Strength Training, Weight Loss

How do I get rid of my belly?

Belly fat_Budda

This is without a doubt the most frequently asked question I get as a personal trainer – probably because there’s so much information, and mis-information, available nowadays about this subject. Call it the midsection, core, belly, muffin top, spare tire, or something else – we all have one and we all struggle with getting, and keeping, it looking the way we want.

First, let’s talk about the “core.” It’s technically a collection of muscles that spans from the glutes to the rib cage – front, back and sides. These include the rectus abdominus (what makes the “six-pack”) and transverse abdominus in the front, the groups of obliques on the sides, the hip flexor complex, the glutes complex, and the smaller muscles of the low back. The muscles of the core serve an important purpose: to support and move the spine. This is why core strengthening and mobility are so important. When the core is weak, a host of other problems up and down the chain ensue.

Now, let’s talk about fat. The body contains three types:

Triglycerides: These are fat cells that circulate in the bloodstream. They comprise about 95% of all fat in the body and have many functions.

Subcutaneous fat: The layer of fat directly below the skin’s surface, such as between the skin and the abdominal wall, or the dreaded cellulite in the thighs and upper arms.

Visceral fat: This is what we usually think of as “belly” fat. It’s located deep within the belly, below the stomach muscles and close to the internal organs.

Why do we store excess visceral fat?

There are many reasons why humans store excess body fat. Here are three of the most common ones:

Inactivity and excess caloric intake

As a society, we’re becoming more and more sedentary with rates of overweight and obesity at epidemic proportions. Technology, desk jobs, urban sprawl, and the prevalence of highly palatable, inexpensive, high calorie foods are just some of the contributing factors. When we consume more energy (in the form of calories) than we expend, the extra energy is stored as body fat. [Read:  Calories in vs. out? Or hormones? The Debate is Finally Over.]

Stress

Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. It’s produced by the fight-or-flight response to perceived threats, most of which nowadays are more imagined than real. Interestingly, other things that we don’t necessarily think of as “stressful” actually place the body into stress mode and generate cortisol production: too much high intensity cardio exercise, and extremely low calorie diets. A steady stream of cortisol, which can’t be used by the body for fight-or-flight, winds up stored as body fat. [Read: More About Cortisol, the Stress Hormone]

Metabolic Syndrome

This condition affects an estimated one-third of Americans. It causes the body to store food as fat instead of using it for energy. Starches and simple sugars are the biggest problem, and even very active people can have it.

Metabolic syndrome is linked with a condition called insulin resistance. Insulin, a hormone, moves glucose (sugar) into the cells to generate energy. With insulin resistance, however, it can’t do its job – so excess glucose remains in the bloodstream instead of getting into cells to be used for energy. This excess glucose winds up stored as fat.

Eliminating belly fat – what doesn’t work, and what does

It seems everyone has some magical prescription for reducing belly fat – whether it’s a pill, potion, special food diet, or exercise routine. One thing is for certain – there is no magic solution. Instead, here are some proven, commonsense ways to achieve a slimmer midsection:

Do:  Stand more and sit less. When we sit, the core muscles are not engaged or active. Standing, however, activates the core just to keep the body upright. Find ways to incorporate less sitting and more standing into your daily activities.

Do: Eat fewer empty carbohydrates and unhealthy fats. Replace them with more fresh fruits, vegetables, grass-fed meats and whole grains. Check the sugar content on processed foods you eat regularly. You’ll be amazed how much added sugar is in so many of the foods we eat, from supposedly “healthy” breakfast cereals to spaghetti sauce. It doesn’t really matter what type of sugar (thinking of the high fructose corn syrup scare from a few years ago). [Read: How to Get Your Eating Back on Track]

Do: Exercise the right way.

