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Targeting Abdominal Fat Loss

Articles Fat loss / 18 July, 2017 /

By Christian Thibaudeau

While the perma-bulkers; the big guys who carry both lots of fat and muscle and walk around taking up as much space as they can, might disagree (or so they say), a lean or even ripped mid-section is one of the most visually pleasing physical characteristic you can have.

Having good abdominal definition makes your whole physique look better (and more sexually desirable). It also makes you stand out from the crowd, since few people have good abdominal definition. You have a lot more “thick and sturdy” guys walking around gyms everywhere than people exhibiting good abdominal definition on a fairly muscular body.

Abs on a 150lbs guy are like big tits on a fat girl: they don’t count”. That’s something that you often hear from the mouths of perma-bulkers. And maybe they are right in that being super lean without having muscle isn’t what most of us aspire to. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t seek out to improve your abdominal definition even in your quest for more muscle.

I’ve got a secret for you: most of the perma-bulkers who make fun of the kid with good abs would love to have them. Sure, they might value strength and size more than cuts, but if they had a way to get abs without effort and without losing mass, they would take them.

Typically, most people make fun of what they don’t (or can’t) have. I know, I was like that! When I was younger, competing in Olympic lifting and focused on getting stronger, I was much rounder. From the age of 12 to about 24, I was never lean despite having started training at 12. By the time I was 16, I was training 2-3 times per day and playing football. Still wasn’t lean.

So, I thought that it simply wasn’t in the cards for me. By the time I was 19 I was that guy who ate everything in sight to get bigger and stronger and made fun of the small guys with abs. Heck at one point I was eating 5 hamburgers after every training session and telling whoever wanted to hear me out that trying to get abs was dumb and vain and that getting bigger and stronger was that the real men did.

Of course, things changed when I got injured and couldn’t do Olympic lifting for a while and decided to get lean. When I got lean, I never looked back. No longer did I make fun of people with good abs.

Ask my friend Paul Carter if he would go back to being his former bulkier self. Paul is now a super lean 238lbs, and I guarantee that he much prefers that to being 295, bulkier and stronger, but covered with a layer of fat.

Sorry for the long-winded intro but the truth is that except for those who are competing in strength sports and need to pile on weight to be competitive, most of us train to look better. Yes, we also want to be stronger and perform better, but looking better is paramount, and a lean mid-section goes a long way in making you look better.

In this article, I will detail an approach I use with clients who are in decent shape already and want to kick it up a notch and get some good abdominal definition. If you have a substantial amount of overall fat, this is not the method for you.

IT’S NOT EASY

First things first: getting lean enough to have visible abdominals is not an easy task unless you are naturally lean or have been lean for a while already.  The method I will explain is effective at increasing fat loss from the abdominal area, but it’s not a magic solution either.

Most people need to drop down to a true 10% body fat to have decent abdominal definition. “No big deal” you say, “I’m not far from that”. Well I’ve got news for you: you are much further away than you think.

Unless you had a DEXA scan done on you, you will always underestimate how much fat you carry. Even skinfold caliper measurements are not that great. I know plenty of guys that were measured at 7-8% and still had a pouch on their stomach. I myself have been measured at 4.1% body fat when I was really closer to a true 10%.

And it’s even worse when someone approximates how much fat they carry. “I’m about 15-16%”. No, you’re not. Unless you had your bodyfat measured many times at different levels of leanness, you have no idea how 15, 10 or 20% looks on you. I find that most people who “estimate” their body fat are generally 5% higher in reality.

Why am I saying this? Because if your goal is to have abs you must know what you are up against. Going from 15% down to 9-10% normally takes around 8-10 weeks for most. Some might get there a bit faster and for some it might take 12-14 weeks. But if you are really 20% it’s going to take you closer to 15-20 weeks to get lean enough to see your abs. And that is if you do everything right.

Yes, my technique can speed up the process in getting leaner around the waist. But if you are 15 weeks away from being lean enough to see your abs, don’t do it for 3 weeks and then claim that it doesn’t work!

THE METHOD

It’s called “The Abs Shredder”. The concept is fairly simple and you can do it several ways depending on your level of capacity and goal.

It is a form of interval training.

First, you do isolation abdominal work (trunk flexion) like cable crunches, swiss ball crunch, crunches, etc. followed immediately by a bout of energy systems work (cardio, sprint, prowler, farmer’s walk, etc.). And you go back and forth between both.

Here are some practical applications:

LEVEL 1

3 sets of abdominal work. You want medium reps, 12 to 15, and those 12 to 15 should be hard. Focus on getting a good squeeze in your abs on every rep. Keep the rest minimal between sets, roughly 30 seconds.

