of look people want for their abdominals begins with what they eat and how they exercise, I do also believe that like any other muscle group, the abdominals need to be targeted at least one time a week.

The overall function of the abdominals is to stabilize the spine.  So, let's start with a core stabilizing exercise called the Modified Plank.

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*Lie on your stomach and raise yourself up so you are on your forearms and knees.  You shoulders should be directly over your elbows. Pressing through the forearms, contract the abdominal muscles up into the ribcage. Breathe.

*Gaze at your thumbs as you hold this position for 30 seconds.

***Slowly lower back to your stomach and repeat the process two additional times for 30 seconds. Work your way up to holding the Modified Plank 3 times for 1 minute each, then onto 3 times for 1.5 minutes and continue adding 30 second increments until you can hold the plank 1 time for 5 minutes***

Congratulations!!! You have found abdominal stability.  Let’s add some additional abdominal strength and stability with the Basic Crunch.


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*Lie on your back with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor, shoulder width apart.

*Maintaining the natural curvature of the lower back, pull the abdominals in, toward the navel, and up into the rib cage.

*Bring the fingers up to the temples and contract the abdominals just enough to lift the shoulder blades off of the floor.  This is a small movement.  Remember that you do not bring the chin all the way up to the knees to work the abdominals, unless you are trying to work the hip flexors as well.  Keep this constant contraction throughout each repetition.  If you begin to feel pressure in the lower back, relax the body and start from the top.

*Gaze in front of you.  Do not press the head up while crunching.  Allow the head to stay stabile with the chin slightly tucked and no pressure on the neck.  Remember that the contraction of the abdominal bringing the shoulders off of the floor is all the movement needed to strengthen the abdominals while performing the Basic Crunch.

***For additional stability, squeeze a soft medicine ball between your knees, contracting the inner thighs while performing the Basic Crunch***

The Rectus Abdominis is one muscle, but there are certain exercises that target areas of that specific muscle a little better than others.  The Reverse Crunch is one of those exercises that although is strengthens the entire muscle, by just curling the knees into the upper body and lifting those hips, we can target the lower region of this complex muscle.  The Reverse Crunch should be done before your other Abdominal exercises or at the beginning of your strength training workout.


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*Begin by lying on your back with your knees raised just above your hips and squeezing a medicine ball.  Place the hands at the temples as in the Basic Crunch, or place the arms flat on the floor with the palms up.

*Contract you abdominals into the navel and up into the rib cage, as you lift the hips off of the floor and into the upper body.  Relax the neck and do not rock with each repetition.  This should be an up and in movement.

***For additional abdominal strength, tap the toes onto the floor after each curl up instead of leaving the knees above the hips***

Having strong abdominals requires working the Obliques with some diagonal movements such as the Crunch and Twist.  Although this exercise will not get rid of those “Love Handles,” strengthening the rotators will help with everyday functional strength involving bending to the side to pick up an item that you have mistakenly dropped.


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*Lying on your back, place both feet flat on the floor about shoulder width apart.  Place your hands underneath the small of your back until the fingertips are touching.  Although you will want to contract the abdominals into the hands, make sure to leave the natural curvature of your back open, especially while working the Obliques.

*As you exhale, crunch straight up and rotate the right shoulder towards the left knee leaving the left foot flat on the floor.  For a more advanced movement, raise the left knee toward the right shoulder as you rotate.  Be sure to keep your chin up as if holding an orange, to prevent stress to the neck.

*Move back into a crunch position then relax the head, neck and arms on the floor.

*Repeat to other side.


 
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I was in the book store today doing some research for one of my clients when I came across at least 5 different books on how to lose unwanted belly fat.  Belly fat, clinically known as visceral fat, accumulates around your middle and surrounds your internal organs. Unlike subcutaneous fat, located right under the skin on the thighs, hips, booty and abdomen, visceral fat is located deeper inside, around the vital organs located in the chest, abdomen, and pelvis.  It is thought that visceral fat, or abdominal fat, is particularly risky because it is near the main vein that carries blood into the liver from around the intestines.  While anyone with unwanted body fat, especially around the mid-section should reduce fat, men with a waist thicker than 40 inches and women with one bigger than 35 inches should make immediate efforts to slim down.  Although all of these books I browsed through gave great diet and exercise advice, it really comes down to this.  Reduction, reduction, reduction of calories going into the body, combined with 4-5 days of aerobic exercise (preferably high intensity interval training) and a regimented strength training program.
 
Let's start with the need for incorporating strength training into your health and fitness goals.  Remember, it's your lean body mass that's burning calories throughout the day, even when you're doing nothing.  When you are at a caloric deficit in order to lose weight, it is vitally important that you maintain or even increase you lean body muscle in order to not only increase your metabolism but keep it from slowing down.  Simply having more lean muscle will mean that you burn more unwanted body fat because your body needs to burn this fat in order to produce the energy it needs to maintain the muscle mass.  One of the reasons why I keep telling my personal training clients to stop measuring their fitness results by the numbers on the scale is because muscle weight weighs more than fat weight, but muscle is more condensed than fat.  When you step on that scale, you are wishing for a lower number than when you started your "Total Body Change."  Right?  The scale shows not only body fat reduction, but also lean body mass increase, if you are eating, exercising and strength training correctly.  So the numbers you see can become frustrating.  Instead, I tell my clients to focus on the results from the body fat testing as well as overall loss of inches especially around the waist.  Try on an old pair of jeans that you have wanted to get into.  Are they fitting you even better than before? That, my friends, is all the proof you need.  You can refer to my article on "The Benefits of Strength Training" for all of the additional reasons to incorporate strength training into your weekly workouts.
 
For a 1-lb. weekly fat loss, find your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and then reduce that number by about 500 calories a day.  This caloric deficit could mean a lot of much needed nutrients also eliminated from your body.  Besides the obvious low calorie choice of lean meats, fruits and vegetables, let’s look at what foods might be the best for reducing unwanted body fat while maintaining or even increasing your metabolism.  A diet high in fiber is a great way to start.  Foods high in fiber such as fruits and vegetables help you feel more satisfied and promote fat loss. Fiber takes longer to digest, allowing you to feel full for longer.  Make sure to slowly add fibrous foods into your daily meals to avoid that uncomfortable “bloating” feeling in your belly.   Let’s now go to monounsaturated fats found in certain foods.  Studies have shown that monounsaturated fat boosts fat burning especially in the abdominal area.  Cooking with olive oil, adding avocado to your scrambled egg whites in the morning, and eating a variety of nuts at least 4 times a week, all aids in the process of burning belly fat.  Monounsaturated fats also have a positive impact on your blood sugar levels.  If your blood sugar levels drop too low, which is very common in long distance runners, you may experience cravings, overeating, and low energy, which strongly affect your workouts.  I know you have all heard about the great metabolism boosters found in fish oil.  Eating at least 400 calories worth of salmon every week has been shown to benefit the metabolism. GNC also offers a great fish oil supplement that can help with this essential omega-3 fatty acid boost.  Remember that no matter how healthy the food, everything in moderation is the key calorie deficit for body fat reduction.  Check out the sample meals at the end of this article for metabolism boosting ideas.
  
When we exercise, our bodies require more energy and our metabolism, speeds up to supply that energy.  Aerobic activity at least 5 times a week for 30 minutes is my favorite way to burn unhealthy body fat.  The more exercise and energy you exert the better your metabolism will perform.   Aerobic exercise (walking, running, swimming, biking), is any exercise where the body uses up the energy in the muscles and then needs to plunder the fat stores around the body for more.  Your metabolism is boosted by any aerobic exercise that produces energy.  The more intense the workout, the greater the boost to your metabolism for longer periods of time following that workout. 
 
So, let’s simplify all of this.  Aerobic activities like running burn more calories than strength training activities like weight lifting.  But it is important to note that muscle burns calories, while fat does not.  This means that the more muscular you are, the higher your metabolism will remain at all times.  Both intense aerobic activity and strength training require nutrients to supply higher levels of energy, but there are certain nutrients that when eaten actually assist with increased energy levels therefore an increased metabolism.  What it all comes down to is what I stated earlier.   Reduction, reduction, reduction of calories going into the body, combined with 4-5 days of aerobic exercise (preferably high intensity interval training) and a regimented strength training program.
 
***Metabolism Boosting Sample Meal***
 
1 full glass of cold water
4 ounces of Salmon cooked in a small amount of olive oil.
1 small Sweet Potato with butter buds and cinnamon sprinkled on top – The lower carbohydrate content plus the added fiber keeps your blood sugar stable and you feeling fuller for longer.  The combination of low carbs and high fiber keeps your body at a healthy weight and your metabolism functioning better.
1 serving of Brussel Sprouts

 
  1. Pick up a barbell in an overhand grip with your hands shoulder-width apart...(Always remember to lift any weight from the floor with your legs and not your back)...
  2. Stand straight, holding the barbell at arms' length in front of you...
  3. Place your feet directly below your hips, slowly lowering the barbell vertically downward...Don't bend at the knees...Keep your back straight and your chin up...
  4. Descend until the weight passes below knee level and you feel your hamstring muscles stretch...Do not allow the weight to touch the floor...
  5. At the bottom, contract your hamstrings and glutes to lift the weight back to the start position...

  6. ***This specific exercise is not best utilized for people with extremely weak core muscles or who have been diagnosed with chronic back issues***
 
Dead lifting will strengthen the entire back and its surrounding muscles.  In fact, the dead lift is the most effective exercise for building the core strength that supports all other major muscle groups.

Core strength (core pertaining to the central muscles of the body; lower back, glutes and the abdominal region) is a very important health component, in that it supports the body in almost every movement and position, and the dead lift is the key core strength building movement.
 
During the winter of 2008, my son and I left North Carolina to live in the mountains of Oregon for three months, while I trained for my first half marathon.  It just so happened that due to the extreme weather conditions that specific winter, I was forced to utilize every muscle in my body while I ran long distances through snow, wind and extreme cold. Let's just say that I was in the best shape of my life.  It must have showed on me, because as I sat in my son's favorite book store one day, after one of my longer runs, he started to sing a melody that he had made up called, "She's Got Mad Abs."  I loved it.  Well of course, I love him.  But not the point.  I have always been conscious of my core muscles since the first day I trained to become a Step Aerobics Instructor back in 1991.  Posture is everything in those classes.  Good form comes with great core strength.  I believe that everything you do involves the core muscles (transverse abdominis, internal obliques, external obliques, rectus abdominis, hip abductors/adductors, hip flexors, and lumbar spine), and if they are weak, everything you do requires additional concentration on keeping the core muscles contracted and stabilized.  So, while running outside, joining a Cycle class, or strength training in the gym, there are more productive ways of focusing on the core muscles leading to a healthier, happier body.