I’ve done almost one month of so. many. ab. exercises at the end of each of my workouts and have zero results to show for it.
Are you surprised?
You shouldn’t be.
Women and clients almost always want to spot reduce, with an emphasis on losing their midsection. They request more ab exercises, time and time again.
While we do do core workouts- it’s not in an effort to reduce their midsection or belly fat.
First of all, the body is a system- and spot reduction (the act of trying to reduce fat in one single area of the body) doesn’t exist. It doesn’t work- it never worked, and it will never work.
The body will shed fat all across the body in a systematic way- with little to no rhyme or reason aside from some genetic factors of where you’re unique body decides to shed fat from first.
You will never find someone who has a six-pack and doesn’t all around have a lean body composition. No one can carry excess fat all over their body and still have a 6-pack. If someone is sporting abs, the rest of their body is also carrying less body fat.
Now, yes, some people are genetically pre-disposed to naturally be more lean, have more defined abs even when lean, and so on. Someone can have a low body composition and NOT have abs.
But I want you to think about this:
When adding weight to an exercise, what happens to the muscle?
I see women all. of. the fucking. time. doing super heavy core exercises. Decline sit-ups with a plate. Side-bends with a plate. Twists with a plate. Weighted cable crunches, etc, etc.
It’s the heaviest weight they touch during their entire workout.
“But Christina… don’t you want women to lift heavy weights?”
Hell yes. Yes, I do.
BUT, if the intensity of your workout overall is low, and if you’re just isolating muscle groups with little to no intensity, your metabolism isn’t being revved up like it should be.
Overtime, with chronic weighted-ab exercises without a sound approach to overall fat loss will absolutely yield in a larger appearance to your midsection.
I, personally, do not want to have a boxy shape. That is a choice. So, when I do oblique exercises, they are always unweighted. I don’t want to appear larger and I don’t want to grow wider. This past month however? You betcha they were weighted. And of course, you can actually tell that I appear wider in the more recent photo.
Why do we do core at all, then?
Your core also includes your low back. We have an anterior core (your abs)
and a posterior core (your back.) A strong core, overall, is integral to being strong.
Back squats, front squats, deadlifts, etc. will not get stronger if your core is weak.
In fact, it’s usually the limiting factor for most people.
Crunches and sit-ups are not very functional- meaning, they produce little-to-no improvements for your core’s function, and do not translate to a stronger back squat, front squat, deadlift, etc.
Why are compound movements so important? Why do I keep referencing squats and deadlifts? Because they are so taxing on the body, the muscle groups used are large, and when done correctly- they are intense. They provide the intensity needed to rev your metabolism during and after a workout and actually are conducive to a fat loss goal.
If you’ve noticed, workouts are always begun with a specific muscle warm-up, mobility, and activation work. There is usually a main strength component of each workout, and each workout contains some sort of super-setting or metabolic conditioning component, which again, is conducive to a fat loss goal.
Of course, no amount of exercise programming will make a dent in your quest for a leaner appearance if your diet sucks. Sorry about that.
My core is actually super taxed after deadlifts and squats. I use my core to brace each movement. I push down through my ribcage, making sure that my last rib and hip bone are “close”.
If you have a fat loss goal, your workouts should be intense & fast-paced.
Isolating your abs simply isn’t intense enough to illicit any fat loss. But, again, even if you somehow came up with the most intense ab circuit, your body is physically incapable of shedding fat from your midsection just because you’re participating in “omg super intense” ab circuits.
If the majority of your workout is soul-sucking, you absolutely can incorporate core into your workouts. (Soul-sucking being the operative phrase, here.)
When I program core into my clients’ programs, it’s for a few reasons:
-their core is actually weak. we can tell that it is weak due to muscular compensation seen during squats, deadlifts, overhead press, gait patterns, and so on.
-the core IS comprised of muscles and should be worked, just like all of our other muscles.
-we DO NOT do core just because the client wants to try to whittle their middle away. There is a rhyme and reason to their abdominal (posterior and anterior) programming into each workout, and the goal is for it to improve other areas of improvement that ARE integral to their overall goal.
The universal, most common workout that I see looks like this:
-45-60 min on the stair climber or treadmill or elliptical. Workout is so long that they lose intensity but “omg I’M SO SWEATY SO THIS IS WERRRKINGGG!!!!”
-Abs for one million years in the corner of the gym. Finally grab a weight that’s heavy. Do side-bends. Leg raises. Super heavy weighted twists. Decline weighted abs.
“omg my abs are SHHHUUUUPPPPPER sore!! THIS MUST BE WERRRKING!!!”
A sample workout that is conducive to fat-loss and incorporates core should look more like this:
Lower body example:
5-min- warm-up: glute activation exercises like hip bridges and clam shells
10-20min- strength: take a few minutes to work up to a heavy set of 8 back squats. Take 1-2 minute breaks in between and repeat 4xs.
10-min: leg focused super-sets. little to no rest, moderate weight.
10-min: HIIT on the treadmill, stair stepper, or body weight stuff like box-jumps and burpees.
5-min: 2 different core exercises with 15-20 reps each for 3 sets.
5-min: stretch and cool down.
Again, and not to beat a dead horse- your nutrition will always be your limiting factor.
You are not a special unicorn who just “omg works out so hard” that your nutrition doesn’t matter. Awesome workouts + shitty nutrition = no results.
In summary, spend less time doing so many ab-focused workouts, and spend more time lifting heavy shit, doing HIIT, and focusing on your portion sizes. Magic awaits you 😉