Fat Loss & Abdominal Training Guide: How to Get the Hard-Body Look

Fat Loss Training

Trim the Waistline Through Diet and Exercise

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They used to say that a woman could never be too rich or too thin. Now we know a woman can be too thin if she's anorexic, but that a medical extreme, a life-threatening condition to be avoided at all cost. At the same time I've never met a woman (except for a few Ms. Olympia competitors ripped to the bone on contest day) who thought her waist was too small or flat, or who wouldn't be happier with a smaller waistline and a leaner firmer body. Especially in bikini weather, just about every woman in the western world worries about her stomach hanging out or having a pot belly and a poorly toned body It no surprise then that nearly every women's magazine has an article extolling the virtues of some new wonder diet or on trimming the waistline.

And no wonder! Nothing improves the shape of your body or your overall appearance faster than reducing the waist. That's why for centuries tailors and garment-makers have put padding in the shoulders of coats, jackets, blouses and sweaters to increase shoulder width and to create the illusion of a smaller waist. And that's why women (and some men) wear girdles, to create the illusion of a flatter stomach. Reducing the waist and flattening the tummy improves your V-taper for a more youthful, athletic-looking body. Simply by reducing your waistline you immediately create the illusion of wider shoulders and a fuller bust. People associate a small, firm, flat stomach with youth, sex appeal, athleticism and physical well-being, while connecting obesity and a large, fat, bulging stomach with weakness, old age, and poor health (as well as considering it a major turnoff). What woman wouldn't rather be perceived as youthful, sexy and athletic instead of old and fat?

Oh, and by the way, if you follow the diet and exercise suggestions in this article, not only will you have a firmer, better-toned body, and a smaller, flatter stomach, but also as a side benefit you'll have more energy, more strength, more endurance, better digestion, lower cholesterol levels, better cardiovascular capacity, a stronger immune system and better health and vitality. Your stress levels will go down while your self-esteem and self-confidence will go up. As well you'll build stronger bones, so you'll be less susceptible to osteoporosis as you age. Your quality of life will improve, and you'll probably live longer.

SOME BASIC FACTS

Okay, the first thing the average woman is going to think when she reads the title of this article is, hey, what does a man know about women's bodies and how best to get a leaner body and a flatter, smaller waist. It's a valid question because, yes, I'm not a woman, but whether one is male or female or a hermaphrodite (look it up), the basics of building good abs and losing fat remain the same. There are four components to losing fat and reducing and flattening the stomach with good abdominal development, and those four components are: 1) specific abdominal exercises, 2) following a good whole-body weight-training program to increase muscle mass, 3) aerobics to burn calories and 4) a low-fat diet and good nutrition.

Actually there is another subcomponent, the use of special food supplements and drugs to hype the metabolism and increase fat-burning, but I'll talk about that later. And for the financially well-off, the desperate and the lazy, there's yet another option - liposuction, tummy tucks and body-shaping plastic surgery. I'll briefly discuss that later too.

THE TRUTH ABOUT LOSING FAT

While many so-called experts would have you believe that certain abdominal exercises will magically melt fat off your midsection and flatten your tummy, this is not the case. This is called "spot reducing" (meaning reducing fat from one part of your body (your stomach, for instance) while the rest of the body stays the same. I'm not saying some spot reduction isn't possible, because it is to some degree (usually a small degree), but for the most part it just doesn't work. If you trained abs for hours every day, your stomach would certainly reduce a fraction in size, and the tone of your abdominal muscles would certainly improve, but the overall reduction of your waist size and the amount of fat lost around your midsection wouldn't be anywhere near as great as if you tried to lose overall bodyfat through a combination of bodybuilding exercise, aerobics and diet.

I know this seems hard to believe but it's true. In Robert Kennedy's book Ultra Ripped Abs (a must-read for anyone hoping to get great ab development) there is a photograph of a man named Allan Jones who set a Guinness world record (since broken) back in the '70s by doing 27,000 nonstop sit-ups. You would think that anyone who could do 27,000 nonstop situps would have incredible ab development and zero fat around his waist, but that wasn't the case. Despite his obvious great ab strength and endurance, Allan Jones didn't have any visible abdominal development the day he performed this amazing feat - not a ridge or muscle in sight. In fact, Allan was kind of pudgy and didn't have visible muscle definition anywhere. Why? Because he was fat. Okay, not obese fat but fat enough to appear smooth and to lack definition.

