Health & Safety

July 19, 2013

Fit for Life – Ab work, body composition myths examined

David Charles “Chazz” Owen

(Editor’s note: This week, “The Fort Huachuca Scout” introduces a new fitness column which will appear about once a month. The column has several purposes, according to its author. First and foremost it is intended to inform, inspire and educate.

It will not be a simple regurgitation of common themes found in health and fitness magazines or items on the Internet. It will not offer one-size-fits-all routines or exercise schemes, but rather will strive to stimulate thought so readers can make a more informed decision as to how to embark on or improve upon a lifetime commitment to fitness.

It will also examine various fitness myths, misconceptions and common pitfalls which befall both military and civilians, in order to strip away falsehoods and distill down to sound concepts and practices leading to success, with foundation in proven means.)

One of the most commonly misunderstood items in fitness is the misconceptions about body composition and abdominal work. This issue is so commonplace and so fraught with misinformation that it will require a series of articles to adequately address the issue. This is the first article on this topic.

“What’s the BEST exercise I can do about this?” the young Soldier asked, grabbing with both hands a midriff which stretched the fabric of his physical fitness uniform and indicated a body-fat percentage outside of the tolerances of the Army allowable standards.

He was on the formal overweight program and had no underlying medical condition contributing to the obesity. The Soldier was limited in his ability to run because of a formal medical diagnosis and resultant profile against running, and so, with only limited time to get within compliance of the Army standards, felt he could not lose weight without running.

The young man was concerned about his career and claimed he was doing “everything possible” to meet the standard. When I asked what he was doing, he cited some alternate forms of cardio exercises three times a week at a low intensity and every abdominal exercise imaginable as seen on the Web, in countless fitness magazines and in a few DVD series.

I asked “What else?” He had no answer.

I told him probably one of the main reasons he was not achieving his goals was the following:

Abdominal, or ab, work has AB-solutely – pun intended – nothing to do with body composition. This seems opposite of everything we see with the fit, highly defined or ‘ripped’ fitness models doing whatever combination of ab exercises in the various sources of information described earlier. It is also seemingly opposite of recently touted functional fitness principles that “the core” is integral to everything.

It is true that it’s important to have a strong core to help protect against injury, improve performance in basic Soldiering skills such as ruck marching while wearing protective gear, and provide strength and endurance needed in the physical fitness test. However, people must ask themselves if they are working their core for those reasons or because they believe it will spot-reduce body fat from their waists.

Here is the reality. There is no such thing as spot reduction.

A fitness trainer friend once said losing body fat is like draining a pool. The deep end, which we can correlate to the midsection where most people store body fat, drains last.

One must drain the entire pool, losing body fat and improving body composition or muscle-to-fat ratio in order to substantially slim their waistlines.

But how do we explain the magazines, articles on the Internet, and DVDs showing only doing this “core movement” or that combination of ab exercises to look like the models featured?

A careful examination of many of those resources will caveat ab articles or programs with statements such as “results achieved when combined with a sound exercise/nutritional program.” Others will state as an afterthought that one must possess low enough body fat for the abs to show in order to realize the goal.

Are the sources cited a form of false advertising?

No, they simply a mechanism to provide what many people in their viewing audience want, and those are visible abs and improved body composition. The exercises themselves are sound and effective for developing strong abs.

It is like the old joke where one says “I have a six pack (euphemism for chiseled abs); it’s just that I have the cooler around it!” I love this joke, for it illustrates that most understand it is one’s body composition, not the strength of their abs, which is responsible for a visibly tight waistline.

Yet for some reason many ignore that fact, laboring under the belief that more ab work will enable them to change their body composition and achieve total body fitness. They’ll cite a certain top-tiered athlete doing planks, or other strengthening exercises for their trunks, but ignore the fact that the athlete already has low body fat and a high level of specialized fitness.

So how to “drain the pool”, especially if limited in one’s ability to do frequent, or intense cardio for a sustained period? That will be the subject of part II of this series.

 

About the Author: David Charles “Chazz” Owen is a retired first sergeant who is now a Department of the Army civilian on Fort Huachuca. He has been competitively involved in many sports, including duathlon, triathlon, road and trail run racing, and now bicycle time-trialing. Owen was a professional trainer in the civilian sector as well as responsible for the fitness and readiness of more than 1,500 Soldiers during his career.

Owen wants to share experiences gained in over four decades as an athlete and Soldier to inspire others to develop or continue to be fit for life.




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