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How to Lose the Last Few Pounds of Ab Flab

By Tom Venuto, author of "Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle"

Developing a lean, flat stomach takes time and patience, especially when it comes to those last few pounds in those hard to lose places. The lower abs and "love handles" can be two of the most stubborn and exercise-resistant areas from which to lose fat. In fact, it can sometimes seem so hard to reduce those spots that many people become frustrated and resort to dangerous diet drugs or liposuction. Other people slave away day in and day out on the latest new-fangled ab device or do countless sit ups, side bends, and leg raises every day, all to no avail. There is only one way to lose fat in the so-called "stubborn areas", and that is with the correct combination of proper diet, aerobic exercise, abdominal training, and weight training. 

The first thing you need to realize is that it is impossible to "spot reduce" fat from one specific part of the body. Fat loss occurs systemically, meaning that, you will draw it from all areas of the body, and the first place you tend to put it on will be the last place it comes off. The reason everyone has those "stubborn" spots is because each of us is born with a genetic pattern of fat storage, just as we inherit hair color, eye color, and other physical traits. In women, the stubborn areas tend to be hips, thighs, and the waist. Thinking that you can "drain the fat" from your primary storage point first is like thinking that you can drain the deep end of your swimming pool before the shallow end - can't do it. 

In men, the troublesome areas are usually the lower abs and the "love handles." Many people labor away month after month trying to exercise specific areas of their body with the idea that fat will be burned directly off the area they are working. Training the abdominals every day with hundreds of repetitions will certainly strengthen and develop the muscles, but it will do almost nothing to remove the fat obscuring the muscles. In fact, it is possible to have a great set of abs that you can’t even see because they are covered up with a layer of fat!

Contrary to popular belief, the best way to burn the layer of flab from your midsection is not to do more abdominal exercise, but to do more cardiovascular exercise. Aerobic exercise is the real secret to burning fat. Walking, jogging, bicycling, elliptical exercise and stairclimbing are all great fat burners. Most people give up too early in the workout. During the first 20 minutes of aerobic activity, glycogen (stored carbohydrates) is the primary fuel source. If you stop after 20 minutes, you’re only getting half of your workout done! You get the cardiovascular health benefits, but you don’t get much fat loss during the workout. Because you don't burn significant amounts of fat until glycogen stores are depleted, the key to maximum fat loss is to work out aerobically for 30-45 minutes continuously per session. You should do this at least three or four days per week, but five, six, or even seven days a week will take off fat at the fastest rate possible!

Even if you’re doing cardio every day, without a good diet, you still won’t see results. Fat loss is a 50% exercise, 50% nutrition combination. A fat loss diet must be low in calories. Regardless of how much you work out, if the number of calories you take in is greater than the amount you burn, you’ll still put on bodyfat. Ideally, you should spread your calories out into five small meals a day instead of 2 or 3 big ones so that you don’t overeat in one feeding. Eat a variety of foods that are all natural, low in fat and low in sugar, with about 50% of the calories coming from carbohydrates, 30% from protein, and 20% from fat. If you’re having a really difficult time losing the last few pounds, keep the protein up and decrease your carbohydrate intake, especially late in the day and at night. This will deplete your glycogen stores and force your body to burn more fat for energy. Be careful not to drop your calories or carbohydrates too much, because this will be interpreted by the body as starvation and will result in a decrease in metabolic rate.

Next to "spot reduction", the second most common myth about abdominal training is that sit ups and leg raises are the most effective exercises. Actually, these movements don’t even isolate the abs; they are integrated exercises that heavily recruit the hip flexor muscles, which are the same muscles used to punt a football. The hip flexors attach the thigh to the spinal column, so working them with exercises such as straight leg raises creates a strong pull on the lumbar area. This is a common cause of lower back pain in those susceptible. There is certainly a place in sports conditioning for all types of integrated abdominal-hip flexion exercises. However, a safe, simple and effective way to for a beginner to started an abdominal program is to emphasize basic abdominal flexion exercises such as crunches, stability ball crunches, cable crunches, hip lifts, full range knee ups and reverse crunches. 

The crunch is simply a partial sit up. You lie flat on your back and curl your head, shoulders and upper back off the floor. Your lower back stays on the floor at all times. This isolates the abs because when the feet are not anchored, and you don’t sit all the wayup, the hip flexors are not strongly activated. To add range of motion and activate your core, the next progression is to perform your crunches on a stability ball. The reverse crunch, unlike the straight leg raise, is a rolling movement, where the knees are rocked back over the chest. This is a great movement for working the lower abs without putting undue stress on the lower back. To increase difficulty, the next progression is to perform your reverse crunches up a low incline board. To hit the oblique muscles on the sides of the waist, you can do your crunches with a twist (elbow to knee) or you can lie on your side and do side crunches.

The final component of your ab flab-reducing program is resistance training. It is important to train the entire body. Working one muscle group to the exclusion of others is a common cause of muscular imbalance. Building strong abdominals without also developing the antagonistic spinal erectors of the lower back could easily lead to injury. Many people are under the impression that they should only do cardiovascular activities until the weight comes off, then add weight training later on. It’s true that weight training is an anaerobic activity, so it burns more glycogen than body fat. However, working out with weights will increase your lean body mass, which in turn raises your resting metabolic rate. The faster your metabolism is, the more fat you will burn! A complete program should always include aerobic exercise and weight training for every muscle group.

Before you decide to resort to drastic measures, give these guidelines an honest try. Losing fat is not easy, but it is simple if you know the formula. To recap, the formula for losing the last few pounds of ab flab is as follows:

1. Losing fat takes time, so get started now! Be patient and don’t expect to get "ripped" overnight.

2. Burn the fat off the ab muscles with lots of cardiovascular exercise or you won’t be able to see them.

3. Choose biomechanically correct exercises to train the abs, emphasizing crunching type isolation exercises.

4. Eat natural, low fat, low sugar, low calorie foods in small servings throughout the day, and

5. Work out with weights; don’t just train your abs, train your entire body.


About The Author

Tom Venuto is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist, lifetime natural bodybuilder, freelance writer, success coach and author of the #1 best-selling e-book "Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle" (BFFM): Fat Burning Secrets of the World's Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models.

Tom has written over 170 articles and has been featured in IRONMAN Magazine, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Muscle-Zine, Olympian’s News (in Italian), Exercise for Men and Men’s Exercise. Tom's inspiring and informative articles on bodybuilding, weight loss and motivation are featured regularly on dozens of websites worldwide. For information on Tom's "Burn The Fat" e-book, click here: Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle