Abs Without Effort!
By John Bartlett
IFPA Certified Bodybuilding Instructor
A year ago (Jan 2005) I was a complete mess. I am in my 40’s, and I was so fat that I couldn’t even do one single sit-up. You laugh, but it’s true. I had to roll onto my side to get out of bed. I often thought to myself that all I needed was to do sit-ups each and every day and I’d eventually have a 6-pack – NOT!
You see, even back then, I had a 6-pack. We all have a six pack – and I don’t mean the Budweiser in the refrigerator. We all have abdominal muscles. These muscles exist and are fairly strong even if we don’t do sit-ups or work them in any way. If they weren’t strong, we couldn’t do simple day-to-day activities like standing up or walking from one room to another. Our abdominals are a major part of our “core” and no matter how much we neglect them, they remain large and fairly strong muscles.
I wanted to see my abs in the worst way, but I couldn’t. My gut was so big, I couldn’t even sit comfortably on the floor. My stomach would get in the way, and I would have to prop myself up by putting my hands on the floor behind me. Sitting with my legs out in front of me, my stomach almost reached my knees. It sounds funny, but I’ve got pictures to prove it. Something had to be done!
I did try to work my abs a few times... very few! Actually, I looked for any excuse NOT to work my abs. I hated abdominal work and soon came to the conclusion that I was not going to work my abs on a regular basis. I guess that’s how I came up with my theory: Although not totally original, my theory was that if you reduce your body fat to a low enough level, you will see your abs, no matter how fat you currently are, because your abdominal muscles already exist, they’re just covered up with body fat. So I decided I’d lose some fat!
Through proper diet I started to lose some fat. As I lost stomach fat, my stomach got softer and softer. The fat softened up so much that, at one point, I could feel my actual abdominal muscles though the stomach fat. At that point, I knew for sure that all I had to do was to reduce my stomach fat and my abs would show.
But this was not going to happen with diet alone. I needed to speed up the process. The key was cardio. But that, in of itself, was another problem all together. I hated cardio too, but I had to do something.
I started with a 20-minute walk on the treadmill at an incline, but boredom ended that fairly quickly. Then I tried High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) on the treadmill. I’d walk for 2 minutes, and then sprint for 1 minute. I repeated this for 15 minutes or so. Well, the good news is the boredom went away. The bad news is I hated it, so I quit that too. Next, I decided to jog through the trails in my neighborhood, but I was too fat and just couldn’t jog for very long. I tried the Stairmaster and the stationary bike, but hated both of them as well. I even tried all the so-called “miracle” diet pills, but all they did was make me jittery and uneasy in my own skin. Nothing seemed to work.
Enter mountain biking. AHA! Finally, a cardio exercise where I could “coast” when I needed to – or so I thought. How wrong I was. For anyone who has ever mountain biked in real mountains, you know what I mean. When you "coast," it’s only because you are grabbing the brake levers to save your life. When you bike in the mountains, you are either going up or going down. There is no flat ground. Both take a lot of energy.
Each time I went mountain biking, I would hit the wall. That means I’d go far beyond my physical capabilities and become totally exhausted. Over time, I proved out another theory – well, let’s call it an “adage”: “That which does not kill you will make you stronger”. And stronger I got.
Mountain biking in sedona
Each time I rode, I got stronger and stronger. Each time out, I rode harder, faster, and longer. I hit the wall a lot, but every time I did, I couldn’t wait to ride again. Sometimes I would ride with friends, while other times I’d dial up Kid Rock on the iPod and head out by myself. Wow, this was fun. Sure, I fell from time to time. I still do. But it’s the constant challenge of doing new and more difficult things that keeps it interesting. I got an added benefit from it as well, my abs were getting a workout. Actually my whole core (abs, obliques, & lower back) would get a workout each time I rode. When mountain biking, your core muscles are constantly tense. They help stabilize you and are responsible for many of the twisting and turning movements that are required when riding on challenging trails. And this wasn’t the only core workout I was getting...
