Thursday 29 September 2016

Six pack abs do not define health, and if you want them prepare to sacrifice your social life

Karen Coghlan

Published 05/10/2015 | 11:48

lean
lean

Consistency is the key for long-term health and fitness, says Karen Coghlan.

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Spot reduction refers to the belief that fat can be targeted for reduction from a specific area of the body.

For example, we are led to believe:

◊ If you have stubborn belly fat, you need to do more sit-ups

◊ If you have stubborn upper arm fat, you need to do more tricep extensions

◊ If you have stubborn leg fat, you need to do more step-ups.

Top modeland fitness fanatic Sarah Morrissey pictured in Fitzwilliam Square Park to kick off VisitScotland’s health and wellness campaign
Top modeland fitness fanatic Sarah Morrissey pictured in Fitzwilliam Square Park to kick off VisitScotland’s health and wellness campaign

However, despite popular belief, spot reduction is not possible. Sure, muscle building is site specific: you can indeed build muscle in specific areas by targeting specific muscles using the right weights and rep scheme.

If you want to build shapely glutes, then you incorporate more squats and glute bridges into your workout.

If you want a wider back, then you incorporate more pull-ups and rowing exercise into your workout.

But if you want to reveal a set of six-pack abs? Then the last thing you need is to incorporate more crunches and bicycles into your workout.

Table press-up: Start with your hands on the table,wider than shoulder width. Keep your bum in the air and back flat
Table press-up: Start with your hands on the table,wider than shoulder width. Keep your bum in the air and back flat

The draw of the six pack

We all inherently have six-pack abs. They are just hidden underneath a layer of subcutaneous fat, however, shredded abs come at a very high cost.

A healthy level of body fat is somewhere between 11pc-22pc for men and between 22pc-33pc for women. To reveal "six-pack" abs, body fat needs to be sub 10pc for men and sub 20pc for women.

Having "six-pack" abs does not define health. In some cases, it takes very drastic and extreme measures to reach low enough levels of body fat before abs are visible.

Fitness model Maeve Madden
Fitness model Maeve Madden

Even at super low levels, some people will never reveal a set of abs, simply due to their body being built differently.

Consistently adhering to an extremely strict diet and exercise routine is not normal and requires intense focus, dedication, and plenty of sacrifices.

It means skipping nights out to spend more time at the gym. It means foregoing the weekend takeaway to plan and prep all your meals for the week ahead. It means possibly not having a sex life as libido diminishes due to malnourishment.

You have to ask yourself is the trade-off worth it? Are you willing to risk feeling like crap on the inside just so you can look super lean on the outside?

If the answer is yes, then just be aware of the enduring and exhausting process that lie ahead.

Personal trainer Chris Feld says fitness and health are two different things. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan
Personal trainer Chris Feld says fitness and health are two different things. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan

Plan, adhere, track, adjust, repeat

If you decide that being healthy and achieving a "normal" level of leanness is more of a priority, then you will still need a certain level of consistency after you have put an action plan in place.

Fat loss is not site specific in the same manner as muscle building is. Yes, any exercise or physical activity will help accelerate the fat-loss process, but the energy deficit it creates, which is required for fat loss, is usually less than expected.

In other words, endless reps of a certain exercise in a certain area will not help to target your stubborn fat. Where on your body you will lose fat from first depends on your sex and your genetic profile. Neither of which we can change.

Women tend to store more body fat than men, and store it primarily around the hips, legs and belly. Men, on the other hand, tend to store more visceral fat (surrounding the internal organs in the tummy region) than women.

Therefore, when women lose body fat, they typically lose it from the top down and the fat in the lower body is the last to go, regardless of exercise selection.

So what is the solution?

A sound nutrition plan, time, patience, adherence, and consistency.

All too often, people hop from one diet to another without giving enough time to reap the benefits of their efforts, expecting dramatic weight loss after just two or three weeks. When that doesn't happen, they blame the diet, accuse it of "not working" and move on to the next latest and greatest fad.

Top models and fitness fanatics, Sarah Morrissey and Lynn Kelly are pictured in Fitzwilliam Square Park to kick off VisitScotland’s health and wellness campaign
Top models and fitness fanatics, Sarah Morrissey and Lynn Kelly are pictured in Fitzwilliam Square Park to kick off VisitScotland’s health and wellness campaign

But is the diet really not working or are you just not adhering to it? Following a diet doesn't mean following it for three of your main meals a day and then eating whatever it is that tickles your fancy outside of your meal times.

It also doesn't mean following it Monday to Friday and then making up for the lost time with your favourite treats all day Saturday and Sunday.

For ANY diet to work, you have to stick to it. You need to be 80pc-90pc consistent with your dieting efforts, depending on how conservative your goals are.

If you are unhappy with your progress, then perhaps you need to be more honest with yourself.

What hidden sources of calories are you are not considering? Sauces? Condiments? Mindless snacking and grazing? Are you counting liquid calories? Are you eating when not hungry? How often are you having treats?

You do not need to drastically overhaul your diet overnight. One small change at a time, one after the other, will eventually lead to great results.

But when you do make that change, then you need to be consistent with it, not just some of the time when it suits you, but 80pc-90pc of time even when it doesn't.

Track. Adjust. Repeat.

The results will follow.

Karen is a nutrition coach and personal trainer. She runs monthly online group nutrition coaching programmes and hosts nutrition seminars around the country. See www.thenutcoach.com

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