Some practical thoughts on how to get that “beach body”—without falling for the marketing gimmicks.
It is a goal many of us have, at one time in our lives or another. The unfortunate reality is while there is a plethora of information out there on fitness and nutrition, much of it exaggerates, distorts, and warps the truth on what it takes to make lasting positive changes. Read on to learn the reality behind getting lean enough for your abs to show.
Know what is realistic for you.
Transforming your body does not happen overnight. Depending on your genetics and distribution of fat, having a six-pack may not be a feasible goal. Even if six-pack abs are a look you desire, turn your focus away from the aesthetics and focus on a performance. Some examples of training for perfomance include:
- Holding a plank for 2 minutes, or hanging from a bar for 1 minute
- Being able to do 10 hanging leg raises in a row
- Performing 15 Kettlebell Swings with a heavy weight
- Running a 5k in under 20 minutes
- Deadlifting 1.5-2x your body weight
- Complete a circuit workout in under a set time
You get the idea. While isolation exercises have their time and place, training for athletic and performance goals first will get you well on your way to developing a strong core.
Dial in your digits.
Visible abdominal muscles are a byproduct of having a low body fat percentage. There is no such thing as “spot reduction”, and simply training your core muscles will not be enough to burn fat. To begin to have the makings of a six-pack you will have to have your body fat in the range where abdominals start to become visible—this is generally below 13-15% for men and 23-25% for women. Fat loss is a full-body process that takes time. Simply starving yourself or exercising relentlessly is apt to have catastrophic effects down the road for both your health and appearance.
Dial in your diet!
You may have heard the phrase “abs are made in the kitchen.” While this is not completely true (you still need to strengthen the muscles in this area) your diet will impact your body fat, and in turn, your abdominal area. Now, be aware that there is no special diet to get you a six-pack! Different nutritional protocols (low-carb high fat, paleo, vegan, intermittent fasting, structured meals, etc.) work for different people. But a general rule of thumb is to ensure you are consuming ample protein at each meal coupled with nutrient-dense, whole foods. Refined sugars show up in many food products these days, and should be completely eliminated or kept to a minimum.
Work out smart, not hard.
This principle is often where people screw up. Many will run themselves silly trying desperately to get slim or engage in ridiculous, over-the-top workouts that leave them wrecked and recovering for days after.
To build a solid core and six-pack abs, you must engage in some form of body-weight or resistance training, several times per week. This can be a circuit workout consisting of several exercises or compound weight lifting. Why? During these kinds of workouts, your core is fully engaged and will be worked to get strongly along with the other muscles being directly targeted.
Pick the right exercises.
Many people think simply doing crunches or being skinny enough will give them abs. Unless one has very good genetics, this simply is not true. Rather than straining your neck doing crunches, choose effective abdominal exercises such as hanging leg raises, air bicycles, weighted cable crunches or front and side plank variations . These movements will provide tension and progressive overload that is needed for your abs to really develop.
Stress less, sleep more.
You may have heard of cortisol, nicknamed “the stress hormone”. It is produced by our adrenal glands and serves as a protective mechanism for emergencies. Cortisol itself is not inherently evil; in fact our bodies require cortisol to operate effectively. The problem arises when we produce too much of it, which is often the case in the fast-paced, high stress environments we live in.
When excess cortisol begins circulating in our bodies, we have a tendency to store excess fat in our abdominal region. Other factors such as low testosterone or DHEA levels contribute to this problem.
The easiest solutions? Breathe deeply more often. Sleep more soundly by turning off electronics at least thirty minutes before bed. Cut back on caffeine intake and try to exercise for a short burst of energy. Get a massage or go for a long walk. Clean up your diet and eat more veggies. Consider meditation or other mindfulness practices. Cultivating one or several of these healthy habits will do wonders for your health in the long run, and will help reduce the chance of your body producing too much cortisol.
Become Captain Consistent.
No four, eight, or sixteen-week workout plan will give you a six-pack for life. Being active is part of a healthy, life-long lifestyle. The number one factor in determining your success down the road is consistent. No amount of pills, powders, crunches or workout articles from fitness gurus will save you from doing the work yourself. Move your body and believe in yourself—because you are worth it, always.
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