Remember the first time you saw the movie "300"? Of course you do. All of those teeth. All of those abs. Admit it. You probably didn't even pay much attention to the plot on that first viewing.
How did they get their stomachs to look like that?
While, let’s face it, most of us will not look like Gerard Butler or one of the other actors from 300, but we can still have a slimmer, more toned stomach. Ain't an easy task, but this article provides some solid tips and tricks backed by research, to get you there, and also discusses some of the physical and psychological pitfalls you want to avoid.
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Don’t Damage Your Back!
There are a lot of misconceptions about how to best strengthen your core, and you may have been told to pull in your belly button and press your back against the floor. This could be doing major damage to your spine, though.
According to Stuart McGill, a spine bio-mechanics professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, focusing too much on only strengthening your abs can pull your spine out of alignment. He told Gretchen Reynolds of The New York Times that he sees many people, “who have six-pack abs and a ruined back.”
Sit-ups are a big no-no, as McGill says they put a “devastating” weight load on the disks of your spine. He suggests lying down with one knee bent and position your hands beneath your lower back. Then, lift your head and shoulders, hold, and relax down.
To truly strengthen your core, McGill suggests exercising all of the major muscles that protect your spine. Side planks and what he calls “bird dog” exercises are great. You’re probably familiar with side planks, but the bird dog exercise is when you rest in a plank position and raise an alternate arm and leg.
If you’re just getting started, this can be done from your hands and knees.
David Larson, a strength coach at Pulse Fitness, agrees with McGill’s research and told Men’s Fitness that crunches are a repetitive movement and are “the worst thing you can do for your back.” He suggests six exercises:
1. Pull-up: Hold the pull-up bar with your hands positioned just wider than shoulder width. Bend your legs behind you and cross your feet. Make sure you’re keeping your core muscles tight as you pull yourself up until your collarbone reaches the bar. Do three sets. Do as many pull-ups as you can for each set, and then rest for 120 seconds in between each set.
2. Medicine Ball Slam: Hold a lightweight medicine ball over your head. Stand tall with good posture and throw the ball on the ground as hard as you can. Just mind your head—some balls will bounce back up. Do three sets of 20 reps. You should rest for 60 seconds between each set.
3. Ab Wheel Rollout: Kneel on the floor with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Push your hips forward and roll the ab wheel away from you. Make sure you keep your back flat as you extend your arms away from your body. When you feel as if you’ll fall over if you roll any further, squeeze your abs and push your hips back to the starting position. For each set, do as many as you can. Then, rest for 90 seconds in between each of the four sets.
4. Pallof Press: Using a D-handle on a cable cross machine, adjust the pulley to chest height. If you do not have access to a machine, you can use a resistance band around a pole. Stand two feet away from the machine and pull the handle to your chest with whichever hand is closest to the machine or bar. Push the handle straight out until it is directly in front of your chest and then slowly return. Do ten reps on each side and four sets. Rest for 60 seconds between each set.
5. Barbell Landmine: Rest one end of a barbell tightly against the corner of two walls. Hold the other end of the barbell to your chest. Using both hands, fingers laced, push the barbell out from your chest. Keep your arms straight, and rotate your shoulders from one side, then to another. Return to start. Do ten reps on each side, and rest for 120 seconds between each of your three sets.
6.The Pendulum: Lying flat on your back, raise your legs to 90-degrees. Lower your legs to the right but make sure that you keep them straight. Come as close to the floor as you can before returning your legs to the upright position. Then, lower them to the left and repeat for ten reps on each side. Do four sets and rest for 60 seconds between each set.
The exercises that Larson recommends have been backed up by a number of other personal trainers. In fact, it contains elements similar to the original 300 workout that was popular right after the movie came out:
You will notice that this workout uses every muscle in the body—not just the abdominal.
You may want to look smoking for an upcoming class reunion or vacation, and you may be wondering exactly how long it will take you to get that six-pack.
It’s important to remember that long-term, lifelong fitness does not happen overnight, and yo-yo, fad dieting and exercise programs may be doing you more harm than good.
However, there are many routines that can get you shaped up in a fairly quick period of time so that you can make that snooty girl from your high school English class jealous.
Fitness gurus Jillian Michaels and Michael Matthews both claim to have answers to the timeline question.
Jillian Michaels of The Biggest Loser fame has a program that claims it can take you from flab to fit in about six weeks. Her video (available on Amazon) Jillian Michaels: 6 Week Six-Pack walks through two separate levels.
Taking her cue from years of research, Michaels does not simply focus on different variations on the crunch. She includes cardio circuits and works multiple core muscles.
You will do the 30-minute long Level 1 workouts for three weeks, then advance to the 30-minute long Level 2 workouts for the last three weeks.
The website, Diets in Review states that Michaels’s workout is great, but not every person will have a six-pack in six weeks.
Supporting their conclusion is Heather, who shared her before and after pictures on her blog. Heather saw results, but she did not have a 300-esque six pack.
Boasting a regiment that will get you a six-pack in 12 weeks is Michael Matthews’s book Bigger Leaner Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Male Body. The difference in timeline is attributable to a difference in intent.
Obviously, Matthews is attempting to help men shape their entire bodies—not just their abs. Matthews debunks many common misconceptions and focuses on exercises and diet information that won’t cost you a fortune.
While the book has received positive reviews, Matthews does not provide scientific evidence to back up his own claims about fitness and diet.
While enthusiastic reviewers attest to the effectiveness of Michaels and Matthews, the scientific fact is that it is impossible to say exactly how long it will take you to get a six-pack, as it is largely dependent on genetics and your current body fat level.
As summed up on the non-scientific BodyBuilding.com, unless you are already very slim, you’re going to need to lower your body fat before strong abs surface.
