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There is a common question a personal trainer tends to hear over and over again from clients. And not just a select group of clients, but clients of all ages, sexes, races, and levels of physical fitness. It is: "How can I get six-pack abs?"
Sometimes people want a thinner belly for vanity reasons. Maybe they want to wear the latest fashions without worrying about tummy bulge. Or they just want to look and feel their best when they take their shirt off at the beach.
Other times, clients want a smaller, more toned middle for health reasons. As Harvard points out, carrying too much fat in the belly increases a person's risk of certain health conditions. Among them are cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and metabolic issues. Thus, losing their "spare tire" can help clients improve their overall health.
Fortunately, there are many exercises personal trainers can recommend to help clients better target their belly regions. They break down into two basic categories:
Strength training exercises
Let's look at a few of the muscle-building options first.
When clients say they want six-pack abs, personal trainers can begin by suggesting exercises that will target their core muscles. Ideally, this involves incorporating moves that will work all of the muscle groups in the stomach area.
Core exercises designed to build these specific muscles include:
Bicycle crunches - work the rectus abdominis and obliques
Reverse crunches - target the lower abdomen
Hanging leg raises - rely heavily on the rectus abdominis and obliques
What about recommending that clients perform sit-ups in addition to crunches and leg raises? Many health experts argue that this age-old exercise is not the best option, for two reasons.
First, sit-ups just don't work; they don't provide results. This is even more true for certain clients, such as women who have given birth and as a result have diastasis recti, which is when their abdominal muscles stretch apart during pregnancy.
Second, sit-ups may even be dangerous for some clients to perform, increasing their risk of injury to the lower back. Instead, engaging in other ab-building exercises such as planks help support proper spinal alignment while activating the client's abdominal muscles in a healthier way.
Adding cardio to a client's workout can also help them create the flat, muscular stomach they desire. One option to consider is high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
The reason HIIT works so well for creating six-pack abs is that it builds core muscles while also helping clients lose weight. This can lead to faster results because clients can target their abdominal region in a couple of different ways.
Another benefit of HIIT is that this type of training is good for a variety of clients. It may start a bit hard for those with lower fitness levels, but helping them begin slowly and use the proper form allows them to develop the endurance they need to stick with a higher-intensity cardio program.
With regard to the intervals, research has found that 60 seconds of high-intensity exercise followed by a 60-second break works better than 30 seconds of high-intensity followed by 120 seconds of rest. This study involved 26 participants who did HIIT training three times a week.
In addition to building muscle and engaging in the right cardio, many clients don't know that they also need to take steps to reduce their belly fat.
You can have the most ripped abs in the world, but if a layer of fat is covering them, it isn't going to matter. You will never be able to see them.
It's like taking a birthday present and covering it with bubble wrap. With the added wrap, it's hard to make out what lies underneath. In this way, a client's level of body fat will determine whether their ab muscles have the desired appearance.
That's why it's helpful as a personal trainer to talk to clients about fat loss if their goal is to create a firm abdominal area. Help them understand that the key to a trimmer, tighter belly is to lose any excess weight.
Of course, getting regular exercise can help achieve that goal, but diet plays a big role too.
Personal trainers can also help clients develop six-pack abs by suggesting that they eat a healthy diet. This means adding more whole foods, like fruits, veggies, and lean protein. It also means eating fewer processed foods high in sugar and fat, such as crackers, cookies, and desserts.
How much should you eat for six-pack abs? The answer is simple. You want to eat enough calories to get the nutrients you need, but not so many that they wind up stored as excess fat.
For some clients, this means recommending they take in fewer calories, resulting in weight loss. Others may need to increase their calorie intake so they take in enough vitamins and minerals to help their ab muscles grow.
Then use this basic calorie count to recommend foods and meals. For instance, if the client is thin and wants a more muscular stomach, foods high in protein can help achieve this effect. On the other hand, if a client is overweight, you might suggest that they cut down on unhealthy carbs like white bread and white rice. Instead, they should choose more nutrient-dense options like quinoa and wheat.
Though clients may need to lower their body fat to better see their abs, this doesn't mean that they must remove all fats from their diet. In fact, healthy fats are part of a well-rounded eating plan, which includes taking in a number of different fatty acids. Foods that contain these healthy fatty acids include fish, nuts, seeds, and oils.
Another dietary suggestion for creating rock solid abs is to drink green tea. Some studies have found that the catechins in green tea help support weight loss and weight maintenance. It's also possible that the caffeine assists with this process too.
Regardless of what suggestions you give your clients, whether they revolve around doing specific exercises or eating certain foods, it is also important to keep clients from taking this information and going to extremes.
So, if your client asks, "How do you get six-pack abs as quickly as possible" or "What exercises should you do to get an instant six pack," educate them. Help them understand that eating healthy foods and doing the best abs exercises in the world won't give them a flat tummy overnight.
Let them know that if they try to lose weight too fast, it can actually work against them in the long run. By lowering their metabolic rate and reducing their muscle mass, they can hinder their goals for flatter abs.
Help them set more reasonable expectations instead so they aren't disappointed and give up. How long before they'll likely to see results?
The length of time varies by client and depends on a variety of factors. Among them are how much body fat they need to lose, how structured they are with their diet and exercise programs, and how their body responds to all the changes they are beginning to make.
As a certified personal trainer, it's up to you to make changes in their programs as they go. This enables you to provide the best and quickest results possible for them.
This involves recognizing how to help your clients get the results they desire while reducing their obstacles along the way. Whether these results are directed toward their stomach or some other body part, you can help them achieve greater levels of success.
Want to become more effective with your training? Take on ISSA's Fitness Coach specialization to get a deeper level of expertise than the average personal trainer. Check it out and learn how to help your clients better achieve (and maybe even exceed) all their fitness goals.
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