So that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that abdominal exercise alone won't trim your waistline or give you a flat tummy. Under all that fat Allan Jones obviously had some very strong and well-developed abdominal muscles, but until he burned off his flab his abs would never show, even if he did 27,000 situps a day. That holds true for you too. If Allan Jones, who did thousands of situps a week, I couldn't get his abs to show, do you think you can by doing a few sets of situps or leg raises? No way.

There is only one way to trim that stomach, and that is to lose the fat from all over your body. Do ab exercises to build and tone the abdominal muscles, increase overall muscle mass by weight training to speed up your metabolism, do aerobics to burn calories and stored bodyfat, and follow a low-fat diet to reduce fat stores. That's it. That's the winning combination to getting a hard body and good abdominals. There is no other way.

Let me ask you a question. Have you ever seen an obese vegetarian? I doubt it. Have you ever seen an obese long-distance runner? I doubt that too. Have you ever looked in awe at female bodybuilders and wondered how they got so hard and lean with such fantastic abdominal development?

They did it by exercise and following a low-fat diet (not necessarily low in calories). These few examples should make you realize that the key to a lean, hard body is a low-fat diet, a good weight-training or bodybuilding program and lots of aerobic activity. For firm, tight abs you add in specialized and intense ab-training.

THE IMPORTANCE OF WEIGHT TRAINING IN LOSING FAT

You may ask: "What has weight training or bodybuilding got to do with my goal for a small, flat stomach? I don't want muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger's." Fine, most women don't, but a crucial factor in having a lean, hard body is building muscle. Why? Because muscle is biologically active. It takes energy to sustain muscle, while fat is just insulation. The more muscle you build, the faster your metabolic rate becomes, so you bum more fat even while you rest or sleep. If you body build you won't build muscles like Arnold's; you don't have the natural testosterone levels to build huge muscles. What you will get is firm, well-toned metabolically active muscle tissue instead of inert fat.

In some ways weight training and bodybuilding are more essential for a woman than for a man because women are at a genetic disadvantage when - it comes to muscle anyway. Women naturally have higher levels of bodyfat (the average woman is reportedly 25 percent bodyfat, the average man 15 percent) and because of their higher estrogen levels and low testosterone levels women find building muscle mass a very slow, difficult process. That's why weight training! bodybuilding is so important if you want a lean, toned body and a small, flat, fat-free stomach. The reason why many overweight and obese people - both men and women - have a problem losing fat is that they have little lean muscle tissue and very slow metabolisms, making fat-burning just about impossible. For most women, and all overweight/obese people, bodybuilding isn't just a matter of choice. It's an absolute necessity for losing their bodyfat. Until they speed up their metabolisms by increasing their muscle mass, they'll never lose their bodyfat even if they diet rigidly and do aerobics. (Sure, they'll lose some just by dieting and doing aerobics, but they'll get much better results by weight training too.)Yes, believe it or not, weight training - not aerobics or diet - may be the most important factor in losing fat.

EATING TO INCREASE THE METABOLIC RATE

This brings up another important point: eating enough calories to increase muscle mass. Many women try to starve their fat off by following low-calorie starvation diets. While these diets are successful in the short term at reducing bodyfat, they also reduce precious muscle mass, and this loss ultimately slows the metabolism down even more. When the metabolism slows down to a certain point, the body actually becomes incapable of burning bodyfat, no matter how low the calories ingested. The body believes it is starving - dying - and begins to store bodyfat to preserve itself. Even if you are eating good food, most of your calories will be turned into fat stores to preserve the body. But that's only part of the problem.

When you eventually return to regular eating - because no one can stay on a starvation diet for too long you end up gaining back more weight than you lost using the diet in the first place. If you lost 20 pounds by starving, you gain back 25 pounds once you go off the diet and return to normal eating. This is the infamous Yo-Yo syndrome. It can be avoided by not using starvation diets.

Eating more actually speeds the metabolism because the body has to learn to digest all that food consumed. Eating five or six small meals a day also speeds the metabolism more than eating one or two meals a day, as the body has to become more efficient to digest food every few hours. These are facts you should keep in mind when following any diet - and I hate to use the word diet because what you eat should become a way of life, a lifestyle, not a short- term remedy for weight loss.

