29 November 2018
| THE HEARTBEAT OF WOMEN'S SPORT

The truth about tummy fat

August 22, 2008

For many women, despite doing regular cardio work, shifting tummy fat can still be an issue. Sportsister looks at the best ways to tone your stomach and dispels some of the myths around this problem area.

stomach.pngIf your eyes are bigger than your tummy then you will always struggle to get a flat stomach and, even if you exercise, you will never see the toned musculature as fat lies on top of muscle obliterating your rock hard abs.

We’ve all read that it takes desire, determination and discipline to lose weight but there are lesser mentioned but no less important ingredients to add to your weight loss recipe. It is vital to remember it will take at least as long for your body to adjust to your new regime (and therefore to see results) as it did to gain and maintain excess weight in the first place.

Then add intransigence to the mix as you must be prepared to stick to your plan even if you don’t see as much weight loss as you may have expected. A safe and effective weight loss amount is approximately 2lbs per week and some weeks you will be more successful than others depending on your commitment.

Last but not least, visualise your new body and believe you can achieve your goal as with the right attitude, information and commitment you can have the body you want.

The reality is tummy rolls are nothing more than excess body fat and slack muscle tone. The body responds to consistency whether it is what we eat or how much exercise we do and scales don’t lie.

A two-pronged approach is necessary to gain a flatter and more toned tummy. Firstly, lose weight and secondly, exercise consistently, effectively and within your ability as regular exercise should stimulate not annihilate.

Instant gratification is not an option, there are no shortcuts and physiological changes take time to show and crucially, a toned tummy is harder work to obtain than to maintain.

Problem areas

stomach-2.pngTo lose body fat effectively you must take a whole body approach as you cannot reduce fat from a specific area, i.e. spot reduce. Lower your body fat percentage and you will lose weight from all over including any stubborn areas although no amount of weight loss or exercise will alter your skeletal shape. The numbers of fat cells are determined at birth but the size of them is determined by you! Fat deposits are stored in adipose tissue (fat cells) and they increase and decrease depending on your weight. To see a six-pack your body fat needs to be 10 percent or lower and even if you are doing hundred’s of sit-up’s a day, you may actually increase your tummy musculature if you aren’t losing body fat too.

The lower tummy is often a source of frustration and when protruding is commonly called a pot belly when the tummy is more rounded below the belly button.

The rectus abdominis (six-pack) is a long flat muscle that runs parallel from the chest to the pubic bones and scientists will tell you that it is one muscle which implies it is impossible to work just the lower section and that you should work your tummy as a whole. Annoyingly, if you are constipated and/or bloated it will show on this part of your tummy and so it may appear bigger than it actually is!

If it is simply stored fat your best bet is to lose weight and get working on your abs!

Quality over quantity

Cardio training and regular tummy exercises strengthen stomach muscles which can help speed up digestion which, in turn, can help reduce bloating and, along with avoiding gassy and processed foods, hormonal “fat days” can be severely reduced.

Quality over quantity is another aspect to gaining that much coveted six pack. The quality of exercise is what counts, not merely the number you manage to do in a session, and it is amazing how many clients who tell me they do crunches regularly yet don’t see the expected results. When I ask them to show me how they perform a basic tummy crunch, I am shocked at their lack of technique. Most haven’t been taught about engagement of the transversus abdominis muscles, they don’t quite understand the pelvic tilt movement and they perform crunches at breakneck speed whilst holding their breath.

Pregnant women, due to their growing baby altering their line of gravity, often stand with their hips pushed forward (anterior pelvic tilt) with an over-arching of their lower backs. In non-pregnant women this is known as poor posture! This stance will make your tummy appear more rounded than it actually is and pilates would be appropriate to help identify postural weaknesses and strengthen core stability muscles.

For a small section of people, there are reasons which may cause fat to be excessively stored round the middle; apple-shaped women are genetically pre-disposed to bearing more weight around the trunk. This doesn’t mean they won’t be able to achieve a sculptured midriff but may have to work that bit harder. Excess body fat has to be stored somewhere and for some people, the first place it shows is around the middle, for others it is faces, backs of the arms and, more commonly in women, hips, thighs and bottoms. We all have a body part which is more resistant to change and the tummy may be yours.

People with digestive disorders including, IBS, reflux oesophagitis and hiatus hernias are often bloated due to excess gas (wind) but this is an unpleasant symptom of a condition and not deposited fat. For these people, a specific diet to avoid gas-making foods and excess stomach acid would be recommended.

How to do a tummy crunch

Here’s how to do a basic tummy crunch from beginner to advanced levels. Build up to doing a selection of top-notch tummy exercises for 30-45mins every other day at the end of your workout when you have warmed down but before you stretch. If you are not cardio-training then try warming up with a rarely used but immensely effective tummy toner, the hula hoop. It is a fabulous body-shaper as it works your waist, tummy, butt and legs simultaneously and you can buy DVD’s to practise with.

Basic Tummy Crunch – Beginner

(1) Engage your transverse abdominus muscles (two easy ways to locate these muscles are firstly if you cough you will feel tummy muscles tighten, these are the transverse abdominus. Secondly imagine lying on your bed trying to zip up tight fitting jeans. You would have to breath in, these are your transverse abdominus muscles.)

(2) Pelvic tilt (If you cannot maintain a pelvic tilt then you must decrease the intensity of the exercise until you can – just do more of what you can do to build muscle endurance and then progress).

(3) Relax head and neck.

(4) Lie with feet hip distance apart, feet parallel.

(5) Arms bent with fingers lightly placed behind head on neck.

(6) Elbows open and relaxed, not brought forwards.

(7) Focus on your tummy muscles and lead movement from your tummy not your head.

(8) Inhale deeply through the nose with a closed mouth as you exhale through an open mouth lift your trunk (slow count of 4), curl up until you feel your tummy muscles contract and hold position for 2 seconds. Eyes towards navel.

(9) Inhale deeply through the nose with a closed mouth and curl back to the floor (slow count of 4) making sure your spine makes contact with the mat and, without letting your head rest on the mat in-between repetitions, repeat.

Trunk and Leg Raises – Advanced

Do points (1)-(7) from above.

(8) Inhale deeply through the nose with a closed mouth then exhale through an open mouth whilst simultaneously raising straight legs to 900 and curling your trunk until you feel your tummy muscles contract (slow count of 4). Eyes towards navel. Hold position for 2 seconds.

(9) Keep your trunk raised throughout the exercise. Inhale and as you exhale begin to lower straight legs (without locking knee joints, keep knees soft) until they are just about to reach the floor (if you cannot maintain a pelvic tilt to the floor then lower legs as far as comfortable), repeat.

Laurel Alper, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

Laurel Alper is a Personal Trainer, Pilates Instructor and Nutritional Therapist at NW3 Fitness Studio in London and can be contacted via email at la-la@sky.com

Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise programme or change of usual eating habits. Stop exercising immediately if you feel unwell or in pain.

Related features:

Complement your exercise routine with pilates

Sportsister’s guide to cross training

Healthy snacking

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