Training for Abs.

The most frequently asked question I receive from a new acquaintance who learns I am a personal trainer is how to lose their stubborn belly fat and whether sit-ups or one of those abdominal gadgets pitched on an infomercial would help.

Most are shocked by my response.

There are four things you must do to start burning that stubborn belly fat.

1. Eat clean. Clients who stop eating processed foods and eliminate wheat, corn, soy and processed sugars from their diet have the most success in losing fat - on their belly and from the rest of their body.
2. Increase the intensity of your workouts (or start a workout routine that includes bursting activities). Shorter, harder workouts burn more calories.
3. Engage in a total body workout routine. You cannot use ab exercises to selectively lose abdominal fat. Instead, to reduce fat at a given body site (known as spot reducing), your total body fat will have to be reduced.
4. Increase the musculature of your abdominals by training them functionally - or the way they actually work. Do not do sit-ups or waste your money on an infomercial contraption.

A little background on the function of the abdominals may be helpful. There are six muscles that make up your abdominals: rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus, external obliques (one on each side) and the internal obliques (one on each side). This muscle group provides:

- Rotation: Abdominal muscles rotate the trunk and allow rotation of shoulders and arms;
- Deceleration: The abdominal muscles control trunk rotation, control bending to the side, and control muscles to avoid hyperextension of the back, and;
- Stabilization: Provides postural support and ensure proper pelvic tilt to avoid lower back pain. Abs support the torso and are key in allowing effective transfer of power between your lower and upper body. Abs are also critical in maintaining your center of gravity over your base of support - this is your balance.

To effectively strengthen the muscles to avoid injury associated with impaired rotation, deceleration and stabilization there are two positions that are best to build your abdominal musculature - upright/standing and prone/face down.

Following are a few of the exercises I like to include in workouts to build abdominal strength and stability using functional movements.

- Upright exercises include hanging leg raises (advanced level only), medicine ball slams, chops, inchworms, swiss ball roll-outs and burpees.

- Prone exercises include planks (many varieties), bird dogs, climbers (mountain, cross-body mountain and spiderman), pushups (many varieties depending on fitness level), bear crawls and swiss ball knee-ins.

Each of the above exercises are more effective at building muscle and burning fat than the classic sit-up. Sit-ups are a small movement that offers very little stress for the abdominal muscles so this burns little in the way of fat. And, sit-ups, which are forward flexion movements (that neither stabilize, rotate or decelerate) are hard on the disc's of your lumbar spine (and your neck if you tend to compensate by pulling on your head).

While spot reduction does not work, spot building does. These exercises require total body effort so they burn lots of calories while working your abdominals the way they are intended to work.

If you decide to try some of these abdominal exercises be sure to always train safely. If you do not know how to properly do any exercise reach out to an experienced personal trainer for assistance. A personal trainer can show you how to safely and effectively perform these types of exercises and ensure they are appropriate for your fitness level. A trainer can also incorporate these exercises into a total body routine designed specifically for you.

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