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Fitness: How To Get A Six Pack
Six-packs seem to be everywhere - and not just the kind lager comes in. The bloke women flock to see during his 11.30 diet cola break has got one and it's virtually impossible to pick up a copy of a men's health or fitness magazine without seeing abdomens with better definition than a digital television. A recent survey of 1500 men found that they worried about their bellies more than any other body part - in fact, twice as many were concerned about having a paunch than going bald.
But most six-pack-seekers never acquire the abdomen of their dreams. That's because they're under-estimating the commitment that's required and, even more importantly, they simply don't know how to go about it. So here's your 10-step guide to the essential Dos and Don'ts of acquiring a streamlined stomach.
1. Do be sure you really want a six-pack
Unless you're genetically lucky, it takes serious time and effort to lose fat from the stomach and to tone the abdominal muscles. It might be more realistic for you to aim for a straightforward flat stomach.
2. Don't waste your time attempting 'spot
You can't get ripped abs simply by exercising your abdominal muscles: if Pavarotti did 10,000 sit-ups a day, he'd probably still have a belly that casts a shadow over Pisa. That's because exercising any muscle doesn't affect the layer of fat that's covering it.
3. Do get into aerobic exercise
The best way of burning off your excess body fat (on your abdomen and everywhere else) is to jog, run, cycle, row, step or cross-country ski. In fact, any form of continuous aerobic exercise that feels as if it's in the zone that ranges from moderately hard to very hard will do. (This is the range 3-8 on the so-called Perceived Rate of Exertion scale, where 0 represents very, very light effort and 10 represents maximal effort.) You'll need to do this for at least 30 minutes, three times a week.
4. Don't forget about strength exercises
Weight training increases the metabolic rate and therefore assists the decrease in all-round body fat.
5. Do watch what you eat
Excess calories are stored as fat. The best way to reduce calorie intake is simply to eat more foods that are high in complex carbohydrate and fewer that are high in fat. That means more pasta, potatoes, rice, cereals and bread and less fried food, cake, biscuits, red meat, cheese, ice-cream and crisps. Cut out all added sugar and all (or almost all) alcohol too - they provide calories without any significant nutritional benefit.
6. Don't be tempted by short-cuts
Don't waste your money on electronic muscle stimulators that claim to be able to create a six-pack while you slump in front of the television. These devices use low-frequency stimulation and therefore don't actually target the right muscle fibres.
7. Do exercise your abdominal muscles
As your body fat falls off, you'll want your abdominal muscles to develop more definition. Make these two exercises part of your regular workouts:
(a) Abdominal crunches
Lie flat on your back on the floor with your knees bent at 90 degrees. Cross your arms on your chest, tighten your stomach muscles, keep your lower back pressed into the floor and slowly lift up your head and shoulder blades. (Your head doesn't need to be raised higher than 12 inches off the floor.) Lower and repeat 15-20 times, three times a week.
(b) Crunch twists
Lie flat on your back with your right knee bent at 90 degrees and your left foot resting on your right knee. Put your left arm flat on the floor and hold your right ear lightly with your right hand. Twist your torso so your right elbow slowly moves towards your left knee. Return to the start position and repeat for the other side. Go for 15 on each side, three times a week.
8. Don't exercise your hip flexors
The most common mistakes people make include attempting too many repetitions, raising the head and neck too high and using leg-raise stands, inclined boards or foot restraints. All these tend to exercise the hip flexor muscles rather than your abs.
9. Do try an ab trainer
Using a specially-designed abdominal training frame (the sort that supports the head and arms) can help isolate the abs and make it easier to adopt the correct technique.
10. Don't become obsessed
Never forget to have a life outside of the gym and that the acquisition of even the most striated stomach imaginable provides no guarantee of happiness.