So you want to flatten your tummy out, and you’re willing to try exercising. If you’ve got a heartbeat and a television, then you probably know about treadmills, stationary bicycles, elliptical runners, ab exercises and the like. In short, you probably have some notion of exercise that is advertised to be directed toward losing stomach fat. Because you already have this notion, it is important for us to address it: the forms of exercise that you have used or that you are thinking about using are probably not the best ways to get a flat stomach. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to examine the differences in fat-loss benefits between low-intensity and high-intensity exercise, and to highlight the best and most efficient exercises for belly fat, most notably sprinting.Targeted Abdominal ExercisesGotta get this one out of the way. Targeted ab exercises like crunches, air-biking, side crunches, sit-ups, etc. are excellent exercises – if you want to gain stomach muscle. While these exercises do burn a moderate amount of calories, the rate of calories burned per hour is roughly equivalent to that of a leisurely (low-intensity) bike-ride. Ab exercises can actually make your stomach a little larger, because they build the muscle that hides beneath the fat. Eventually, you will want to build your abdominal muscles, but if you build them before you can see them, then your efforts will directly counteract your goal: a flat stomach. Therefore, this kind of exercise, though recommended in very modest amounts for general health and posture stability, is really not among the best exercises for belly fat.Low-Intensity (Aerobic) Cardiovascular ExerciseSure, your heart needs exercise. Whose doesn’t? So how does your heart exercise effect your fat-loss goals? Perhaps the most prevalent myth about cardio and fat-loss is that there exists such a thing as a “fat-burning zone” and that this zone is ideal for trimming down. In point of fact, there is a heart-rate zone in which the body’s primary expenditure comes from fat, just as there is a zone for protein and a zone for sugar. However, there are many reasons to reject the notion that exercising in the fat-burning zone is really not the best method of cutting down your tummy.In the first place, consider the people who actually exercise within this zone. Are they skinny? This well-circulated myth does not seem to have helped very much those who adhere to it. Rather, it keeps them in the gym for hours everyday, hoping that eventually they’ll see returns from all that time they put into their exercising.In the second place, there is no physiological merit to burning fat while you exercise. Bear with me. Your body is an adaptive machine. In the face of any adversity, your body will make adjustments to handle that very same kind of adversity should it happen again. Exercise is actually a kind of adversity. In fact, that’s exactly why we exercise. We want to present our body with adverse conditions to which it must adapt. In the case of a person looking to cut down their bodyfat mass ratio, the adverse condition we are presenting the body with is fewer calories consumed than expended. This forces the body to feed on itself, so to speak.But it’s not enough to simply change your eating habits. If the kind of exercise that you do encourages fat retention and discourages muscle retention, then your body will respond by eliminating muscle and retaining fat. In fact, your body would much rather keep the fat and get rid of the muscle if you force it to feed on itself, because muscle requires constant energy expenditure to retain.The best way to exercise and see absolutely no results is to do only low-intensity exercise within the fat-burning zone. Why is this? You are not exerting very much effort with your muscles, so your body will strip them down to only what you use. In order to retain muscle mass, it is important to do high-intensity exercise which tells your body that you need to keep those muscles.In addition to encouraging muscle loss, you are encouraging fat-retention when you exercise within the fat-burning zone. This is because you are relying on fat as a primary source of energy when you exercise. Your body recognizes this and makes sure to keep plenty of fat in storage for the next time you exercise, because it doesn’t want to run out of fuel. For this reason, it is important to exercise within the sugar burning zone, because this kind of exercise will encourage sugar retention (within muscles) and discourage fat retention (within fat-cells). And sugar-burning happens, of course, with anaerobic, or high-intensity exercise.At this point, you may be wondering, “how will I ever burn fat if I’m always burning sugar when I exercise?” Simple. You burn far more calories by just being alive than you do by exercising. As long as you make sure that you are consuming fewer calories than you are expending (but don’t starve yourself!), your body will make sure that the parts that are used for fuel are appropriate. In other words, you’ll be burning fat throughout the rest of the day. One of the primary reasons that it is important to exercise is not so much to burn calories as it is to tell your body how to burn calories.High-Intensity (Anaerobic) Cardiovascular ExerciseYou see, your body wasn’t designed to run marathons. As impressive as it is, running marathons is actually a relatively recent phenomenon. If you think back on what it took to survive before Man as a race developed the means to live a sedentary lifestyle, there really is no survival-based reason for running very long distances at a steady pace. In fact, most human survival actions involve spurts of high-intensity exercise. Therefore, in order to maximize the human model of fitness, it makes sense to adhere to this evolutionary