The much-more scientific article, “The Science Behind Olympic Six-Pack Abs” interviews Professor Todd Schroeder, who studies bio-kinesiology and physical therapy at the University of Southern California.
Schroeder says that, “Everyone has that genetic set point of fat cells,” so if you are not genetically pre-disposed to have six-pack abs, like an Olympic Athlete, you will need a “healthy combination of diet, fat-burning endurance training, and muscle-building resistance exercises” to achieve results.
Finally, it will also take women a longer time to achieve a six-pack than men (I know. It sucks). Women need a higher level of body fat for their bodies to function normally, so it’s just more time-consuming to get that six-pack look.
Whether we want them or not, women are designed to carry babies, and according to exercise physiologist Kelli Calabrese, that means women store more fat than men.
None of this is to discourage you. Far from it! Lots of women who are not Olympic athletes have obtained a six-pack. This is just to help you keep in mind the fact that it’s not going to happen right away, and that does not mean you aren’t working hard enough.
Of course, you can workout as much as you like, but if you’re eating a large pizza every night for dinner, you’re probably not going to be able to see your tight abs below the level of built-up fat.
I don't advocate following a fad diet, as it is more important to build a lifelong habit of healthy eating.
What does a healthy diet look like, though?
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases debunks fad diet myths and advocates eating the right kinds of grains, fruits, and vegetables to burn fat and build muscle.
1. Grains: Not all grains are created equal. In fact, there are two groups: whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains, including brown rice, whole-wheat bread, and cereal,contain the entire grain kernel.
Refined grains have been milled to give them a smoother texture and increase the shelf life, but important vitamins and dietary fibers have been removed.
Thus, whole grains contain important nutrients to keep you slim and healthy, but you’ll want to cut refined grains.
2. Make a pretty plate: You may have also heard this called rainbow eating. The concept here is that you eat fruits and vegetables of different colors because each hue shows that the food contains a different vitamin or mineral that your body needs.
While the American Heart Association voiced concern over high-protein diets, many studies have debunked their concerns, including one published in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, which demonstrated, “the risks are minimal and must be balanced against the real and established risk of continued obesity.”
In fact, Harvard University compiled the data from a number of studies done on diets to conclude that a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet is the best for weight loss and muscle development.
At minimum, adults should be getting, “8 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight,” and like grains, not all protein is the same.
Research recommends getting protein from animal sources instead of plant or nut sources, as people who do not eat meat are at risk for missing some of the amino acids they need to produce protein in their bodies.
Research indicates that red meat can contribute to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, so scientists recommend eating poultry and fish.
Peter Paulson’s book The 6 Pack Chef: Easy to Cook, Delicious Recipes to Get Shredded and Reveal Your Abs provides just what it promises—a number of easy-to-prepare recipes that can get you eating healthier today (and it’s free with Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited!).
The book has received excellent reviews, and the only criticisms seem to be that readers would like to see more entries and the nutritional values of menu items.
There are a number of supplements available that can kick your metabolism in the butt and get you burning fat faster. If you are on any medications, though,you will want to consult your doctor before trying any sort of new vitamin, mineral, or dietary supplement.
One such supplement is Ubervita’s Uberabs Abdominal Strength and Toner (available on Amazon). Ubervita promises that their proprietary technology targets cortisol, a stress hormone, which causes fat in the trunk, abs, and midsection.
While Ubervita was recently accused of having fake reviews written, the company has denied wrongdoing, and a dietary supplement investigator, Diet Pills Watchdog, took a close look at the Amazon reviews and found that most of them are legitimate.
Diet Pills Watchdog also examined the claims and effectiveness of the supplement and concluded that, while there is little clinical evidence that the pills work, user reviews are too positive to ignore.
The bottom line here is to do lots of research before purchasing any supplement. Carefully examine user reviews and visit watchdog websites to see whether or not a company’s claims can be substantiated.
Sadly, once your six-pack is obtained, you can’t just rest on your laurels and congratulate yourself on a job well done, or your defined stomach will soon go the way of the dinosaurs.
You will want to keep an intense workout routine, and you want to keep eating a diet high in proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Then, you won’t need to worry about cutting weight the next time you’re planning a beach vacation.
There is no magic bullet that will give you sculpted, newsworthy six pack abs overnight. There are a number of videos, books, and supplements that can help you along the way, but having a tight stomach is going to take some hard work and discipline. You’ll also have to come to terms with the fact that you may never look like one of the guys (or girls!) from 300. Everyone’s body and musculature is different.
Following these tips and tricks can help you get as close as possible, though.
Please note that it is important to eat a healthy, nutritionally balanced diet. A study that was released in May of this year by Dr. Stuart Murray and Dr. Stephen Touyz, along with psychologist Scott Griffiths, shows that eating disorders are growing more rapidly among men than women.
The reason that it may be going un-diagnosed is that men do not want the super-thin bodies that many women with eating disorders do.
Research indicates that men want a body more like a professional swimmer’s, complete with six-pack abs. Psychiatrists and psychologists have termed this sort of muscle dysmorphia, “bigorexia” or “reverse anorexia,” and it is just as dangerous as anorexia or bulimia.
Muscle dysmorphia can strike men and women, and it’s difficult to spot because people may look outwardly healthy.
Warning signs and risk factors include a preoccupation with fitness and working out through severe pain or injuries. Feelings of shame, guilt, and depression on days when a person cannot or does not train is also a hallmark sign.
As with all eating disorders, an unhealthy obsession with food is another indication that a person may have a body image issue. If any of these things apply to you or a loved one, it is important that you seek professional help before undergoing any diet or fitness routine.
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