By Vince del Monte Men's Fitness
You donít actually need abs that show.
Most men in America will go through their entire lives without ever having seen their abs, except maybe briefly one summer when they were 12. In fact, even many professional athletes donít have abs their girlfriends can do laundry on. Few baseball pitchers, and no offensive linemen, see their abs when they suit up before a game.
But if youíre going to be fit, why not show it? For the average guy whoís in shape, getting abs isnít that hard. Itís like taking an A- and turning it into an A+. Challenging, but hardly impossible.
Getting abs is a lot about diet, a little about exercise, and all about attitude. As a fitness model, trainer, and former natural bodybuilder, having defined abs has been part of my job description for the past decade, so Iíve learned to eat, train, and program my mind accordingly to keep them sharp. Below are 10 tips Iíve used that make the difference between regular and premium.
1. Set a Deadline
Break your main goal (to get flat, ripped abs) into smaller goals, such as losing one pound per week or adding a round to the ab circuit described on in step 10. Then set a deadline for each one. Losing a lot of weight to reveal your abs can seem like a big undertaking, but itís much less daunting when you take the time to divide it into smaller, achievable checkpoints. Deadlines also make you accountable, giving you a schedule to keep and a bit of pressure to improve.
Take it a step further and tell your friends. Making your deadlines public is a powerful motivator because it puts your reputation on the line, says Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University and author of The New York Times best seller, Predictably Irrational. In fact, the more attention you draw to what youíre doing, the less likely youíll be to renege on it. Announce your intentions on Facebook or e-mail your buddies. That makes it harder for you to back down, and youíll find that you have a support group full of people who want you to succeed.
2. Prevent Food Allergies
You could have low levels of body fat and still sport a bloated stomach. Thatís because inflammation in your digestive tract, as the result of a food allergy, is making it swell. Wheat gluten, soy, and dairy are common allergens, and even if you havenít noticed a problem with them, minor amounts could still be doing you harm.
Avoid these foods most of the time and see an allergist for a food sensitivity test to know for sure. At the very least, cut these foods out for a few weeks and see how you feel. Typically, if youíre sensitive to a food, youíll notice less gas, bloating, and fatigue after a few days of being free of it.
3. Keep the Protein Coming
You need more muscle to increase your metabolism and burn off the fat that covers your six-pack. On the nutrition front, this means eating protein regularly. Because the body has no way to store protein, it needs a regular supply to keep your muscles well stocked. Eating small but frequent meals has always kept me more muscular. The protocol thatís worked best for 90% of my clients is to have five whole-food meals and one protein shake per day. If your diet calls for 200 grams of protein in a day (a good goal for a 200-pound man), I advise consuming five to six meals with 30Ė50 grams of protein in each.
4. Stop Cutting Calories
The very act of eating less causes a stress response in the body that jacks up cortisol, a hormone that stimulates hunger and signals fat storage. A 2010 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine found that women who cut calories to lose weight experienced an increase in cortisol, even over another group who simply tracked their calories but didnít reduce them. So how do you lose fat? Of course calories have to be reduced, but itís how you perceive the cut that matters. Focus on eating better without restricting your overall consumption. Donít starve!
Also, some foods require more effort to digest than others. It burns more calories to digest protein than it does carb foods.
5. Protect Your Home
When youíre at work or someone elseís house, itís not always possible to eat right. But when youíre in your own crib, thereís no excuse for not having total control. You canít fight temptation 24/7, so remove all the processed junk food from your refrigerator and cabinets.
Your kitchen should be stocked with a wide range of meats, vegetables, fruits, and starches (rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.). When you cheat, make sure itís food you have to go out to get, such as ice cream, and finish it that day. Donít store any leftovers. I donít trust you, and you shouldnít either.
6. Start the Day Green
An often-neglected aspect of abs is getting enough green vegetables. They have essential nutrients that your body wants to make sure it gets, and if you donít provide the necessary nutrition, youíre going to find yourself rooting around in the cookie jar looking for it. To ensure youíre fully loaded, make a fresh juice crammed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants with a minimum of calories. That means vegetable juice (not fruit juice, which is packed with lots of sugar and not enough of the fiber that whole fruit provides). Green juice is like a salad in a glass (only tastier, I promise). This recipe is one of my favorites. Juice the ingredients and pour over 1/3-cup of water and half a cup of ice:
1/2 cup cucumber
1/2 cup celery
1/2 cup spinach
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 green apple
Parsley and ginger, to taste
In addition to providing valuable nutrition you may be unable to get from whole foods during the day, a green juice can also act as a detoxifier.
7. Measure Portion Sizes
Iím not going to tell you to turn your kitchen into the set of Breaking Bad, but a little measuring will keep you honest. Measure your proteins in ounces and your carbs in cups (most of your fat should come as part of your protein foods; add any other fats sparingly). You can use the palm of your hand to approximate three ounces of meat and your fist for a cup of rice or potatoes. The length of your thumb works well for measuring fats; itís about the size of two tablespoons of oil or peanut butter.
This makes keeping a record of your food intake much easier, and eyeballed estimates will be close enough until you get very lean. At that point, you may want to invest in a food scale to make more precise measurements. The sharper your abs get, the more important the difference between one cup of rice and one half cup becomes.
8. Get More Magnesium
Iím going to go out on a limb (not really) and bet that your list of supplements doesnít include magnesium. But it really should. Itís essential for good sleep and heart, muscle, and brain functionóall of which impact your absó and yet research shows most of us arenít getting enough of it.
An analysis in the Journal of Nutrition Reviews revealed that 48Ė60% of Americans donít meet the recommended daily value for magnesium, which even then is only considered the absolute minimum (a great physique likely requires more). Add a magnesium supplement or a multivitamin to your diet and see how your results improve.
9. Eat Protein for Breakfast
A carb-laden breakfast with orange juice and toast spikes insulin, impairing your ability to burn fat for hours afterward. It also stimulates the release of serotonin, a hormone that makes you feel good but also sluggish. Thatís why many physique athletes have switched over to eating breakfasts that are carb-free. Aside from the green juice, you should too.
A study out of the University of Missouri last March found that a high-protein breakfast improves appetite control and reduces unhealthy snacking in the evening. I take it a step further and eat nuts along with a protein source like meat or eggs. Thereís nothing magic about the meat-and-nut combination, but itís a filling meal and wonít cause a sharp rise in blood sugar, so your energy will be steady all day. When I competed in the 2011 WBFF World Championships as a fitness model and achieved my all-time leanest conditionó4% body fatóhereís how Iíd start my day: six ounces of ground beef and a handful of macadamia nuts on the side, or two extra-lean sausages and a few slices of coconut (green vegetables, of course, are fine at this time as well).
10 Do The Tough Ab Exercises
Abs are postural muscles, designed to keep your spine safe when youíre fatigued. That means that they donít grow as quickly and dramatically in response to exercise as many other muscles do, so short rest periods and a high volume of work are mandatory to make them grow. Try the circuit below in one of your weekly workouts. Perform each exercise for 60 seconds, completing as many reps as possible. Rest 15 seconds between exercises and then 60 seconds at the end.
A. Hanging Leg Raise
Hang from a pullup bar and raise your legs to the bar, keeping them straight. Control the descent and try to slow it down more over time.
B. Swiss Ball Crunch
Take five seconds to crunch your torso to your hips.
C. Ab Wheel Rollout
D. Decline Russian Twist
Sit on a decline bench and hold a weight at armís length. Twist to one side and then the other.
Do two rounds of the circuit the first week and add one round every week thereafter until youíre performing it five times in Week 4.