Bodybuilder and writer Teagan Clive, once wrote an article titled "You Can't Lose Weight Permanently by Dieting Temporally?' Her point: Don't diet. Eat sensibly and healthfully all year round and you'll never have to diet. You won't need to. Your body will stay lean and firm all the time if you eat properly and exercise enough. More on diet later.

WOMEN, GENETICS AND BODYFAT

Earlier I explained why women generally find it harder than men to reduce the waistline and lose bodyfat because of their naturally high bodyfat levels and naturally low testosterone levels. As well, as you already know, women naturally store most of their bodyfat around their waists, hips, glutes and upper thighs, so reducing fat levels in the lower body becomes even more difficult. To get their abs hard and fat-free, and their legs and glutes hard, many women have to become almost anorexic-looking in the face and upper body. Most women are really at a disadvantage when it comes to getting lean and having a lean, flat stomach. It's not impossible though, if you follow the suggestions in this article.

REALITY TIME - GENETICS AND YOU

Let's be honest. Certain women, those with endomorphic body types (those naturally short, thick, heavy and stocky, with lots of baby fat) will never be as slim as the models they see in Vogue or the bodybuilders and fitness women on the magazine. There is just so much you can do with your God-given genetics. While all women can lose fat from around their waists, reduce their waistlines to a point, and flatten their tummies to some degree, not everyone can become a model or a bodybuilding or fitness champion.

These are exceptional people with exceptional physical gifts. You can admire and envy such people, and use them for inspiration, but it may not be realistic for you to expect to ever look that way. (Of course, you won't know until you try, will you?) Abraham Lincoln probably expressed it best when he wrote, "God must have loved the common man because he made so many of them." So if you're depressed because you don't look like Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Carla Dunlap or Cory Everson, don't be. The most common man's/ woman's club is a big club. Most of us are in it.

Remember, the supermodels you see in fashion magazines are always ectomorphic types (tall, lean, naturally skinny, with long thin limbs, small hips, small glutes and small waists), who never had to train to get slim. They were born that way. Many can eat what they want and still not get fat because their metabolisms are so fast. The large majority of champion bodybuilders are either natural mesomorphs (those with well-toned, athletic bodies, large amounts of muscle, and low bodyfat levels), or ectomorphs with strong mesomorphic tendencies. Those women have genetic advantages over the endomorphs of the world, in both body type and metabolism. If you are naturally heavy, if obesity runs in your family, then you have to be realistic about what you can achieve in any exercise program, including the one I'm suggesting. I just want you to do a little reality check before you read further.

SOLUTIONS FOR YOU AND YOUR FAT TUMMY

Now I said you have to be realistic - I didn't say it was hopeless. Except for some weird medical reason (slow thyroid, illness, some strange disease, etc.), there is no reason why a 200-pound woman with 40 percent bodyfat can't realistically lose 40 or 50 pounds of bodyweight and reduce her bodyfat to 22 or 25 percent over the course of a year. "A year!" you scream. "I want a flat stomach in two weeks, not a year." But again, let's be realistic. The optimal amount of fat you can lose on any diet1 exercise program without sacrificing vital muscle tissue or risking your health is one-half to one pound per week. If you crash-diet or fast for a week and lose 10 pounds, you'll only lose precious muscle tissue...which slows the metabolic rate.. .which makes fat loss impossible...which creates the Yo-Yo syndrome...which promotes weight gain when you resume eating. It's just not worth it.

One-half a pound a week may not seem like much in the short term, but that's 26 pounds a year. The loss of a pound a week adds up to 52 pounds a year. Hey, that's pretty serious weight loss for anyone! Not only do you retain more muscle mass when you diet slowly, but your skin also has a chance to shrink gradually as you lose the fat so there is no excess skin around your waist to deal with. People who lose huge amounts of weight in a short period of time usually have unsightly loose folds of skin on their stomachs like a rhinoceros. And no one wants that.

