Getting a toned stomach or nicely trimmed waistline is not as simple as doing 100 crunches every workout — you’ll need to focus on overall body composition, hormones, and be mindful of the exercises you do. Here’s the thing: there’s no such thing as targeted fat loss. Most people believe the common misconception that doing ab work will give you abs, but you’ve had abs ever since you were born! It’s the fat above the muscle cells that you’re looking to minimize if you want a visible 6-pack. The abdominal cavity is not gifted for fat loss, but there are some things to think about when it comes to increasing your midline strength!
How to Get Abs
Here’s When You Start Seeing Defined Abs
Typically, men will notice their abs showing around 12% body fat. Women will start showing abs around 20-22% body fat. The numbers may deviate a little bit based on how someone’s body is built, but the general rule of thumb is that you are above that body fat percentage, you will not see ab definition.
Factors That Can Attribute to the Inability to Burn Belly Fat
The fat cells in the abdominals have poor blood flow (this has nothing to do with visceral fat). Blood flow is a part of fat metabolism — you need to get the fat out of the cell and into the bloodstream to get metabolized. You’re essentially in a traffic jam if you have poor blood flow.
Three of the most significant measurable indicators contributing to abdominal fat (or the inability to burn it) are high cortisol, high insulin, and decreased thyroid. Dr. Alice says, “Insulin on the high end is something I’m concerned about. You need the right amounts of estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone for the insulin receptors to work properly. If your insulin receptors work on your cells, then there is elevated glucose within the bloodstream whenever you eat a meal. That glucose gets taken into the cell to be used as energy. If you start having higher insulin levels, meaning that there is some sort of insulin resistance, then that glucose gets stored as fat. It doesn’t get it to the cell. Those are the super early signs of pre-diabetes. If cortisol is high, it contributes to fat accumulation in that belly region. If the thyroid takes a hit, fat loss will also come slower.”
Exercise Comes Into Play
Did you know that training every day of the week could actually work against you? Cortisol at sustained high levels over an extended period of time is catabolic — it will start breaking down muscle and brain tissue. You need to allow restoration for the muscle tissue itself!
When you’re working on the volume of any group of muscles, you should keep in mind that they will grow. People tend to do ab exercises thinking they’re working toward smaller abs — but these exercises are just building the muscle. While midline strength allows you to do squats and deadlifts to burn body fat and get lean, doing tons of ab exercises can create a tree trunk build, because the ab muscles will be getting bigger. Think about it, you wouldn’t do bicep curls every single day to get smaller arms, would you?
Variety is the spice of life when it comes to exercise! If you like Russian twists, the ab wheel, planks, or side planks — do them! Please just don’t be under any illusions that these exercises will get you leaner abs. The people with the most defined abs often focus on their diet and strength training (not the typical ab workouts).