Probably the most common area of the body that people want to improve is their midsection. Whether it is a beer belly, spare tyre / love handles, or the little extra bulge or pooch around the lower abdominals, there are a number of ab related issues that cause a lot of frustration.
Regardless of what area(s) of your body you want to improve, the most important thing is your overall exercise and nutrition program. People often want to just focus on their problem areas, but without healthy eating habits (watching caloric intake, getting enough nutrients, etc.) and consistent challenging workouts, progress will be hard to come by, no matter how much you focus on one area. See Part 1 of our ab series: The Bona Fide Facts On Abdominal Exercises and Fat Loss
This is especially true when you have fat that has accumulated around your midsection, such as with a beer belly or spare tyre. These are really issues of overall body fat percentage and improving your eating and exercising habits has by far the most profound effect on improving these issues.
When it comes to losing fat specifically from your problem areas, whether it is your abs or anywhere else, one of the biggest keys is being consistent with your health and fitness routine. Problem areas tend to be the areas of your body where you gain weight/fat first and lose it last. Therefore, if you want to lose fat from stubborn areas of your body, you have to avoid going through periods of losing and gaining weight.
For most people, any time they go off their diet or stop exercising, they gain some fat in their problem areas. Naturally this makes it seem like it is impossible to lose fat from those areas, but this is just an illusion. If you follow a well-designed exercise and nutrition program and stick to it consistently, you will eventually lose fat from every one of those stubborn areas.
If you are doing the important things well (eating right and exercising consistently) and have a relatively low percentage of body fat, but still have issues with a lower abdominal pooch, there are some other things that can help with that specific problem.
The first place to start is with your abdominal training program. If you are like most people, chances are you may either do little abdominal work or your ab routine focuses mainly on your rectus abdominis (the 6-pack muscle). This muscle usually gets the most attention, because it is the muscle that is most visible, but working this muscle does little to improve a lower abdominal pooch.
In order to tighten your muscles around a lower abdominal area, you need to include exercises for your obliques (side abdominal muscles) and especially the transverse abdominis (TVA). The TVA is a deep abdominal muscle that runs horizontally across your lower abdominals around the area of your belly button. This muscle is an important stabilizer and training it will tighten your lower abs and help minimize the lower ab pooch.
Another issue that can cause a lower abdominal pooch is having an increased curve in your lower spine (lordosis). Lordosis can be caused by a number of things, such as poor posture, tight muscles, sitting for long periods every day, and not stretching. When excessive lumbar spine curvature occurs, it results in weak abdominal muscles and causes your lower abdominals to stick out from your body, creating a pooch effect.
Fortunately, many of the same exercises that work your transverse abdominis also help correct excessive lumbar curve, if they are done the right way. See Part 5 of our Ab series: Use These Tips To Maximize Your Abs And Minimize Lower Back Pain.
If you have too much or too little curve in any part of your spine, it is recommended to seek out a qualified professional (physical therapist, personal trainer with speciality training, etc.) to help deal with these issues.
If you don’t have any back problems, there are a number of good exercises to help strengthen, tighten, and tone your muscles to reduce a lower abdominal pooch. Some effective exercises are 2 leg bent-knee holds, leg lowers, and leg circles. These exercises are all demonstrated in the accompanying video.
In addition to the abdominal muscle and spinal curve issues, a lower abdominal pooch can also be due to nutrition related issues. In particular, if you have any food allergies or food sensitivities, eating those foods can cause bloating around your lower abdomen, creating a pooch effect.
Food sensitivities can be difficult to figure out, because the symptoms are usually subtle and can include things like sluggishness, headaches, and mental fogginess. Since these are generic symptoms that are also related to other issues (lack of sleep, stress, etc.), they are rarely attributed to food choices. They are also difficult to pinpoint, because it requires careful manipulation of your daily eating along with accurate note taking to figure out what foods are the real culprits.
A full explanation of this process (an elimination diet) is beyond the scope of this article, but it basically involves removing anything that could potentially cause a negative reaction and then adding back one ingredient at a time to see how it affects your system. This is a complicated and demanding process that is not realistic for most people, but if you have serious food sensitivity problems it can be helpful.
As an easier alternative, you can avoid the ingredients that negatively impact the most people. The common culprits are dairy, fructose, yeast, gluten, wheat, and any highly processed foods or food additives. If you can completely avoid eating one of these ingredients for 2 to 3 weeks and find that you feel better, without changing anything else in your program, then chances are you have an allergy or sensitivity to that ingredient.
This is not a perfect system, but it is much easier than an elimination diet and it can be useful for finding foods that do not agree with your body. If you can minimize or ideally avoid eating these foods, you will certainly feel better and simultaneously reduce intestinal bloating, which also reduces a lower abdominal pooch.
Since there are many factors that can cause an abdominal pooch (overall body fat percentage, exercises performed, lumbar spine curve, and nutrition), it means you have to do well in each of those areas to really minimize the size of a pooch.
However, even if you only improve one or two of these issues, you can still achieve some pooch reduction. More importantly, improving your exercise and nutrition habits will also improve your overall health and fitness, so it is definitely worth the effort. Just remember that physical improvements do not happen overnight and it takes consistent effort to make real long-term progress.
By Ross Harrison
VFT Fitness Expert
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