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Professional secrets for a summer stomach, Part 1

Monday - 4/15/2013, 9:18am  ET

plank.jpg
The biggest myth when it comes to getting a cut core is the idea that time spent on crunches and crunch-like exercises will yield results. (Thinkstock)
  • Gallery: (4 images)

Josef Brandenburg, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The Great Unveiling (Memorial Day weekend) is just days away -- and the body part most people are concerned about is the stomach.

One of the biggest reasons that so many people are frustrated with their lack of progress in trimming the middle is because they're usually acting on bad information.

The truth about trimming your middle

The biggest myth when it comes to getting a cut core is the idea that time spent on crunches and crunch-like exercises will yield results.

Crunches are a waste of time because they don't effectively address the real issue with your midsection -- there's too much fat on top of the muscles.

Everyone -- and I mean everyone -- has a six- pack. That is just how the abdominal muscles are shaped. You can't sculpt anything about them; all you can do is reveal them.

Revealing the abdominals

Revealing the natural shape of your muscles (otherwise known as toning) is about two things: losing fat and not losing muscle in the process.

Crunches and crunch-like exercises target too little muscle mass and don't stimulate your metabolism to shed fat. And there is no such thing as spot reduction.

Body fat is like a bathtub full of water. If you scoop out a big cup of water, you are not left with a hole in the middle of the water; the entire level of the tub goes down everywhere.

The same is true with our body fat. We lose fat systemically, not in isolated spots. Sure, everyone has their "first on, last off" spot, but the process of losing fat is not spot-based.

Crunch-free abs

The abdominal pictures are of me, my mentor Rachel, and my friend Tom. None of us do crunches. None of us do anything that even looks like a crunch because we don't want back pain.

What we do is lift heavy weights, eat a lot of protein and complete Bulgarian Split Squats for our abs.

In my opinion the most important part of a fat-loss program is the maintenance. Everyone has lost fat before, but 98 percent of people who lose gain it all back -- and usually more.

Here's how to do it:

1. Eat better. You can't out-train a bad diet unless you're a teenage boy. If you workout hard and eat poorly, you will literally have nothing to show for it. However, if you workout smart and eat well, you can double the results you'd get from diet alone and make the maintenance period easier.

Good nutrition is first about avoiding bad things and second about adding in good foods. It's hard to eat a worse breakfast than a store-bought muffin. What you're getting is a giant lump of white flour and sugar.

It is true that adding protein to your diet is important, but adding a few eggs on top of the big lump of white flour and sugar just leaves you eating more. Cut that muffin and replace it with eggs and some berries.

2. Do strength training. Strength training will deliver the highest rewards per minute invested when it comes to looking better naked.

Choose compound exercises like inverted rows instead of bicep curls. This exercise works more muscle mass at once and will have a greater impact on your metabolism.

3. Do interval training. Alternating short and intense periods of something like hill sprints with something that allows you to catch your breath (walking) can help you shed fat 450 percent faster in less than half the time of a traditional cardio workout.

4. Do some other stuff. Pease note that "other stuff" is the last thing on this list, and that means it is the least important thing because the results from this category (walking, random activity) are the smallest.

Ironically, it is also, potentially the most time consuming and the place where most people start the quest for a better body. This stuff is nice, relaxing and helps to break up a day of sitting, but you won't walk your way to a hot stomach.


In Part 2, we'll go over what good core training is, how to actually do a plank (in 14 years, I've never worked with anyone who knew how to do a plank correctly) and why crunches are, in fact, dangerous.

Editor's Note: Josef Brandenburg is a D.C.area fitness expert with 14 years of experience and co-author of the international best-selling book "Results Fitness." In 2004, he started The Body You Want personal training program, which specializes in helping you get the body you want in the available time you have. You can also check out his blog, follow him on Twitter, or check out his fitness videos on YouTube.

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