SHORT-TERM SOLUTION

"But what:' you ask, "do I do if I absolutely have to lose weight in a hurry because I have a big date, a wedding to participate in, a party to attend, or an important social event where I must look my best?" All right, here b something any woman can do to immediately lose inches from her waist, legs, hips, butt, and, if necessary, bust and arms: Go get a body wrap from a beauty salon. Just realize that it's a very temporary measure. When you get a body wrap, water and fluid are squeezed from the tissues, so you quickly lose inches all over body. The effect lasts only a day or two, so if you have that big party to go to next Saturday, and you can't fit into your favorite party dress, book a body wrap for Saturday morning. You'll look 10 pounds lighter for the party and el great. Just expect to gain all that water back - and all those inches back - in a day or so.

Every time you have a big social event where you want to appear slimmer than you really are, get another body wrap. In the meantime stick to your diet and exercise program for long-term fat loss. Another short-term solution is to wear a good support girdle to pull your stomach in. At the same time, whenever it's possible, wear clothes that have padded shoulders to make your waist and hips look smaller. If you combine these three short-term solutions-a body wrap, a good girdle and padded shoulders - be amazed at the difference in your appearance on those special occasions when you really want to look your best.

YOUR AB EXERCISE PROGRAM

Contrary to popular belief, it isn't necessary to spend hours a week doing countless sets of sit-ups, leg raises and other ab exercises in order to reduce your waist and flatten your stomach. I haven't dealt with building deeply etched abs like a champion bodybuilder's because that type of development does take more time and commitment, as well as greater attention to diet and aerobics. If you want deeply etched abs, your bodyfat is going to have to drop pretty low, below 10 percent, which is usually a level attained only by world-class athletes or anorexics. Most women don't like to get this lean because they start to lose their breasts. Below 10 percent bodyfat women also stop menstruating.

However, reducing your waistline and flattening your tummy can be achieved by several workouts a week of no more than 10 minutes each, a total training time of 30 to 50 minutes a week.

I shouldn't have to tell you that sit-ups and leg raises are not the best exercises you can do for the abdominals, especially straight-leg versions which can actually be dangerous because of the pressure they put on the lower back. It is now acknowledged that while sit-ups and leg raises do build the abdominal muscles to some degree (after all, the old-time champions with great ab development all used sit-ups and leg raises), they involve the hip flexors, iliopsoas, and lower back too much. In terms of muscle isolation, crunches (partial sit-ups) and knee-ins (reverse crunches) are much better exercises. For this reason most of your time should be spent on crunches, knee-ins, and variations of these two exercises to achieve best results.

I believe the best method of training the abs is through what is known as giant sets or cycles. A giant set is four or more exercises done in succession with no rest in between. After each giant set you then are allowed to take one minute's rest. Training this way your abdominal muscles are forced to work very hard. The workout becomes almost an aerobic affair as you exercise continually. Training abs this way makes sense because, not only do your abs get a terrific workout, but it also helps to bum fat. At the end of each giant set your abs should be really burning, and you should be perspiring profusely. Here is a good giant set you might want to try.

Regular crunches - 3x maximum reps (aim for 20 to 50)

Bench knee-Ins - 3x maximum reps (aim for 20 to 50)

V-crunches - 3x maximum reps each side (lift shoulders and legs off the ground at same tine)

Twisting V-crunches - 3x maximum reps (touch knee to opposite elbow)

Twlsts - 3x 75-100 reps

Now remember, take as little rest between sets as possible, no more time than is required to move from one exercise to the next, which should be about five seconds or less. Only after you've completed the twists, the fifth exercise, are you allowed to rest for one minute. Done in this fashion, the whole ab workout shouldn't take longer than 10 or 15 minutes.

Now a few rules to follow when training your abs:

1. Never use weight on any abdominal exercise. Weight builds muscle. You never want to build up the abdominals because that will only thicken your waist. It's better to use no weight and do higher reps, aiming for a good burn in the abs each set.

2. Never work the obliques directly, especially if you have naturally big hips and a wide waist. Building the obliques, those muscles on the sides of your waist, will thicken your waist and increase your waist size. The key exercise to avoid is the side bend.

3. Keep constant tension on your abdominals each rep of each set. Never do a full range of motion. Go to the fully contracted position on crunches (head and neck off floor, crunching the abs together) or knee-ins (knees tucked to the chest, squeezing the abs hard), and go down two-thirds to keep constant tension on your abs. On knee-ups, leg raises and knee-ins, never let the legs straighten or touch the floor. Always keep your knees bent on any ab exercise to keep pressure off the lower back.

