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July 6, 2006
Working Abs Too Hard?

Question: Hi Leonard, my goal is simply to sculpt my abs. All resources that I read suggest that the key to 6 pack abs is fat burning, but I am actually trying to gain weight and my abs are already somewhat toned. Does this change what I should be doing in terms of working out my abs and in terms of diet? Most resources suggest 2-3 times a week just like any other muscle group, but I have been intensely working out my abs at least once a day (only on day 14 right now) and am surprisingly starting to see results already and am definitely feeling a great difference. Is this intense load bad for my abs or my back? Should I decrease how much I am doing? I have not felt any soreness or aching so far, which I usually have felt in past pursuits of a 6 pack so I don't think I am pushing my body THAT hard. Thanks a lot Leonard... any advice would help.

Justin Leonard: Generally when you try to gain weight, it negates any effort to sculpt the abs. In a perfect world, one can sculpt the abs while increasing the size of other muscles. Some have the genetics to do this, but most don't. Therefore, my recommendation is to focus on either losing or gaining. If you commit to the later, you will more than likely have toned abs early on, but as your weight gain efforts progress, the visibility of the abs may fade.

Some people can get away with training abs everyday, as you are learning from experience. In fact, two of the top authorities on fitness certification (ACSM and NSCA) say that it's okay to train the abs up to 5 to 6 times per week. The 2 to 3 times per week recommendation is arbitrary. Fitness professionals try to tailor their expertise so that it is practical for the general population.

The feeling of soreness is not essential to achieving results. Muscle soreness considerably decreases as your body becomes more conditioned to workout stress.

July 4, 2006
Help! Can't Lose Weight!

Question: Hello.  I am new to the site, but I have read a few really helpful things about exercise and training in general.  I am having a major problem though!  I am 28 years old (female), I have had two kids... one by c-section.  I am about 5'1" and I weigh between 160 and 165 (depending on the day!!!).  So, I have been working out now for about six months, the first five months was with a personal trainer, and now I am at a fitness club working out on my own.  I started out weighing approximately 167 lbs or so.  I have lost about 9 inches (since I last checked) combined all over my body, but I cannot seem to lose the weight.  I know that I should not focus on the weight, but it is a little frustrating when I am not seeing results.  When I first started training with the trainer, we started slow with technique in strength training that he uses for athletes.  I started out with low weights, 3 sets of 10, moving into 3 sets of 5 and more weight.  Just prior to doing this I (higher weight) we incorporated cardio into my three day a week weights training.  I now have joined a gym, and I feel good, my clothes are looser, but I still cannot lose the weight!  I have the type of body that will bulk when given the opportunity to lift weights (i.e. "softball legs").  My husband, in the mean time, has lost about 25 lbs, and cannot seem to stop losing weight (he has a typical runner's body).  He is very supportive, and has helped me set up a meal plan (that I stick with for the most part)--4-6 small meals and snacks a day, and lots of water.  For example, I will eat oatmeal with 1% milk and a piece of whole wheat 100% grain bread with peanut butter (breakfast), lite yogurt smoothie (snack), lean cuisine and either yogurt granola bar or banana (lunch) and a salad with grilled chicken or some other kind of protein with couscous and vegetables.  So what am I doing wrong!?  I know I don't always drink enough water or eat right when I am supposed to, but it is still so frustrating!  Shouldn't I have lost more weight by now??? Sorry for writing a book, but I didn't know who else to ask. Thanks for your help.

Justin Leonard: Welcome to Leonard Fitness. The truth is, some people will notice a significant body transformation, while others will not. There could be several reasons that you are not experiencing the progress you desire. After reading your story, I have determined the following possibilities: 1) your workout intensity may be too low 2) you have a high set point, which is common amongst those who have had children 3) genetically, your body may not be built for significant weight loss 4) you are building muscle and burning fat, in which case the gains in lean muscle mass can negate any "scale" weight loss.

Regarding my first point, it is possible that your exercise regimen is not increasing your resting metabolic rate enough. One mistake people make is trying to convert to solely cardiovascular training in an effort to burn more fat. The problem is that cardiovascular exercise does very little to increase the amount of calories burned at rest. Be sure to do a combination of weight training and cardiovascular training.

