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Flat Abs – something that everyone aspires for. More so with the physical perfection being demonstrated by movie stars these days. A flat abdominal area or mid-section also somewhat acts as an indicator to one’s fitness levels. And it is true to some extent. As we age our metabolism slows down making our bodies more prone to storing excess energy in fat stores. Also with lack of physical activity and exercise plus improper diets, the body starts storing the excess energy from food as body fat. The mid-section or abdominal area is the body’s most favorite area along with a few other spots for storing fat.
The quest of losing this pot belly and achieving a flat abdominal area is the most revered of all fitness goals. And on this quest, most people start off with abdominal exercises. Endless number of sit-ups and crunches form their exercise regime. Different types of abdominal training is adapted and sadly, prescribed by unqualified exercise instructors. Let’s examine some facts to see if that is actually the right approach.
First of all, let’s understand abdominal exercises like crunches or sit-ups. Exercise is nothing but movement in the body against resistance. Movement created by muscles and resistance should be free weights, body weight or exercise machines weights. There are mainly four muscles in the abdominal area:
1. Rectus Abdominus
2. External Obliques
3. Internal Obliques
4. Transverse Abdominus
These muscles serve different purposes and create movements in the abdominal region. When an exercise is performed, like crunches or sit-ups, these are the muscles that are working.
Now let’s look at the adipose tissue or body fat. Adipose tissue is an entirely different tissue and doesn’t have to do anything directly with movement, and thus exercise. Also important to understand is that adipose tissue (body fat) doesn’t belong to any body part. It is the individual genetic pre-disposal that determines the fat gain patterns in all of us. The number of adipocytes (fat cells) and their distribution is decided by the time one attains puberty and that number and pattern remains respectively unchanged throughout life.
Now, when the body is forced to use the stored body fat as fuel as a result of increased metabolism induced by exercise and dietary manipulations, it is for the body to decide from which area it will start using up the stored fat. The body decides this on the basis of number of entry and exit gates on the adipocytes (fat cells). These entry gates and exit gates are nothing but receptors in the cells on which certain enzymes work upon. Fat cells with more entry gates and less exit gates are the ones that start storing fat first and start losing last. And the fat cells with more exit gates and lesser entry gates are the ones to start storing fat the last and start losing first. This is basically first to come and last to go kind of behavior exhibited by the fat cells. These different types of fat cells with varying number of entry and exit gates are distributed all over the body. And that is why we have the typical fat gain patterns. Men tend to store fat more around the abdominal area because men have fat cells with more entry gate and less exit gates in that area. And for women this area is typically the hips and thighs. A certain percentage of women store more fat around the bust area and on arms. Top heavy or bottom heavy women, anyone??
But unfortunately we can’t do anything about this distribution of fat cells and the only option for us is to stick to a fat loss regime long enough till such time that fat from the problem areas, as it is commonly called, is lost and the desired/ideal fat percentage is reached. Problems areas are nothing but areas with higher density of fat cells with less exit gates and more entry gates.
So you see, spot reduction of fat from a particular area in the body is not possible. Which means doing endless number of crunches and sit-ups won’t make you lose the belly fat. Then what will? Sticking to a proper fat loss diet plan and a comprehensive exercise regime for long enough to see results will. No doubt, abdominal exercises like crunches and sit-ups will give you stronger abdominal muscles just like legs and arms exercises will give you stronger leg and arm muscles respectively. But to lose fat from the body, whichever area that might be, the approach has to be holistic.
Spot reduction of body fat is not possible and thus, doing abdominal exercises will not burn abdominal fat, nor will doing side bends result in loss of fat from the hips.