4. Make sure you do your reps of each exercise at moderate speed, emphasizing strict form and getting a good contraction or squeeze each rep. Although you want to train fast by resting little, if any, between exercises, you should do your actual reps fairly slowly. How fast is too fast? Whenever you start to lose control or your reps get sloppy to the point where keeping tension on the abs or getting a contraction each rep is difficult, then it's time to slow down a bit.

5. Train with intensity. Although women's magazines will try to convince you that it isn't necessary to feel or experience pain when you exercise to get good results, this is mostly a lot of malarkey. If you want good results you're going to have to push yourself and train with intensity. For best results you should push yourself to muscular failure, where more reps are just not possible. You should also keep a training diary to record your workouts so you know how many reps you have to do each workout to beat your previous best.

For instance, if you did 35 crunches the first set of your last ab workout, you know you have to try for at least one more the next time you train abs. That should be your goal each time you train, to add just one more rep on each exercise. Don't worry if you can do only five crunches the first time you try this routine. If you add one crunch per workout, in several months you'll be doing 30 or40 reps easily. Doing a bit more each time you train is the basis of all progressive weight training, and it's also why it's so important to train with intensity. If you never try to increase your reps, your muscles will adapt to the stress or fail to respond. Your workouts will get stale and boring, and gains (or even losses, depending on your point of view) will slow down.

If you're new to bodybuilding, or have trained before and have laid off for a while and now want to get back into shape, ease back into training slowly. Start with one set of each exercise, or one giant set, and work up slowly over time to three or four giant sets. The first week you start this routine go easy; don't go as hard as you can because you'll only get sore and discouraged. Deliberately do less than you could. After three weeks, though, you should be ready for harder and more intense training.

How often should you do this giant-set program? That depends on how ambitious you are. A minimum of three times a week is the least I'd recommend, while up to six times a week can be used by those with a lot of drive and ambition. To begin with, try following this ab routine every other day. That should be plenty at first.

Here's a tip that can make your waist smaller if you do it several times a day. It's what is known as "vacuums' To do a vacuum, suck in your stomach as far as you can (imagine trying to suck your belly button to your spine) and hold for a count of 30. Repeat this several times every free or four hours. Vacuums are great because they can be done anywhere- while driving, while sitting at your desk working, while watching TV or even while out for a walk. Adding vacuums to your diet! exercise regimen can really pay off in a big way. Give it a try.

EXERCISE FORM

Just to make sure you understand how to do the exercises of this ab routine properly, I'll cover the key points of exercise performance for each.

Crunches: Crunches are a partial movement that directly work the middle and upper sections of the abdominals. Lie on the floor, your legs bent and your feet draped over a low exercise bench (or a stool or couch if you train at home). To do the crunch, simply try to roll your body up as your head and shoulders come off the ground, and pull your shoulders closer to your pelvis. Your lower back always stays in contact with the floor. The actual range of motion of the crunch is probably six inches or less, but if you do it right you should feel a cramping sensation in your abs as you crunch and contract them each rep. The key thing to emphasize is a squeezing or "crunching" of your abdominal muscles as you pull your shoulders towards your pelvis. Hold for a count of two at the top and slowly return to the starting position. As you fatigue toward the end of the set, speed your reps. In reality your reps will continue to slow down as muscle fatigue takes over.

Knee-ins or reverse crunches: This exercise can be done lying on the floor, a flat bench, from an incline position on a sit-up board set at an incline, or seated on an exercise bench as exercise model Laura Bass demonstrates in the photographs. Whichever version you do, the key point is to lift the legs slowly and smoothly to the upper abdominal chest region while tensing and squeezing (contracting) the lower abs. At the top hold for a count of two and slowly lower, resisting all the way. Keep the knees bent to take pressure off the lower hack, and never allow your feet to hit the floor, or you take tension off the abdominals.

V-crunches: This is a different version of the regular crunch. It can be done either lying on a flat bench or lying on the floor. First cross your legs and bend your knees. Put your hands behind your neck for support. I To do this movement properly, pull your knees toward your chest so that your legs are off the floor at all times. Simultaneously lift your shoulders up and forward as much as possible so that your abs are "crunched" between your torso and your legs. As you come up your body forms a V as only the lower back remains on the floor. With regular crunches you crunch the upper body toward the legs. With knee-ins the legs crunch toward the torso. With V-crunches both the legs and shoulders crunch together at the same time.