My second point talks about the set point. The set point can be described as a weight that the body tries to defend in order to meet its needs. Set points generally increase with yo-yo dieting and after bearing children. The good news is that you are already attempting to do what is required to reduce your set point.

You mentioned that you had "softball legs," which I interpret as meaning "naturally muscular." Regardless, your body may not be designed for what you are trying to achieve because of genetics. My fourth point is pretty straightforward. I believe this to be the case more so than any of my other possibilities.

July 2, 2006
Exercise With Varying Job Shift

Question: I work in a shifting schedule so I have a different time of work every week. When is the best time to workout?

Justin Leonard: It's hard to say precisely. The simple answer is "whenever you can." Morning or night, it doesn't matter. Just try to get a workout in when you can. You may want to also consider doing 15 or 30 minute workouts if time is limited. You can also break up your workouts, such as performing two separate 15 or 30 minute sessions per day. There are several ways you can sneak in a workout. It is important to note that workouts need not be performed in one consecutive bout. The accumulation of exercise has also been shown to be effective (e.g. multiple 15 or 30 minute bouts throughout the day).

June 3, 2006
Green Supplement Drinks

Question: I am curious as to whether you have heard if "Progressive Veggie Greens" actually work, as my wife thinks I should just eat vegetables. Thanks so much.

Justin Leonard: I am not familiar with Progressive Veggie Greens. If this is a typical "green" supplement drink, then it may indeed provide a health benefit. I agree with your wife in that real vegetables are always better. Green drinks are basically multivitamin supplements. Vegetables provide a considerable amount of vitamin, mineral, antioxidant, enzyme, and some amino acid content. They are also responsible for the energy-producing substances found in popular energy/sports drinks (e.g. caffeine, spirulina, green tea, ginseng, barley grass, etc.).

May 17, 2006
How to Lose Bodyfat

Question: Hi, I have a question about "how to lose bodyfat." I am trying to get down to 10% body fat because I heard that if you are at that percentage you can see your abdominal muscle and I am at 15%. And I have a little bodyfat that covers up my abdominal muscles. I eat right and do cardio. So I was wondering if you have any tips or secrets for me. I have seen my veins come out a little. Will they become more visible after losing more bodyfat? How long do you think it would take some one like me to achieve this goal? Thanks

Justin Leonard: First, 10% bodyfat is an arbitrary number. While it is fairly low, it does not guarantee the visibility of the abdominal muscles. What is your gender? In general, women should never have a bodyfat percentage this low (for health reasons). Men who are around 10% bodyfat will usually have visible abs. As for tips and secrets, there aren't many you haven't heard of. A combination of sound nutrition, cardiovascular, and strength training will yield the best results. Lean body mass increases metabolic demands, resulting in a greater overall reduction in bodyfat. When energy demands are increased, fat loss can take place at rest or even during sleep. This is otherwise known as a resting metabolic rate or RMR. It is important to note that strength training will actually provide the greatest single increase in metabolic demands. Your final question was in reference to how long it would take to reach your goal: Since everyone responds differently to exercise and nutrition, there is no way to make a prediction on how soon you will reach your goal.

May 15, 2006
Biceps Not Same Size

Question: Hello, I appreciate you having this website for it has proved as useful on many occasions. I have two questions for you if you don't mind. Question number one: I've been working out religiously for about 2 months. I have a Bowflex and for my bicep curls I put 50lbs. for each arm. My question is this. My bicep muscle is shorter but yet higher than my other friends, but the problem is that my bicep muscles are still soft. I've been working out for 2 months. Am I doing something wrong? Or is it fat? Or do I need to put more weight on each arm when I workout? I feel dumb when my friends' arms are tight and mine are loser but yet higher muscles than theirs. Thank you for your time. The other question is this. My one side of my body is better formed than my other. So in order to try to equalize them would I put more weight on the weaker arm, than the stronger one when I workout, or should I just do more reps with the weaker arm? Once again thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Justin Leonard: Regarding your first question, whether the muscle is hard or soft is not relevant. The muscle is not necessarily supposed to be hard to the touch. You asked if it could be caused by fat: It is possible that a layer of fat could be taking away from the level of hardness you desire. Again, this is not a big deal.

