Someone recently watched my “Brad Pitt Fight Club Abs” video here, and wondered if what I said was really true:
Do I really not do any ab exercises, and if so, how do I actually have a six pack?
Well, the two most common things that many of us do to lose belly fat actually aren’t ideal for losing belly fat.
The Brutal Truth About Ab Workouts, Belly Fat, and Losing Weight
Why I Don’t do Ab Workouts
When I go to the gym, whether it’s on the east coast or the west coast (and especially around the new year), I always see the same thing.
There are tons of people largely doing two things: running, and doing crunches, presumably because we think these two things magically help us get a flat stomach… yet it’s not true.
Well, not completely true, anyways.
For me, I have a six pack year round, and I genuinely can say that I don’t do ab workouts.
It’s only been recent where I’ve added three sets of plank to my workouts per week.
Yep, that’s it – a grand total of about 4.5 minutes of ab exercises.
Because ab exercises and running don’t help you lose belly fat, at least not by themselves, and they often reflect a misguided understanding of how to get those “enviable” abs or a toned body.
Questioning the Conventional Advice
The classic story I told myself when I was in my early 20s, and was just getting into working out, was the typical conventional advice:
Okay, it’s the new year – gotta get toned up a bit and get a flatter stomach. So I guess I need to go run and do crunches, right?
We just don’t question the advice because it seems so logical – it just makes sense to run and do crunches. Where are the most filled spots in most gyms? The elliptical machines and treadmills, because we assume those are just how you lose weight.
Otherwise, if we knew a faster way, we’d obviously be taking it.
Why Running Doesn’t Guarantee a Toned Body
The reason why running is associated with abs is that, yes, running burns calories, but so does swimming and so does weightlifting (and a million other things like playing tennis).
Running does not possess any special, magical weight burning capacity any more than any other exercise does.
Really, people just use that because it burns calories.
If you don’t like running, don’t do it.
The second thing is you don’t get abs by doing crunches.
This is really important, because I don’t think a lot of people know this, and the science (or lack of science) is called spot-fat reduction.
You can’t spot-fat reduce generally speaking, which means:
- Doing ab exercises will not result in belly fat loss.
- Doing arm exercises will not result in losing flab here.
- Doing butt exercises will not result in getting less fat and less cellulite on your butt. As far as I know, there’s no science to support that.
The abs are tricky in particular though, because they are one of the hardest places to lose fat (which means that they’re often one of the last places to start looking really lean).
The Real Way to be Toned (Two Things)
When I talk to people and students through email (or youtube) I find something surprisingly consistent:
Most men and women just want to be toned.
We have this idea of what we think people want (based on what sells on magazine covers), however the average mom or dad just wants to look and feel great.
We often just want enough strength, health, flexibility and stamina so that we can do all the things we want in life (like playing with our kids) without getting winded or afraid of hurting ourselves.
You can go climb Mount Kilimanjaro, if Kilimanjaro is something you’ve always wanted to climb in Africa. You can go hike these beautiful cliffs in Ireland.
You can go around the world and do what you want – without your body being the crutch. Without your body being the thing that holds you back.
This is most often what I hear (virtually at any age or interest level).
“Well, How do You Really Get Toned Then?”
When women typically see a fitness model like this, they tend to think:
“Okay, that’s kinda the toned look I want: the arms, stomach, etc. How do I get it?”
It’s actually impossible to tone a muscle, so there’s no actual process you can use to make a muscle longer, leaner, etc. You can really only do two things to your body:
You can increase muscle.
Or you can decrease fat (technically, the fat cells).
Guys tend to say the same thing though: they want that 300, gladiator, six pack look with a lean body that looks muscular and fit.
But when we say “toned” we don’t actually realize there isn’t a workout or plan that “gets you toned.” It flat out doesn’t exist.
What we really mean is this: we want more muscle and less body fat.
That’s ACTUALLY what toning is.
So a toned person is almost always a person that lifts weights, does bodyweight exercise, or some kind of calisthenics in addition to their healthy eaten plan.
The Toning Process 101
Here’s the thing that scares some people: you will almost always need to add weights or some kind of resistance training if you are looking to get that toned look.
Have you ever seen someone that runs a lot, who uses that as their main form of exercise?
They tend to look really thin. Shapeless. Sometimes emaciated depending on what they eat.
Toning gives you that muscular tone that you want – and weights are one of the best ways to do that.
Yes, even as a woman.
Yes, even if you’re a woman over 40, 50 or 60.
In fact, it’s especially important for women that are middle aged to lift weights because it improves bone density and also helps offset osteoporosis.
If you’re a woman, I highly recommend staying in the 6-15 rep range on your workouts.
And if you’re a man, stick in the 6-12 rep range during your weight workouts.
From there you need to gradually work on increasing the weights, the repetitions, or both.
So, quick recap.
Two super simple steps for toning:
1. Get more muscle (even if you’re a woman)
2. Lose more body fat
We talked about getting more muscle, and I’ve got hundreds of articles here on losing weight – like this series on losing your next 5-10 pounds.
“But I don’t want to look all muscle-y!”
Now as soon as I suggest that women need to start lifting weights, I hear “I don’t want to look all manly like those women on the fitness covers! That’s gross.”
And here’s the good news:
- You will not get huge, so relax. Not only do female bodybuilders eat horrendous amounts of calories and food (like male bodybuilders do), women don’t even possess the same amounts of hormones that allow men to naturally be more muscular. You won’t get massive.
- You won’t turn into a gorilla. Just a reminder: you will naturally start getting those lines you want, the Michelle Obama Arms, the nice stomach lines, the fit legs and butt… rather than turning into a hulking gorilla with weird posture. Remember that toning is as simple as muscle mass and body fat.
Following me here? There’s nothing to worry about.
All of us have muscle (and abs!) underneath the layer of body fat we have. All women have those arms and thighs they want – it’s just a matter of uncovering them, or sculpting them like a Michelangelo work of art. We start with the block of granite, and have to chisel away the model underneath.
Women over 40
It bears repeating since moms and middle/older aged women tend to be so afraid of weights that women over 40 should especially be doing weights or some kind of resistance – something harder than yoga and walking.
The more muscle mass you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate – which is great news for staying lean and healthy.
Also, more muscle mass and less body fat will help lower estrogen levels, which is a great thing and will help with things like PCOS.
The Bottom Line Takeaway for Whether to do Ab Exercises
If I never do cardio or ab exercises (and yet have abs), then obviously running and ab exercises have nothing to do with getting a six pack. I also never did them consistently when I was working on getting more muscular and toned.
It’s mostly about your body fat levels.
When you think about it like that, forget the two myths that you need to run and do crunches.
You don’t need to do either of those unless you want to.
What you do need are to eat right, which is 80 percent of the work, and some kind of muscle building exercises, and yes for women, too. Lose the weight, lose the body fat, and then when you tighten things up (muscle-wise) you’re going to get that toned and that fit look.
Before you go, leave a comment here below.
What is the worst thing that you’ve actually done in the quest for getting fit?
Leave that comment right there below.
Images from freedigitalphotos.net: runner, women working out, gym equipment