Twisting V-crunches: This time, as you lift your shoulders and legs at the same time, twist your body so the right elbow touches the left knee. The next rep you twist so the, left elbow touches the right knee. Each rep you alternate touching elbow to the opposite knee until the set is completed. By twisting your body each rep, you work more of the intercostals and the sides of your waist without developing the obliques.

Twists: Although there is no photograph of Laura Bass doing twists, twists are a great finishing movement after the other exercises have been done, the proper way to twist is as follows: Place a broomstick or light baron your shoulders; feet should be slightly wider than shoulder width, knees should be bent, and the hips should be thrust forward slightly. In this position the torso will tilt backwards a little. The head should face forward at all times and remain steady as you twist; it should not turn from side to side. Imagine that your head is held steady by a brace so it can't turn. At the same time imagine your lower body encased in concrete so that it can't move. In this position only the midsection can turn. Now twist fairly quickly from side to side, counting each side as half a rep - i.e., it takes one twist to each side to make one rep. This is important because 50 or 100 reps is 50 or 100 reps to each side, not to one side only.

AEROBICS

As you now know, your ab routine is only part of a total exercise regimen in your goal to acquire a smaller, flatter stomach and a lean, toned body. You should do aerobics to burn fat 30 minutes daily - or at least five times a week. If you're especially overweight you might want to do two 30-minute aerobic sessions a day, one in the morning and one at night.

The optimal time for doing aerobics in terms of fat-burning is first thing in the morning before you've eaten breakfast and three hours after your last meal at night. If you train once a day, the best time is definitely before breakfast. This is the optimal time for fat-burning because there is little glycogen in your muscles as a result of your not having eaten all night, so the body naturally uses stored bodyfat as an energy source. Studies done at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario showed that women burn more fat and less carbs and protein than men when they do aerobics, so in terms of fat-burning aerobics work better for women than men.

WHAT TO DO?

I have always felt that it's not so important which aerobic activity you engage in, only that you do it, so pick an activity you enjoy, be it aerobics classes, riding an exercise bike, cycling, roller blading, ice skating, roller skating, cross-country skiing, swimming, running, skipping, jogging, speed walking, using a StairMaster, ski machine or rowing machine.

I think the best way to enjoy your aerobics is to combine different aerobic activities. It's much easier, for instance, to do 10 minutes of riding the bike, 10 minutes of StairMaster and 10 minutes of jogging, than riding the bike for 30 minutes. Mixing and matching different aerobics prevents boredom and makes your aerobics more fun.

How hard should you do aerobics? Hard enough that you sweat and your heart rate rises to about 60 to 75 percent of maximum for a minimum of 15 minutes, but not so hard that you're gasping for air or on the verge of collapse. Experts say that you should be able to comfortably carry on a conversation as you do your aerobic activity. If you can't, if you're panting and gasping for air, you're training at too high intensity. This means you're using glycogen for energy, not burning fat. Cut back on the intensity and go at an easier level.

Remember, aerobics are a moderate-intensity, long-duration type of exercise, not something you get over in two minutes. After all, you have to keep it up for at least 15 minutes to get an aerobic effect, and that's a minimum. You should be aiming at 30 minutes nonstop for best fat-burning results.

Learn to take your pulse as you exercise and stay within your target range, which should be 60 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate although this figure varies with age. For instance, for a 25-year-old woman with a maximum heart rate of 195 beats per minute, her target zone (60 to 75 percent of 195) is between 114 and 142 beats per minute for a minimum of 15 minutes. A 30-year-old woman's maximum heart rate is 185 beats per minute, so her target zone -60 to 70 percent of that- will be Ill to 138 beats per minute.

WEIGHT-TRAINING PROGRAM

As explained above, it is important to do weight training to build muscle mass. This doesn't mean you have to do enough to become as muscular as a champion bodybuilder, but even adding just a few pounds of muscle can totally change the shape of your body and speed up your metabolism so that fat-burning becomes much easier.

Most women lose sight of the fact that you can shape your body only with muscle, not fat. In fact, losing 10 pounds of fat and replacing it with 10 pounds of muscle will completely transform your body. Go by how your clothes fit and how you look in the mirror, not how much you weigh. Many women panic when they step on the scale to find that they weigh the same as they did before they began their exercise program - and sometimes even more. What they forget is that muscle weighs more than fat, so their weight may not go down all that much as they exercise. This is natural and nothing to be worried about.

