(Editor’s note: “The Fort Huachuca Scout” continues a new fitness column which will appear about once a month. According to its author, this column strives to stimulate thought so readers can make more informed decisions as to how to embark on or improve upon a lifetime commitment to fitness.)
In the last column, I described an all too common scenario regarding a Soldier trying to lose body fat in order to meet the Army standard. However, one could replace the word “Soldier” with “friend,” “training partner” or “Family member.”
Shortly after penning the first installment of the previous column, the Army changed the title of AR 600-9 to the Army Body Composition Program. This is great news, for it shows focus on not just bodyweight, but how much is healthy weight.
Abdominal work is important for your service physical fitness tests as well as to strengthen your body to help prevent injury and improve sports performance. What I discussed was that training abs alone will not change body composition. Frequently Soldiers, Family members and civilians train their only abs believing this will result in “weight loss,” when in actuality their goal is more akin to improving composition.
One must lose body fat all over, with ‘the deep end of the pool’ draining last, in order to see results. There is no such thing as spot reduction.
I also wrote that the large number of DVDs, magazine articles or information on the Internet touting awesome and defined abs are not lacking in candor but are simply listing good strength and conditioning exercises for the midsection because that is what the consumers want. The fact that fit and defined fitness models or athletes are demonstrating these exercises leads to the misperception that use of those exercises, in the sequence and number of reps and sets prescribed, will result in similar development. This is often lost upon many looking for a radical change in their body fat percentages.
So if you’re new to or just returning to training, or a member of the armed forces who may have a physical limitation, such as a medical profile against running, how do you improve your composition?
Know your objective.
Is your objective losing weight or improving body composition? The answer might be both, but remember, there is no such thing as spot reduction. Also, weight is not always the best indicator of progress as one could lose body fat, but gain lean muscle. This would show only a loss of a few pounds, yet an individual’s composition would be radically different. Free your mind from using the scale numbers as the sole determinant of success.
Success in improving body composition is a combination approach.
It’s not just cardio, not just a means of eating, and not just increasing lean muscle. But recognize that cardiovascular work alone will not yield maximum results.
Studies published in 1992 and 1997 indicated the individual’s level of aerobic fitness does not have any correlation with the level of resting metabolism. Anaerobic exercise, such as progressive resistance training for major muscle groups and not just “show” muscles or minor muscles, builds additional muscle mass, which is fat-free mass, or FFM. According to the studies cited, additional FFM will lead to a higher resting metabolic rate.
Free your mind of Draconian diets, and pay attention to what you eat.
I am adverse to the term “diet” as it is more of a dislike for what it often connotes, which is something one goes “on” and “off” of. If a person views a “diet” as a method of eating for life, then it’s a more palatable phrase.
How to do that? Don’t overcomplicate it. The key thing is ask yourself if what you are eating is counterproductive to your goals. One almost always knows the answer and whether they are sabotaging themselves with a knife and fork.
Free your mind of limitations, and find a way to achieve broad-based fitness.
Many people have experienced injuries or setbacks. Even age, in spite of a person’s best intentions, can prevent individuals from running as fast, or as long, or lifting as heavy or frequently as they may previously have.
This was why I started the series off with mention of a Soldier who was unable to run, either temporarily or permanently. You may be in that boat, or perhaps are overcoming a surgery.
But are you hamstrung from exploring alternate, effective means of achieving a training effect?
Too many individuals feel the only efficient calorie-burning activity is running, but there are alternatives. Can you do spin classes? Have you tried circuit training? Have you focused on maximizing lean muscle mass of your major muscle groups for the reasons outlined above? That is huge, for every Monday I see a large number of warriors in uniform training abs and triceps only – hardly key for total body fitness.
If your approach has been to try some alternate cardio exercises in a somewhat desultory manner followed by ab-only exercises, have you really “tried everything,” or have you been looking for that miracle to lose three inches off your waist in two weeks? Be honest with yourself – only you can answer that.
Now that we’ve notionally disabused many of the misconceptions regarding direct ab work and body composition, the choice should be yours.
Those with fitness-related questions are welcome to contact me at TierFiveFitness@hotmail.com.
(About the author: Retired 1st Sgt. David Charles “Chazz” Owen works as a Department of the Army civilian on Fort Huachuca. Owen was a professional trainer in the civilian sector and responsible for the fitness and readiness of more than 1,500 Soldiers during his military career. He has also been professionally involved in several sports. His goal is 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.”)