I worked out in the gym 4 to 5 days each week. I often did compound movements that activate your core, such as squats and deadlifts. When doing these kinds of exercises, your entire core is working to support your torso. So without ever doing a sit-up, a crunch, or a leg lift, I was working my abs.
As time went on, I could feel my abs through the stomach fat more and more. I ate right and went biking every day. I loved it. I took some photos at my gym at the end of July, 2005, and they came out great. My fat was gone and I HAD ABS!
I HAVE ABS!
There are are two very different schools of thought about cardio. One group advocates High Intensity Interval training (HIIT) and only HIIT, while the other group tells us that low intensity, long duration cardio is the only right way. Both camps believe they have the one and only solution to reduce fat without losing hard-earned muscle. Both extremes would tell you that mountain biking is NOT the way to lose fat because it doesn’t fit into their philosophy of the ideal method. Most fitness experts fall somewhere in the middle, but there are plenty of closed-minded people in the fitness industry that believe in one of these two extremes.
Cardio is necessary for anyone who has a tendency to gain fat quickly and retain it. How much you do is up to you. It all depends on your specific body type and the time frame you have to work with before you want to see your abs. Don’t believe the hard-core so-called fitness experts who claim you must do it their way. This is simply not true. My advice to you is to find something you like to do. It’s that simple. If you like to do it, you’ll do it. If you absolutely hate the thought of getting out of bed because you have to do your cardio, you’ll find excuses to avoid it.
As an added bonus, most sports work your core (abs, obliques, & lower back) by the very nature of the movements involved. Some work the core more than others. Take tennis or racket ball for example. Both are great sports. They are both fun for most people. They produce a systemic effect (whole body sweat and an increased rate of breathing), and both work your core while you are having fun..
Others good activities include hockey, basketball, swimming, dancing, martial arts, rock climbing, rappelling, scuba diving, volleyball, water polo, boxing, football, Frisbee, hiking, kayaking, rollerblading, skateboarding, snow shoeing, and squash. Even hacky sack works your core and produces some sort of cardiovascular benefit. The list goes on and on. The point is to pick something fun and then do it often! It’s that simple. Take the advice of that legendary philosopher, Nike, and “Just Do It!”
There are people who stand by a certain piece of exercise equipment or a specific workout routine - all designed to give you, the customer, “great abs.” Well, I’m here to tell you that most of it is a bunch of crap.
Don’t buy into all the hype that’s out there. No, you don’t need that expensive piece of exercise equipment that’s designed to produce “awesome abs almost overnight.” No, you don’t need that breakthrough workout that is guaranteed to produce abs, fast. If you have too much fat around your waist, you’ll never, ever, ever see your abs, period. All the ab work in the world is not going to change that fact.
Our bodies lose fat in the same sequence as we gain fat – only in reverse. FOLO. That’s right FOLO. It means First On, Last Off. I’m referring to fat. The first bit of fat you gain will be the last bit of fat to leave your body. If you gain fat in your stomach before any other area, you can be sure that the stomach fat will be the last to go, and all the ab work in the world won’t change that fact. You cannot spot reduce.
There are also hundreds of modern day snake oil salesmen with “proof” that their weight loss product will leave you lean and athletic-looking. All you have to do is buy their magic pill. I’ve tried a lot of them and, trust me, there is NO magic pill out there.
The secret to awesome abs is a proper nutrition plan and cardiovascular exercise. That’s it. It’s that simple. The key is to find an exercise program that you find fun to do. If it’s not fun, you won’t do it. If it is fun, it won't seem so much like effort. You’ll look forward to doing it and before you know it, you’ll look in the mirror one day and you’ll have those abs you've always wanted.
So, what are you waiting for? Summer is coming. Eat right and do something fun, and you, too, will have great abs. See you at the beach this summer.
IFPA Certified Bodybuilding Instructor