April 14, 2010
We’ve all seen it before- infomercials and magazine ads claiming that it’s possible to banish belly fat and tout awesome abs with just a few minutes of abdominal specific exercise per day. Think the idea of selectively sculpting your midsection sounds too good to be true? If you answered yes then you’re right, because it is, as spot reducing is simply not possible. This concept is based on the flawed notion that we can “burn off” fat from a specific part of the body by selectively exercising that area. However numerous studies, both in recent years and decades past, have refuted this claim. Exercise programs that target only cardiorespiratory exercise or which target only a portion of the body with resistance training (e.g., doing only “core” work) fail to strengthen the entire body and are limited in regards to the amount of lean mass they can produce. Only regular exercise (both cardiorespiratory and strength training) in conjunction with a sensible diet can eliminate excess body fat.
If your goal is to effectively burn fat and lose weight it is recommended that you engage in approximately 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity most days of the week. This amount can be accumulated throughout the day in multiple bouts of physical activity that are each at least 10 minutes in duration.
In addition to cardiorespiratory training, it is essential to also incorporate strength training two to three non-consecutive days per week as part of your complete fitness program, as training major muscle groups positively affects metabolic rate. In regards to resting metabolic rate (RMR), strength training increases the amount of lean muscle mass in the body, thereby allowing the body to burn fat at a higher rate throughout the entire day. Lean mass has a higher metabolism than fat mass as muscle tissue is highly active, even at rest.
Increases in lean body mass made over time with a resistance training routine will eventually lead to an increase in basal metabolic rate (BMR) and resting metabolic rate (RMR) of approximately 7 to 10 calories for every pound of lean body mass. In addition, training the major muscles can create a high caloric consumption than exercising smaller muscle groups (e.g. exercising the whole upper body via pull ups vs. doing wrist curls for the forearms) and can result in greater excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which equates to increased caloric expenditure immediately following exercise.
While the thought of touting a toned midsection may be the main source of motivation for some individuals when it comes to performing core exercises, it is important to understand that effectively training your midsection serves a much higher purpose than just being easy on the eyes (although that doesn’t hurt). Strengthening the muscles of the core is essential for maintaining good posture, alleviating lower back pain, preventing injuries, and improving performance in other athletic pursuits.
Searching for abdominal exercises to include in your exercise program? Try this core workout and discover which ab exercises are really most effective.
Jessica Matthews, MS, E-RYTContributor
Jessica Matthews, M.S., E-RYT is assistant professor of exercise science at Miramar College. As a leading fitness expert, writer and educator Jessica is a regular contributor to numerous publications, including Shape and Oprah.com. She holds a B.S. in physical education teacher education from Coastal Carolina University and M.S. in physical education from Canisius College. She is a certified Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor and Health Coach through the American Council on Exercise (ACE) as well as an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT) through Yoga Alliance and trained stand-up paddleboard (SUP) yoga instructor. Prior to teaching at Miramar, Jessica worked full-time ACE, serving in a number of key roles including exercise physiologist, certification director and senior health and fitness editor. Her past work also includes serving as aquatics director at Conway Medical Wellness and Fitness Center and designing health and physical education curriculum for grades K-12. Full Bio Jessica Matthews »