mold.So what are the best forms of exercise that fit this mold? Generally speaking, anything that involves sprinting. Now I’m not endorsing doing nothing but sprints until you can’t breathe. Far from it. However, you should keep in mind that sprinting expends about seven times the number of calories as walking, which means you need to do very little of it to start seeing an effect. Additionally, sprinting encourages very a low body-fat ratio, which anyone can see anecdotal evidence for on the Olympics. You can also look at running backs, wide receivers and cornerbacks (in American football) as great examples of sprinters. These guys don’t have a shred of excess fat on them.Good health requires some form of intensity within your exercise, but it doesn’t need to kill you. Perhaps the easiest way to include high-intensity exercise is to alternate between jogging and sprinting. This gives your body varying exercise conditions, which demands high muscle-retention. Your body will have to adapt to more diverse exercise circumstances, and that almost always means that fat-mass will be sacrificed.But high-intensity exercise doesn’t have to come only in the form of running. You might instead cycle as hard as you can in between sets of lifting. You might also simply alternate between high-intensity and low-intensity cycling. As long as you are incorporating high-intensity exercise in your workout, you will encourage sugar retention in your muscles and fat loss in your fat-cells, and you also will not have to spend as much time exercising. So dash, my friends, and dash fast!
Which bodybuilding exercises are the best ones for lean muscle mass gains and fat loss? This is one of the most common questions that I get asked on almost a daily basis.In weight training, there is a variety of exercises that one can choose from to sculpt the body of your dreams. Results in bodybuilding are generally measured in body composition changes; increased muscle mass or tone, depending on the goal, along with decreases in body fat. The speed at which such changes are acquired depends on the training protocol used, the nutrition plan followed and the amount of rest (good night sleep) that the trainee gets.In order for a training protocol to work at peak efficiency, not only must it be periodized or cycled but it also must include exercises that give you the most stimulation in the minimum amount of time.Different exercises provide different levels of stimulation. Exercises like the leg extensions, while excellent for sculpting the lower part of the quadriceps, produce less of a stimulating effect than an exercise like the squat. The efficacy of an exercise really depends on the exercise’s ability to involve the maximum amount of muscle fibers and also on its ability to provide a neuromuscular stimulation (NMS).Neuromuscular stimulation is of crucial importance as it is the nervous system that ultimately sends a signal to the brain requesting to start the muscle growth process. Having said that, how do we determine what the stimulation factor of each exercise is? Such will be the topic of the next section.How To Determine Which Exercises Are Best for Muscle Gain and Fat Loss? – NMS ClassesIn order to rate what the NMS of each exercise is, I borrowed the Class rating system used for classifying the speed of DSL systems (technology used to achieve high speed connections to the Internet through your phone line) and tailored it to fit my purpose. In this system a Class 1 technology has lower speeds than a Class 2 technology.Therefore, in our exercise rating system composed of four classes, a Class 1 exercise yields the lowest NMS (this class is composed of variable resistance machine type of exercises) while a Class 4 exercise yields the highest NMS and is therefore the hardest but most stimulating one. In each class we may also have subclasses such as Class 1a and Class 1b. A Class 1a exercise will yield less NMS than a Class 1b.Class 1aClass 1a exercises are composed of isolation (one joint) exercises performed in variable resistance machines (such as Nautilus) where the whole movement of the exercise is controlled. These type of exercises provide the least amount of stimulation as stabilizer muscles do not need to get involved since the machine takes care of the stabilization process. An example of such an exercise would be the machine curl.Class 1bClass 1b exercises are compound (multi-joint) movements performed in a variable resistance machine. An example of such movement would be the incline bench press performed in a Hammer Strength machine. Since the movement is a compound one, more muscles get involved and therefore the neuromuscular stimulation is higher than that offered by a machine curl for instance. However, the fact that the machine takes care of the stabilization issues limits the growth offered by the exercise.Class 2aClass 2a exercises are composed of isolation (one joint) exercises performed with non-variable resistance machines. An example of such exercise would be the leg extension exercise performed in one of those leg extensions attachments that come with the benches that are sold for home gyms. These attachments lack the pulleys and the cams that would make the exercise a variable resistance exercise. Therefore, the muscles need to get more involved in the movement, something that as a result provides better stimulation.Class 2bClass 2b exercises are composed of basic (multi-joint) exercises performed with non-variable resistance machines. An example of such would be the bench press unit that is attached to the Universal type of machines or a leg press machine that contains no pulleys or cams that would make the exercise easier. Since there are no pulleys or cams to make the exercise easier as you lift the weight, the NMS is higher.