  • Forget about crunches: these are the least effective form of core exercise.
  • Whenever possible, avoid using weight machines for strength training. Instead, use dumbbells, stretch cords/bands, barbells, or just body weight. Most weight machines involve sitting, so there’s no core engagement involved. When you must hold your body upright and lift the weight, your core is constantly active. [Read: The Myth of Weight Machines]
  • Recognize that you cannot “spot reduce” fat from specific areas of the body through targeted exercises. Working your abs for 4 hours a day, seven days a week will give you very strong (and larger) ab muscles, but they’ll reside underneath that layer of fat.

Instead, develop a regular weekly exercise program that incorporates full-body strength training two to three times per week, and moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise for at least 150 minutes per week. Short bursts of higher-intensity intervals, with plenty of recovery in between, can also increase calorie-burning without over-stressing the system. Build these into your strength training or cardio sessions to add variety to your workouts.

One final word…

It’s important to emphasize that physical appearance is not nearly as important as having a strong, healthy body. Excess visceral fat can lead to serious health risks. A strong (not necessarily flat) core is foundational to wellbeing, providing balance, good posture, and elimination of aches and pains up and down the kinetic chain from the neck to the knees.

Laurie Kelly, CPT, CES, is a Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist accredited by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). Based in Greenwood Village, Colorado, she specializes in helping people in mid-life and beyond to become stronger, fitter, and lead healthy and active lives. Contact her here or follow her blog at www.dragonfly-fitness.com.

Injury Prevention, Strength Training

How Often Should I Exercise?

Woman on mat w KB

“Train the body, don’t drain the body” is an adage often touted by experienced personal trainers. What this means is that exercise should add energy and life to your body – not take it away. But how do you know when you’re doing enough, versus too much or too little? Continue reading “How Often Should I Exercise?”

Strength Training

Want to Succeed with Exercise? Master the Basics!

Master the basics_going up stairs

It seems we’re bombarded every week with some new fitness trend, exercise gizmo, “new” workout program, or supplement guaranteed to make you a success in your workout efforts. If it’s “new” or everyone’s doing it, it must be what really works, right?

Perhaps for some. But in my opinion, success in exercise and training – like most things in life – comes down to mastering the basics. Continue reading “Want to Succeed with Exercise? Master the Basics!”

Injury Prevention, Running, Strength Training

Prevent Knee Pain With These Simple Exercises

Knee pain

Knee pain is often what sidelines many runners and keeps would-be runners from taking up the sport. But if you don’t have a serious degenerative disorder in the joint itself, you can help stave off a knee injury, improve running function, and make running easier and pain-free by strengthening the muscles that support the knee itself. Continue reading “Prevent Knee Pain With These Simple Exercises”

Strength Training

The Myth of Weight Machines

Weight machines

At any big box commercial gym, you’ll see rows and rows of shiny, sometimes scary-looking weight machines. Whether cable-based or plate loaded, gyms invest thousands of dollars on this equipment. The newer ones will even count your reps and display your rest time between sets (I must admit, that’s pretty handy.) The truth is, many weight machines simply aren’t very effective for most people, and can even result in injury. In this article, I’ll explain why, and provide more effective alternatives to make the best use of your precious time. Continue reading “The Myth of Weight Machines”

Cardio/Endurance, Strength Training

The Great Debate: Cardio vs. Weights

Weights vs cardio

Spend time in any gym, and you’ll observe that exercisers seem to fall into two distinct “camps” – the strength trainers and the cardio lovers. It’s also interesting that these are segregated by different physical areas of the gym as well. The strength trainers are pushing the free weights, resistance machines and barbells, whereas the cardio lovers are on the ellipticals, stair machines, and treadmills, and having fun in Zumba classes. So which is really better? Continue reading “The Great Debate: Cardio vs. Weights”

Strength Training, Weight Loss

Five Reasons Women Should Strength Train

Woman doing bench press

Certainly you don’t want to look like a body builder, male or female. Many women fear that lifting weights, or strength/resistance training as it’s more aptly called, is going to make them bulk up just like the Terminator. But I’m here to tell you that this simply isn’t the case. Read on for five great reasons why every woman, no matter her age, should strength train. Continue reading “Five Reasons Women Should Strength Train”