Once thought to be as real as Bigfoot and the Chupacabra, research is showing that spot reduction actually some merits. Here's how to mix it into your training for a shredded set of abs.
Who would you believe? The Barbie and Ken look-alikes who say on the infomercials that if you use their ab-training gizmos, "You'll lose inches off your waist in just a few weeks!" or the many scientists who say such a claim is totally bogus? After all, attaining a washboard midsection simply by doing an ab exercise for five minutes a day is more or less the definition of spot-reducing, an outdated method of fat loss that had been relegated to a weight-room punch line. Well, now you can stop laughing—it seems the spot-reduction theory may actually hold water. Doing ab exercises for prolonged periods can, in fact, help you get better abs, and we've designed a program for you to achieve just that. All of which makes Barbie and Ken's logic, according to scientific research, brilliant!
The Basis of Spot-Reduction
OK, maybe Barbie and Ken aren't 100% correct. Although you may not be able to spot-reduce your midsection fat to reveal ripped abs by using some gizmo for just five minutes a day, you can spot-reduce your waistline with the right program.
Spot reduction refers to the ability to train a muscle group, such as abs, with region-specific exercises, such as crunches, in an effort to remove bodyfat from just that area of the body. Until a couple years ago, if you asked any exercise physiologist if it were possible to spot-reduce your middle, you'd get an emphatic "Hell, no!" Now, that same expert, assuming he or she has been paying attention to the latest research on the subject, would want to retract that statement.
A major study published in a 2006 issue of the American Journal of Physiology uncovered some interesting results, effectively turning the world of exercise science on its ear. In the study, conducted at the University of Copenhagen (Denmark), scientists had male subjects perform single-leg extensions with light weight for 30 minutes straight. The researchers then measured the amount of blood flow to the subjects' subcutaneous fat cells (those under the skin) in both the exercising and resting thighs, as well as the amount of lipolysis (release of fat) from those fat cells. The scientists discovered that the exercising leg experienced a significant increase in blood flow to and lipolysis from the subcutaneous fat cells, compared to the resting leg. In other words, during exercise, the fat cells surrounding the trained muscle released more fat into the blood, meaning a greater quantity of fat is fed to the exercising muscles to be used as fuel.
The results of the study suggest that when you exercise, you do, in fact, burn bodyfat preferentially from the area you're training. Although the study looked at fat on the thighs, it's safe to assume that these results will hold up when you perform exercises for your abs and oblique muscles.
In addition, the findings of numerous studies indicate that exercise programs, particularly those that combine weights and cardio, are very effective at reducing fat from all areas of the body, especially the abdominal and visceral fat that lies beneath the ab muscles and is responsible for the "beer belly" many middle-aged men develop. Outside of being unattractive, this fat is directly related to heart disease, research shows.
The good news for those of you already lifting and doing cardio is that you're ahead of the game. Combine those elements with a program specifically designed to melt the fat off your midsection, like the one in this article, and by the time summer rolls around you'll have changed that potential pony keg to a six-pack.
Workout Routine Overview
The Spot-On Abs Program is different from your typical ab routine because each workout is based on total time, not reps and sets. The Danish study had subjects train with light weight for 30 minutes. Therefore, similar to the study protocol, you'll work your abs in giant-set fashion, moving from one exercise to the next (4-7 exercises total per workout) with little, if any, rest for a specific period.
During the first week of this six- week program, you'll perform four ab exercises continuously for 15 minutes straight, meaning you'll do one set after another with little to no rest in between. Perform each set with strict form and at a medium pace; don't try to do the reps too fast because it's length of time you're going for, not a particular number of sets or reps. (How many sets actually completed in the allotted time will vary by individual.) In Week 2, you'll do five exercises for 20 minutes; in Weeks 3 and 4, six exercises for 25 minutes; and in Weeks 5 and 6, seven exercises for 30 minutes.
Following each ab workout, you'll perform 30 minutes of cardio on a treadmill.
During Week 1, shoot for 10 reps per set and no more. This will be very easy for the majority of the exercises at the start of the workout, but keep in mind, you're cycling these exercises with little to no rest between sets. After the first five minutes, 10 reps will become difficult, if not impossible, to complete. (If you can't make it to 10, just do as many reps as possible.) During Week 2, bump up the reps to 12 per set, as your abdominal conditioning should be improving. Of course, you have an extra five minutes of ab work to do this week. During Weeks 3 and 4, aim for 15 reps per set; Weeks 5 and 6 call for 20 reps. Be sure to rest no more than 15 seconds between exercises - the goal is to keep moving to maximize fat-burning.
Perform these ab routines three times a week at the end of your regular workouts. We suggest doing them on Monday, Wednesday and Friday to allow adequate recovery between sessions. Continue training other muscle groups as you normally do; however, since you're training abs Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we also recommend that you follow a five-day, Monday through Friday training split and take the weekend off, as per the training split below.
Cardio should be done on a treadmill, if possible, as this has been shown to be just about the most effective form of cardio for maximizing the amount of fat burned. Another way to get the most out of fat-melting is to perform your cardio in the following manner: After a two-minute warm-up, get into high gear and do high-intensity cardio (about 85% of your maximum heart rate, or MHR) in the first half of your workout, then reduce the intensity (about 60% MHR) during the second half. (See "Cardio Workout" below for a sample training routine following this method.) Not only does research show that this type of cardio activity burns more fat during a workout, but higher-intensity cardio has also been found to burn the most fat after training is over - and that, after all, is the ultimate goal.
Is this program grueling? Yes. But do you want abs by the time summer is here, or would you prefer spending another vacation wearing a tank top at the beach to flaunt your guns and hide your no-show abs? Thought so.