Class 3aClass 3a exercises are isolation (one joint) exercises performed with free weights. An example of such exercise would be a concentration curl performed with a dumbbell. It is still not very clear whether a multi joint exercise performed on a machine offers the same amount or better NMS than the one offered by a free weight isolation exercise. However, for the purposes of this discussion, we will assume that the free weight isolation exercise provides more stimulation as stabilizer muscles come into play (especially if you do the exercise standing up).Class 3bClass 3b exercises, as you probably guessed by now, are multi jointed basic exercises performed with barbell free weights.Class 3cClass 3c exercises are multi jointed basic exercises performed with dumbbell free weights.The barbell exercises provide less NMS as the movement is more restrained as opposed to dumbbells where the weights can go in all types of directions unless all of your stabilizer muscles jump in and constrain the movement. Because of this, dumbbells provide the highest NMS in this category.Class 4Finally, Class 4 exercises, the king of exercises, are free weight exercises where your body moves through space. In other words, any exercise where your torso is the one moving, such as squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, close grip chins, pushups, lunges, and dips, will provide the most stimulation possible and therefore, the fastest results. Haven’t you seen at the gym how many people do great amounts of weights in a pulldown machine but have trouble doing pull-ups?The reason for this is that in order for you to perform these type of exercises you need to be capable of not only carrying the added resistance but also involving your bodyweight as well. Therefore, many muscles are called into play in order to perform this feat. If you look at it, by performing dips, chinups, squats and deadlifts you are really hitting every single muscle in your body! These exercises not only give you fast results, but they also create functional strength; in other words strength that can be used for your daily activities.If you are great at performing pull-ups and you go to perform a pulldown you’ll see how easy the task of performing a pulldown is. As a matter of fact, depending on your pull-up strength, you might be able to lift the whole stack in most pulldown machines. However, the reverse in not true. While you may be very good at performing pulldowns you may not be able to perform many pull-ups as the strength gained in the pulldown exercise is not as transferable as the one gained in a pull-up. Again, the reason for this phenomenon is NMS.ConclusionNow that you know what exercises are the ones that give you the most bang for your buck, then my recommendations are the following:If you follow very low volume routines (3-7 sets per bodyparts), please choose only exercises in the Class 3b, 3c and 4 region.If you follow a medium volume type of routine (8-13 sets per bodypart), stick mostly to Class 3b, 3c and 4 type of exercises but for those bodyparts where you perform 12 or 13 sets, you may want to incorporate 2 or 3 sets at either the beginning or at the end of the workout from one of the lower classes. This is especially true for legs in which a leg extension movement at the beginning of the workout is a great tool for pre-exhausting the quads or at the end of the workout serves as a great finishing movement.For high volume routines (14-20 sets per bodypart) you can get away with having 1/3 of your routine composed of lower class (Classes 3a and below) exercises.Remember, convincing your body to grow and develop muscle is not an easy task. However it becomes an impossible one if you choose exercises that do not provide a significant NMS effect. Therefore, always choose exercises from the higher classes in order to show your body that you mean business.