Most of us will have a goal to work towards on our journey to becoming fitter and healthier – we wouldn’t be motivated without it!
But while these may vary from weight loss to building strength, there’s no denying that a flat stomach remains the stamp of what many consider a ‘fit’ bod. If it’s not a rigorous bout of abs-focused classes that we put our bodies through, it’s the yo-yo dieting in a bid to banish the bloat as fast as humanly possible. We all do it, while simultaneously acknowledging that it won’t last. After all, there are only so many crunches and cleanses you can do before the cookies and crisps interfere. But as author and physiologist Allison Westfahl points out in her latest book Core Envy, your abs aren’t even proof of how fit you are. ‘The irony about that flashy six-pack is that it does not in any way imply that you have functional core strength, yet it continues to be the hallmark of a fit sexy body’. According to Allison, you need to focus on strengthening your entire core and not just trying to get a six-pack. This book sets the record straight on the exercises you should (and shouldn’t) be doing, plus it explains how simple and enjoyable it can be to eat clean. Core Envy, is the ultimate eight-week guide to a flat and strong tum. Here, we share its top 10 pointers on getting a rock-hard core. We’ll see you and your new tum in eight weeks!
It’s all in the core
Know the difference
People tend to refer to the abdominals and the core synonymously, but this is a common mistake. While the ab muscles consist of only four groups of muscles, the entire core consists of 11, which means that strong abs don’t necessarily account for a strong core. Why choose to work the core over just the abs? ‘A high functioning core leads to a better-looking core’, says Allison. Instead of crunches, which only work your rectus and can actually shorten it, causing pain and injury, incorporate plank holds, squats and mountain climbers, which will work all the major muscle groups connected to your core.
It’s important to not forget the big movers of core muscles, as well as the deep ones. That includes your quads, hamstrings and glutes. Another common misconception is that a big bottom is a strong one, but in fact these muscles could be shut off and dependent on the surrounding, smaller muscles like your lower back, which can cause pain and injury.
Check your posture
Poor posture has become increasingly prevalent due to our working environment, but it’s not a matter to be shrugged off. At the very least, it affects your appearance – giving you drooping, hunched shoulders and a tummy that appears more filled out than it really is. But the effects can also be grave. Ischemic tissue (tissue that doesn’t get oxygen) can develop in the spine area, contributing to the curvature and any pressure on the column can affect the brain’s ability to communicate with the muscles. If you’re a sloucher, try to readjust your posture by extending your back; you’ll notice your abs elongate and hips push backwards, making your gluteal muscles look rounder and more toned. The results couldn’t be more instant!
Whether it was caused by a traumatic event or general wear and tear, disc herniation in the lower back has become a common issue. Bending, twisting, rotating and carrying heavy objects can slowly make the discs less effective. But good posture and a strong core (from working on muscle-toning), can alleviate discomfort and not compromise the health of your spine.
While the core exercises won’t burn subcutaneous or visceral fat like cardio will, it will activate and tone your muscles underneath, which will show once you are lean. More importantly, the core exercises will also improve your strength, power, endurance and coordination. So many wins!
Ace your cardio
Did you know that consistently training at a low intensity can result in weight gain? The human body becomes accustomed to the same exercise, workout or sport and adapts so that it performs at the same level but with less effort. While it means we’re performing better, our metabolism has become more efficient, so we’re not burning as many calories as we originally were or could if we were to train at a high intensity.
Hit up some HIIT
There’s a reason why HIIT is the go-to training method for weight loss and toning – the constantly changing stimuli keep your metabolism on its toes, burning as many calories as it can to keep up. So what constitutes HIIT? All you need to do is spike your heart rate up to 70 per cent, bring it back down to a resting rate and continue alternating. And if you’re concerned about it being too intense for your current state of fitness, remember that heart rate is relative, so 70 per cent of your heart rate will be different now from what it will be a few weeks into the programme. Push yourself to your limit!
If you’re under a lot of stress for a prolonged period of time, cortisol is released, prompting your body to store fat to protect your organs. This visceral fat is much more dangerous than subcutaneous fat, as it has the ability to travel deep in the body and surround your organs, putting you at more risk of developing serious diseases. So challenge your body with HIIT – it’s the most effective form of exercise to combat the visceral fat, which is located deep in the abdomen.
What to eat
Get the numbers right
In order to lose weight and get lean, the calories you consume need to amount to less than what you burn (calorie deficit). The recommended calories deficit is 500 – enough to see a difference over time, but not so much as to make it an unrealistic and unsustainable approach. Those who attempt a deficit of more than 500 calories run the risk of not only burning less when resting, but also upping their chance of putting weight back on when eating at a healthier deficit.
Keep it clean
If cost or convenience are an issue, you’ll appreciate Core Envy’s diet plan. Fully aware that these elements determine the likelihood of someone’s adherence to the plan, Allison has only included produce that is nutritious, readily available, easy to prepare and cost-effective. Expect organic fruit and veg, lean meats and nutrient-dense wholegrains, in a diet low in calories, sugar and saturated fats.