No rest

10 minutes of steady-state cardio (around 120-130 beats per minute). Can be treadmill, elliptical, bike, etc.

No rest

Go back to the abdominal exercise

You do these 3 or 4 times.

LEVEL 2

2 sets of abdominal work. Same recommendations as level 1.

No rest

Moderate intensity cardio (140-160 beats per minute) for 3 minutes.

30 sec of rest

Go back to abs

You do these 5 or 6 times

LEVEL 3

1 set of abdominal work. Same recommendations as for the other 2 levels.

No rest

High intensity work (all-out) for 30-45 seconds. Good choices are the rowing ergometer, sprinting, airdyne/assault bike, stationary bike with resistance, prowler pushing.

45 sec of rest

You do these 6 to 8 times

LEVEL 4

1 set of abdominal work. Same recommendations as for the other 3 levels.

No rest

Loaded carries for 30 seconds (farmer’s walk, Zercher carry, overhead walk, etc.)

No rest

Moderate intensity cardio (140-160 beats per minute) for 3 minutes.

30 sec of rest

Go back to abs

You do these 3 to 5 times

WHY IT WORKS

Contrary to what we have believed for a long time; targeting fat loss more for a specific area of the body is possible.

Dr. Lonnie Lowery wrote a very good article on that topic, explaining all the science behind it. You can read it here.

But here are the cliff notes:

  1. Certain areas have poor blood flow. This is the case of the abdominal and oblique region. During whole body exercise (cardio) blood flow will be insufficient to mobilize fat optimally from that region. This is one of the reasons why fat stores around your waist are “stubborn”.
  2. Fat mobilization (first step to losing fat in an area) is greater around the contracting muscles. This is likely because it increases heat in that region as well as blood flow.
  3. By doing focused contraction work for the waist (abdominal exercises) around your energy system/fat burning work, you will mobilize more fat from that region. You will not burn more overall fat, but more of it will come from the area adjacent to your abs.

If you want to read the exact science and references, go read Dr. Lowery’s article.

HOW I USE IT

I personally use this approach once I’m fairly lean already. While it will work regardless of your bodyfat level, if you have 20% bodyfat you will not see the difference it’s making. If you are 11-12% you can almost see a day by day difference in waist tightness. This matters only for motivation purposes. I personally do not like to use the same approach for 8-12 weeks, it bores me to death and I lose motivation and don’t train as hard.

So, I prefer to keep the abs shredder for when I want to rapidly affect a change in my midsection and when I’m lean enough to see the difference.

That having been said, you could use it for a whole 12 weeks fat loss cycle quite effectively.

You would use level 1 for 3 weeks, level 2 for 3 weeks, level 3 for 3 weeks and level 4 for 3 weeks.  Or you can skip level 4 and do levels 1 through 3 for 4 weeks each. That would work well.

HOW OFTEN?

I personally like to progress as follow:

Week 1: Level 1 – once a week

Week 2: Level 1 – twice a week

Week 3: Level 1 – three times per week

Week 4: Level 1 – four times per week

Week 5: Level 2 – twice a week

Week 6: Level 2 – three times a week

Week 7: Level 2 – four times a week

Week 8: Level 1 – twice a week / Level 2 twice a week

Week 9: Level 3 – twice a week

Week 10: Level 3 – three times a week

Week 11: Level 3 – four times a week

Week 12: Level 1 – twice a week / Level 3: twice a week

WHEN?

Ideally, it’s done on its own session (because it can last 30-40 minutes). I personally do it in the morning and do my lifting in the afternoon. If you don’t have the luxury of being able to do two sessions a day, Do the abs shredder on the days off from the gym. If you like to train 4-6 days a week you will likely have to do a few sessions after your workout. While it’s not optimal and not my first choice, it will work to get you lean but might reduce muscle growth. So, put it on your easiest lifting workouts.

CAN I MAKE IT EVEN MORE EFFECTIVE?

There is a topical fat burning cream that I really like. I use it myself when preparing for a photoshoot. It’s called Vasoburn by MPA. It works by increasing blood flow to the area you put it on and also by binding to the alpha adrenoreceptors, making it easier to mobilize fat from the area of application.

Back when I competed in bodybuilding I used a similar product called Yohimburn, but the Vasoburn is an improvement over that formula and it really does what it’s supposed to. When combined with the abs shredder routine it will enhance your results.

— CT

Christian Thibaudeau

Written by Christian Thibaudeau

Christian Thibaudeau has been involved in the business of training for over the last 16 years. During this period, he worked with athletes from 28 different sports. He has been “Head Strength Coach” for the Central Institute for Human Performance (of…