You have to realize that a woman can be 125 pounds and fat or 135 pounds and lean. If the 125-pound woman has 30 percent bodyfat and the 135-pound woman has 20 percent bodyfat, the 135-pound woman is actually much leaner and is going to look much harder too. Her stomach will be flatter Her muscle tone will be better. So throw away your scale and go by the mirror.

How will you know if your exercise program is working? Easy. Your clothes will fit looser. I've had women say to me, "1I don't understand It. I weight the same as I did before, but I'm wearing a dress size two sizes smaller:' And I'll smile and say, "Exactly! That means it's working!" Why do you get smaller when you build muscle and lose fat? Because muscle is very dense, while fat has a lot of volume. Ten pounds of pure muscle is much smaller than 10 pounds of pure fat. A 10-pound roast isn't that big, but 10 pounds of fat would be the size of a basketball.

The key is your bodyfat percentage, not how much you weigh. Bodyweight means nothing if you don't know your percentage ratio of bodyfat to lean muscle tissue. Work at lowering your bodyfat percentage, not your bodyweight.

I don't have the space to go over a full bodybuilding program in this segment, but in general you should do at least one exercise for each muscle group, with special emphasis on your legs, glutes, abs, delts and chest. Most women don't want big arms or huge traps, so consider the aims and back secondary muscles. Train with weights four times a week, aiming at six sets for each - major muscle, three sets for secondary ones.

DIET

Okay, you're doing your ab exercise routine every other day. You're doing aerobics every day, or at least five times a week. You're following your bodybuilding program four times a week. That's important, but you won't burn as much fat as you could unless you also follow a low-fat, moderately low-calorie diet. Believe me, all the exercise you do can be for naught if you don't diet too.

It used to be believed that all calories were equal, that the calories from chocolate cake were no more fattening than the calories from chicken breast and salad. Now we know that the calories from fats and sugars are converted to bodyfat much more readily than calories from your protein and complex carbohydrate sources, so your diet should be very low in fats and sugars.

Losing bodyweight is all about balancing food intake and energy output. You want to eat a little less than your maintenance level and exercise a lot to bum up excess calories and promote fat loss. As a general rule it's better to eat more and exercise more than to eat less and do less exercise.

I've already explained above why it's important not to follow starvation diets. I've also explained why it's important to eat enough protein to build muscle mass. If you eat healthful, nutritious food, natural food, and avoid all junk food and processed food, you'll be amazed at how much food you can eat and still lose weight. A huge salad doesn't contain as many calories as a few pats of butter. Fill up on nutritious, high-volume foods and you'll be well on the way to a firmer, leaner body.

HOW MUCH TO EAT

It's my belief that all women should eat at least 1200 calories a day no matter how overweight they are. I usually recommend that people start at 1500 calories a day and take it from there, but some women can eat 2000 calories a day (of good, low-fat food) and still lose unwanted fat. Remember, your immediate goal is to elevate your metabolism, not starve away fat, so don't panic if you don't drop weight the first few weeks. The weight and the fat will come off later. To elevate your metabolism you have to build more muscle mass, and to do that you have to eat a fair amount so you'll have the energy to train.

It's also important that you keep your protein intake high because protein is only four calories per gram, as opposed to nine calories per gram for fat and protein helps to build and sustain muscle mass. If a woman eats 100 grams of protein a day, amounting to only 400 calories, she can still eat 1100 calories of carbohydrates. Get your protein from low-fat sources such as chicken breast, egg whites and low-fat fish. Avoid red meat, pork, milk, cheese, cottage cheese and whole eggs. For carbohydrates focus on complex carbs such as rice, potatoes, yams, raw or steamed vegetables and oatmeal. Also include a small amount of fresh fruit each day, but don't drink fruit juice, which is mostly fruit sugar. Fruit converts to bodyfat more readily than protein or complex carbs.