In your second question, you asked about muscular imbalances: The short answer to your question is no. If you attempt to equalize the smaller side by lifting more weight, other muscles (primary and secondary) will naturally begin to compensate for deficiencies in strength.

Let me give you an example: Suppose your left biceps was smaller than the right. To even things out, you decide to curl heavier weights on the left arm. The problem is that there are other muscles involved in a biceps curl that act to stabilize the body (e.g. abs and shoulders). Thus, by training heavier on the left side, you in essence force the right oblique muscles to work harder to keep the upper body straight. Similarly, the left shoulder also has to work more to keep the arm stabilized during the curl. Based on this example, it is possible that over time the right oblique and left shoulder will grow stronger and larger in size than their opposing sides. Muscular imbalances are hard to correct. We do more work on different sides of the body based on right and left handedness. Imbalances are perfectly normal. Do not alter your workouts. Just continue to train both sides of the body equally.

May 14, 2006
Sore Muscles

Question: Hi, I've been working out lately, but I'm relatively new to it. I realize that when I work out, what I'm doing is tearing down muscle tissue and that my body builds it back up bigger and stronger. My question is: after I get a good work out either at the gym or at home, the muscles I worked ache for several days, and I can't work out again until the muscles stop hurting. Am I working the muscles too much? Is the pain normal? I do stretch before I work out. Am I not stretching enough? I'm concerned because, like I said, I can't work out for several days after a visit to the gym. Hope you can help me out, thanks.

Justin Leonard: The pain is normal. The technical term for this phenomenon is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). During this time, the muscle fibers are trying to repair themselves. The cells also undergo a brief period of hypertrophy or enlargement, which may be accompanied by soreness and aching. It is common for those who are new to working out, as well as experienced athletes. As the muscles begin to adapt to workout stress, bouts of DOMS are considerably shorter. My advice is to be flexible with your workout schedule. Listen to your body. It is more important to ensure that the muscles are fully recovered before training is resumed.

April 12, 2006
Stomach Spot Reduction

Question: Hello, I want to lose my stomach without losing my hips or butt. Will doing those exercises tend to my wants? Thank You.

Justin Leonard: Unfortunately, no. This is a classic example of "spot reduction," which was once thought to be possible at one time. However, we now have evidence that proves that fat cannot be lost in target areas. On the other hand, some people may discover that they tend to lose bodyfat more rapidly in the abdomen without losing much in the hip and butt area. If this happens, it is strictly due to genetic endowment.

April 11, 2006
Fiber And Abdominals

Question: Does eating a lot of fiber help with abs?

Justin Leonard: Fiber does nothing to directly help with the abs. However, it could have an indirect effect on the abs. For example, the Hollywood 48 Hour Miracle Diet drink primarily consists of fiber and herbs, which result in frequent visits to the restroom. If you can't keep anything down, then the body has no choice but to begin burning bodyfat and muscle in order to survive. This may sound like an effective way to get abs, but it's actually very dangerous because a lot of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients are lost in the process. It can cause a myriad of problems ranging from anemia, muscle fatigue, decreased immune function, and other complications. To be safe, always follow the food pyramid to ensure you are getting the proper amount of fiber in your diet.

"Five" Pack Abs

Question: Hey, I've read many of your questions and answers and I am impressed. I bought a Bowflex last year. It's one of the higher ranked Bowflex models. I've been having a problem with my abs though. I'm left handed so I noticed that a lot of the muscles on the left side of my body are formed better, but my abs on the left side are off. I have a five pack: 3 on the right side and 2 on the left side. How can I get a six pack? What am I doing wrong? With the Bowflex, I do the seated abdominal crunch, and while my abs are becoming visible I only have five. The lower left is missing one. Thank you for your patience. I love your website.

