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Here's the skinny on abs and fat loss

"The reason I exercise is for the quality of life I enjoy."

Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper of the Cooper Institute

The up and coming new year is a good time to clear up some false information about the highly touted flat abs. The abdominal muscles seem to attract more misinformation than any other muscle group in the body. One of the biggest misunderstandings, yet most popular belief, is that performing ab exercises will burn off the unwanted "flab over the abs." So not true! Simply stated, there is no such thing as spot reduction for the abdominals — or any other body part, for that matter. While exercising ab muscles will increase the endurance and strength needed for overall stability, posture, balance and back support, you will not lose the fat that is on top of the muscle. You can't isolate fat loss to one part of the body. Fat belongs to the whole body, not just the muscle it's sitting upon. The only way to lose body fat is to create a calorie deficit by burning more calories than you take in and performing systemic whole-body exercises. Consistent cardio, strength conditioning and healthy eating habits are the winners when it comes to losing body fat, and even with that regimen you have no control over just where you'll lose that fat.

Here are three other popular abdominal misunderstandings:

You should do hundreds of repetitions: It is much better to go for quality rather than quantity, and variety rather than multiple repetitions. When you overdo it with the repetitions, there is increased risk of neck and back issues as well as a tendency to lose form and to perform the exercise incorrectly. The abs should be treated like any other muscle group. If you are performing the exercise correctly, you need only do one to three sets of eight to 15 repetitions.

Situps are better than crunches: With situps, you bring your upper body all the way up toward your bent knees. This movement does not agree with many backs. Because the abdominals are involved only in the first part of the movement, you do not need to rise to knee level. Once your shoulders lift off the floor, hip flexors and lower back muscles take over.

The upper abs and lower abs are two separate muscles: The rectus abdominis is one long sheet of muscle, so when you perform any ab exercise you will be working the entire muscle, not two separate muscles. That said, you may emphasize different parts of the muscle. When you lift your hips off the floor, for example, you will be targeting the lower abs, and when you lift your upper body off the floor, you will be targeting the upper abs.

Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but can't respond to individual inquiries. Contact her at

The basic bridge: This targets the abdominals, lower back, hips, glutes and hamstrings. Your inner thighs help to keep you stable.

Lie on a mat with bent knees, feet flat on the floor, under knees. Placing your hands downward by your sides will provide support and help to protect your wrists as you move into the bridge position. Contracting your abdominal and buttock muscles, lift your hips off the floor, keeping a straight line from shoulders to knees. (If your back begins to sag, lower yourself back down to the floor.) Hold the bridge for four or five deep breaths, then release slowly to the floor, repeating several times. When finished, complement the movement with a back stretch. To do this, bend your knees and wrap your lower arms under your thighs. Bring your knees into your chest and rock gently, giving yourself a mini massage.

Side plank with a twist: This targets the obliques, shoulders, glutes and quads.

Begin by lying on your right side, lower arm on the floor with elbow under shoulder, hips and legs stacked. Contracting your abdominals, lift your hips up, creating a straight line from head to heels, then extend your left arm over your shoulder, pointing your fingers upward. Rotate your torso, bringing your left arm under your body. (Your palm will be facing up as your arm reaches underneath.) Pause, then return to the beginning, repeating the rotations. Do this eight to 10 times on each side.

Reverse wood chop: This targets the lower back, obliques, shoulders, glutes and thighs.

Begin by bending knees, rotating your upper body and bringing a ball to the outside of your right thigh. Push through your heels to standing while rotating your torso, bringing weight over the opposite shoulder. Perform one or two sets of eight to 12 repetitions, then switch sides and repeat.

Here's the skinny on abs and fat loss 12/14/15 [Last modified: Saturday, December 12, 2015 4:53pm]
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