If you want a good dietary rule to follow, it's this: Avoid calorie-dense, low-volume foods like butter, margarine, cream, ice cream, cheese, salad dressing, peanut butter, cookies, pies, cakes and candy, and fill upon high- volume, high-nutrition, low-calorie foods like fresh and steamed vegetables (no butter, fresh salads (no dressing), potatoes (no butter or sour cream), rice (no butter or topping), oatmeal (no milk), plus some fresh fruits like apples, pears, plums, grapes and strawberries. Along with your 100 or so grams of protein a day from fish, egg whites and chicken breast you'll be amazed at how much you can eat. You'll never be hungry; some might even complain about how hard it is to eat all the food they have to.

In general you should try to eat about 300 calories a day less than your maintenance level - the number of calories you need to consume each day to maintain your present bodyweight. For example, if you need 2000 calories, eat 1700 low-fat calories a day. This way you should readily lose between one-half and one pound a week, if you also do your aerobics and bodybuilding.

If you find you're not losing fat and bodyweight at the rate you want, drop your calories another 300 a day, but never go below 1200 daily. That's rock bottom. Any less than that and you slow the metabolism down.

SUPPLEMENTS TO AUGMENT YOUR FAT-LOSS PROGRAM

If you follow your all-round exercise weight program, do your daily aerobics, do your ab routine three or four times a week, and follow a high-protein, low-fat, moderately low-calorie diet, you should be very successful at lowering your overall bodyfat, reducing your waistline and flattening your stomach. You should also be firmer, more toned and healthier. Are there any other things you could be doing to augment your ab routine/ fat-loss program?

Yes. Some supplements definitely aid in fat loss. Amino acids are very useful in helping to supply protein without any extra calories. The branched-chain aminos (leucine, isoleucine and valine) are especially helpful at sparing other amino acids and having an anticatabolic effect, meaning they spare lean tissue.

Growth hormone enhancers like arginine and ornithine, taken before bed, can elevate GH levels slightly and help increase natural fat-burning. Kelp seems to help speed up sluggish thyroids and can help promote fat loss. Lipotropics like choline, inositol and methionine may help a bit io increasing fat-burning, although by how much I can't say. Some studies show chromium picolinate helps promote the gain of lean muscle tissue, which will help speed up the metabolism so fat-burning becomes easier. Metabolic optimizers, which basically contain everything but the kitchen sink and take a shotgun approach to nutrition, can be useful to some people. Medium-chain triglyceride oil (MCT) spares carbohydrates and lean muscle tissue while supplying energy and is useful for those on low-calorie diets.

I would also recommend a good multiple vitamin-mineral pack that is especially high in B-complex and vitamin C to ensure there are no nutritional deficiencies. Supplements can make a small but definite difference in your rate of losing fat and building muscle. The ones I've mentioned are definitely worth trying to see how they work for you.

LIPOSUCTION AND PLASTIC SURGERY

I'd like to be able to say that if you follow the suggestions in this article every one of you will be able to lose a great deal of bodyfat and get a flat, hard stomach, but that's not true. Sure, probably 75 percent of the people who exercise regularly and who follow good diets, along with taking certain supplements, will build the type of body they want Some people, however, no matter how hard they diet, how hard the exercise, and even if they take drugs, just can't lose all the bodyfat they want, especially in the lower abdominal regions. Maybe they just haven't the time or the inclination to train and diet as hard as they should to lose all their fat, but they still want a leaner, firmer body. For these people liposuction and plastic surgery (tummy tucks) are the way to go.

While it is well known that many movie and entertainment stars have had lots of liposuction and body-shaping surgery, it is not so well known that even many champion bodybuilders have had these procedures done too. (Yes, even some champions find it difficult to lose that last little bit of fat on their lower abs.) Again, I'm not recommending the procedure, but if you've tried "everything" and you are definitely unhappy about your body shape, then see a plastic surgeon and discuss what he can do thr you. It is an available option.

CONCLUSION

I hope you realize by now that getting a flat, small stomach and a hard body is a holistic affair - a combination of diet, weight training, aerobics and special abdominal exercises. In Gestalt it is said that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In bodybuilding this is also true. The combination of diet, weight training, aerobics and special ab exercises will promote fat burning, a hard, flat stomach and a hard body, better than diet or exercise or aerobics alone.

As well, there are food supplements and drugs that augment fat-burning and the hard- body look. Then there are liposuction, tummy tucks and other body-enhancement surgery. You don't have to be unhappy with your body. You're not stuck with your body You have the power to change it, to make it leaner, firmer, more toned, shapelier and sexier. It's up to you.




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