Justin Leonard: Thank you for supporting Leonard Fitness. It's quite possible that you have an odd set of abs. If it is the case, then it is perfectly normal. Some people have an even six pack, while some may have an eight pack. Your "five pack" is more than likely the result of genetics, and not improper training. I will say, however, that it is also perfectly normal to have lopsided development on either side of the body. For example, you may notice that your dominant arm (leg, shoulder, etc.) is slightly larger or more developed than the opposing arm. That's because you use one side more. The cool thing is that you are actually getting lean enough to be able to see the abdominal musculature.

Foggy Head Syndrome

Question: I have not been to a doctor (cost and insurance) but I am female, 5'8" and 170lbs right now... my problem is not knowing what to eat, when, or what exercises to do to tone all over. I notice when I eat breads it is the worst and I tend to bloat. When I try to cut calories back and do crunches and lower body and upper body exercises I tend to get foggy headed (loss of carbs?). So what do I do? I can lose 10lbs in two weeks and feel great, but have the foggy head... and then I back off and I'm right here again. Please help if you can. Thank you for your time.

Justin Leonard: Thanks for writing in. I checked with a few colleagues from Arizona State University to help with my response. Collectively, this is what we came up with: There are several factors that can contribute to the foggy head feeling you are experiencing. It can be as basic as a sudden or extreme change in nutrition habits, to a more serious condition that may need medical attention. It's hard to make a recommendation on this one because we would need more info as to the specific cause of the foggy head.

Abs Without Abdominal Exercise

Question: Yes, I would like to know if u can get abs with just working out.

Justin Leonard: Definitely. Exercise promotes fat loss. So yes, it is possible to get abs by simply working out. You do not have to train the abs directly to produce visible results. Virtually every type of human movement involves the abdominals in some way. The abs are important for stabilization. Even a simple task such as sitting in a chair requires contraction of the abdominals and obliques. It is also important to point out that some people never workout (fast metabolism), yet they can still maintain an admirable set of abs.

Football Abs

Question: Dear Mr. Leonard, Hello, I have a question about my abdominals. I play high school football and I have been trying to get the best workout for my abs for next year's season. I have bought "8 Minute Abs" workout video. Is this a very good workout for football? Also should I be building abdominal strength with high weight and low repetitions, or should I be building endurance with low weight and high repetitions? Thank you.

Justin Leonard: I have not seen the 8 Minute Abs video, but it's probably okay. There's really no such thing as an ab workout for football. The only thing that's important is that they are trained (obliques too). Technically, you don't need any additional weight for ab exercises. Abdominals consist of predominantly fast twitch muscle fibers (Type I). This means that they are made for endurance training. Your own bodyweight is plenty, although you could add weight if you wish. It will build a bit of strength/power in the abdominal region. Some experts discourage weighted abdominal training. I personally am not against it, especially for those with better than average fitness levels.

Ideal Bodyfat Percentage

Question: What would be a healthy body fat %?

Justin Leonard: This question is not as strightforward as it seems. Let me explain... Technically, there is no such thing as a true "healthy" bodyfat percentage.

It's impossible to gauge. A person can be more than 30% bodyfat and be completely disease free. They could have normal or possibly even better than average blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, etc.

However, it is a fact that we usually see less disease when bodyfat range is about 18 - 29% for women and about 6 - 22% for men.

Conversely, a person who appears to be healthy, and has an ideal bodyfat percentage may actually suffer from high blood pressure, atherosclerosis (plaque on artery walls), or even diabetes. So you can see why there isn't really a straight answer for this question. It really varies depending on the person.

Need Help With Abs

Question: I have an excess of at least 6 to 7 inches around my waist area. I have a job where I sit all day. I have read where you say cutting fat and sodium in the diet will help. Also, I know the crunches will help. Any other suggestions?

Justin Leonard: Whenever the goal is to lose excess bodyfat, nutrition modification should be the first priority. Exercise should be the second priority. Crunches alone won't really help much with defining the abs.

Although a combination of crunches, total body strength training [in particular], and cardiovascular exercise will assist in burning overall calories, thus leading to a fat reduction.

So to lose the excess of 6 to 7 inches, focus mainly on nutrition changes. But also consider strength and cardiovascular training to enhance the process.

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