Quit Doing Crunches!

Spring has just arrived which means that summer and bathing suit season are just around the corner.  Most of us share the same thought … “How can I get great abs?”  Have you images-6committed yourself to doing hundreds of crunches, yet for some reason have failed to achieve that washboard midsection?  Are you frustrated and nearly ready to give up on the notion that you could ever have “abs of steel”?

Here’s a noteworthy tip:  Crunches alone will NEVER  deliver a six-pack abdomen!  Crunches cannot rid you of a spare tire or muffin toppers.  In fact, for some  people, crunches can create an apparent increase in the waistline.  So what’s the answer?  What’s the secret that will produce results and not leave you wanting to throw in the towel?

Truth be told, the secret is multifaceted.  First and foremost, you must realize that only a drop in body fat will produce the lean and muscular looking abdomen you seek.  To reduce body fat, you must combine consistently clean eating habits with fat-burning cardiovascular exercise and an aggressive resistance training regimen.  These three components are the combined secret to your success.

Here’s some food for thought … If your eating habits are out of control, then your abs will be as well.  Regardless of how hard you exercise, you will not be able to sculpt your abdominal area if you continue to eat without purpose.  The saying is TRUE:  You cannot out exercise a poor diet!!  Unfortunately, this is such a big stumbling block for most people.

As a trainer, I hear it all the time:

“I want a killer workout today because I had pizza and beer last night.”  

Or it sounds something like this:

 “I can’t give up my wine, so I want to work extra hard in the gym to even it out.”

 Perhaps this is something you’ve said:

“I workout so that I can eat what I want.  Besides, it’s not in my genes to ever have 6-pack abs.”

Why are we so prone to allow ourselves to hold onto such excuses?  It is quite possible that the excuses reveal 1 of 2 things:  1.  We don’t truly want to make the sacrifices it takes to produce the drastic results we desire  or 2.  We’ve already given up, but rather than admitting that we’ve bailed on the idea of achieving a difficult task, we allow ourselves any number of excuses.  The reality is this:  the excuses do, in fact, reveal these truths and actually validate our refusal to make sacrifices and/or our tendency to bail altogether.

One “drastic” nutritional sacrifice to make to create a drop in body fat that will give visibility to your abdominal muscles (along with all other muscles on your body) is to ditch non-nutritive junk food.  What is considered non-nutritive “junk food”?  As a general rule, you can consider junk food to be anything that is processed or refined and not in its natural state.  Because we live in a “Get It Now” society, foods that are already prepared and packaged in easy to open containers are what sell.  However, most of these foods have little to no nutritional value and are loaded with preservatives and sugars which reek havoc on any efforts at trimming your waistline.  Processed white flour products (many breads, crackers cookies, pastries, muffins, bagels … to name a few) and sugar-laden products (blended coffee beverages, soft drinks, doughnuts, cakes … to name a few more), foods that spike blood sugar levels in your system (pastas, most breads, simple carbohydrates, alcoholic beverages) and processed fat products that have an extended shelf life because they are made with hydrogenated oils and loaded with preservatives are ALL culprits of the junk food, quick fix foods that will destroy your midsection!

Cleaning up your diet, eating whole, real foods that are chock full of nutritional value will bring you so much closer to success.  Make wise choices.  Shop the perimeter of the

grocery store …  from the produce aisle to the meat section, through the organic aisle and then tiptoe through the dairy section.  Choose raw, non-packaged foods and avoid all the other aisles.  Create meals with only the ingredients from the perimeter of the the grocery store and you’ll be off to a GREAT start!  Try to create meals that contain your macronutrients (proteins, fats and the right carbohydrates) to insure your diet is nutrient dense and not lacking.  Include a large glass of water with every meal (and in between meals) to help you avoid other empty calorie beverages.

Another pitfall with nutrition is portion size.  A single serving of most anything is about the size of your fist, or the actual size of the food in its natural state, like an apple or a potato.  Have you really taken note of how much food you consume in one sitting?  If you eat frequently at restaurants, you are certainly consuming more than one serving of each item on your plate, per meal!  If your body doesn’t immediately utilize the food you eat, what happens?  Your body begins to store it for later use.  And then you wonder why your tummy doesn’t look trim!  Even over-eating “clean” foods can sabotage your efforts to decrease body fat stores.  It’s also a good idea to be aware of sodium content (excess sodium causes the body to retain fluids) and also hidden sugar content.

 Read labels and also use good portion control sense.  The best way to control your portions is to keep a food journal that spans several days.  Write down EVERYTHING you eat and Unknowndrink.  No sense in lying.  Just be honest and write it all down … even those 10 chocolate chips you grabbed on your way out the door.  You may also want to track the amount of calories in your diet to see just how many calories per day that you are consuming.  The key is to be aware of your eating habits and to take charge!  You may also seek the advice of a trainer or a nutritionist to help you with this tracking process and to do an evaluation to chart improvements with your diet so that you can maximize your results.

Some people erroneously believe that they should restrict their food intake by skipping meals, thus thinking that they will lose weight and have the potential for a flat stomach.  Unfortunately skipping meals only causes your metabolism to fluctuate or “crash”, causing the body to go into survival mode.  Once in this mode the body begins to store what foods it does have so that those foods can be used for energy sUnknown-3ince the body doesn’t know when to expect its next meal.  To avoid this survival mode tendency, you must eat more frequently.  Notice I didn’t say that you must EAT MORE.  No, just more FREQUENTLY, which forces the body to burn calories in order to break down and digest what you eat.  Try not to go more than 3 hours without eating.  Keep your body in a burn mode by fueling it with good, wholesome foods.  Eat small “meals” often.  By the end of the day you will have eaten 5-6 nutritious meals that help to stabilize your insulin levels and maintain a higher metabolism.

Think of it like a campfire.  To keep a campfire burning all through the night, it must be fed.  You must continue to put wood on the fire to keep it continuously burning.  Once the fire slows down, if not “properly fed”, it will go out completely.  You wouldn’t want to feed the fire an armload of newspaper.  What would happen?  The fire would rage for only a short amount of time before dying.  Your best bet to keep that campfire burning slowly and for a longer duration is to put kindling on it every few hours.  The analogy is also true for the body.  Proper nutrition, filled with nutrient dense foods, every few hours will keep your metabolic fire burning slowly and for a longer duration without a crash and burn effect. Another good rule of thumb is to always eat breakfast, the most important meal of the day.  This meals “breaks” the “fast” that your body experiences after having no food during the sleeping hours of the night.  Plus, breakfast jump starts your metabolism, allowing your body to begin burning calories earlier in the day.

Not only smart eating habits, but also a specific exercise regimen will put you on the path to sculpted abs.  Answer these questions:

  1. How often do you exercise?
  2. What is your TRUE level of intensity?

Notice I didn’t ask, “How long are your workouts?”  You may exercise at one time for 1, 2 or even 3 hours but that won’t necessarily give you the body you are seeking.  The key is exercising four or more times per week at higher level of intensity levels.  This may mean that your workouts are only 30-40 minutes in length but at an intensity level that leaves you completely spent and fatigued.  For cardio, this could mean High Intensity Interval Training taking you in and out of an anaerobic state for a duration of 20-30 minutes.  The key to HIITs is truly feeling spent after each interval, recovering and then going again so that at the end of your 20-30 minutes you truly could not do any more.  Another effective fat burning cardio format is Steady State Training.  This type of cardio keeps you in what is called the fat-burning zone (not anaerobic) for a longer duration.  The best way is to choose an exercise that allows you to keep a consistent heart rate, not allowing it to decrease or spike, and also an exercise that utilizes the larger leg muscles in your body to force a constant work phase.  (Incline treadmill, Stepmill, heavier gauge stationary bike, uphill hike) Typically, steady state cardio duration is at minimum 30 minutes a few times per week in order to be most effective.  Note:  Be cautious about doing too much cardio or the wrong kinds of cardio that will create an environment that causes you to lose muscle.  A lean body is a body with a higher percentage of lean mass than body fat.  If your cardio begins to eat away your muscle and your lean mass begins to decrease while your body fat stays the same or even increases … your efforts are in vain and the potential for reeking havoc on your metabolism is high.  Don’t be a cardio junkie.  That’s not the answer!


Resistance training is the second component necessary for making your body a fat burning machine.  You want to do weight bearing exercises that will stimulate your metabolism which in turn burns calories, some of which are from fat.  If you create conditions where the muscle fibers are being broken down (lifting heavier than within your comfort zone), your body will have to spend the remainder of the day repairing those muscles.  To repair the muscles, the body needs energy.  It gets energy by utilizing or burning calories (which is why you must fuel the body with proper nutrition) while you are at rest.  Again, the key is to find the right intensity to maximize your efforts and produce lasting results.  As a side note:  Did you know that doing heavier weighted leg exercises can lean-out your body ALL OVER?  Glutes and leg muscles are the larger muscles in the body.  When you push the limits with these muscle groups, your entire body has a positive response as it burns calories from fat located in all areas of the body.  You may see a leaner abdomen and upper body from heavy leg exercises!

You … yes, YOU can have abs of steel.  You have to decide that you REALLY want it and then make the commitment.  Take a break from all those crunches and find the real secret to your success through diet and proper exercise.  It all boils down to clean eating and smart training … add to that your own internal motivation and the will to succeed, and you are well on your way to melting excess fat off your abs and exposing shape and definition just in time for summer!  Cheers to your impending 6-pack!

Michele Clocktower 3

Michele Sodon, Personal Trainer, Fitness Business Owner and Creator of the Fit Photage™ 12-Week Transformation programs.



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