Let's start with a practical example and theoretical consideration crucial for understanding the problem. I have a six-pack on my abdomen. I haven't used any special diet, I train abs very rarely... what's my secret? I eat similar things like when I was building mass, I mean, my diet is based on animal-origin proteins (beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish), carbohydrates (brown rice, noodles, buckwheat), healthy fats (nuts, olive oil etc.). I only added more aerobic and interval training (intensive run, strength training, swimming) during “polishing my shape”.
During reduction, I run few times a week, 20-40 minutes each time, up to 8 km each session. There are workouts when my pace ranges between 23-25km/h (intervals VO2 max – longer distances), 16-19 km/h (rhythms) and over 30 km/h (intervals VO2 max, short distances). The average pace of the whole training (including active rest, i.e. slower run) is at least 11.5-12 km/h. During many sessions I run with the average pace of 14.5 km/h (threshold). I mostly base on high intensity training (crossfit, anaerobic workouts, intervals, rhythms, run-ups). I never use electronic treadmills, steppers, bikes, crosstrainers and other “cardio equipment” in clubs. Why? During 30 minutes of strength or interval training I am able to hit my metabolism and hormones harder than during 2 hours of using treadmill. If I run, I do it outdoors, especially in hard conditions (different heights, run-ups, steps). I never use training machines (leg curl, pull down), I base on free weights (squats, deadlift, rowing, pull-ups, bench press, lift, power clean). Why? During one exercise – barbell squat – I will use more energy than many people can use during the whole workout on machines. I use large load (e.g. twice my weight in front squat and deadlift).
As you can see, I do everything against the advice from magazines or the Internet!
According to the bodybuilding magazines and the articles on the Internet, I should:
mainly do low-intensity sessions (slow run for 45-90 minutes, few times a week). Whereas, I don't run longer than 45 minutes!
not do intervals or high-intensity workouts (and majority of my workouts is in intervals). According to the “experts”, only aerobic training in low range of heart rate (65-75% of HR max) burns fat – this belief has been out of date for quite some time now (scientific research on interval training). Paradoxically, it occurred, that high-intensity workouts burn fat much faster.
use only treadmills, steppers, bikes, and other fitness equipment (I always run outdoors, I never use any electronic treadmills or similar machines),
use small load in strength training, a lot of repetitions and short rest breaks (I use large and very large load, 85-95% of max load, moderate breaks and small amount of repetitions of each exercise),
consume tons of nutritions and supplements – to protect muscles from supposed catabolism (I only use protein WPC, creatine and BCAA; from time to time some fat burner).
Ignoring all the rules from the articles let me achieve my six-pack during 3 months of exercising. But, unfortunately, you will not achieve similar effects, if you are manipulated by the articles. My secret is that I have always had low level of body fat and I would have to supply enormous amount of calorific overage to flood my body with fat. I will not fool you, just like the authors in bodybuilding magazines, that if you copy my workouts, you will gain the same results. Adjust your training and diet to your individual case. Take under consideration the fact, that I am half-professional, I sometimes train twice a day, or 7 days in a row, and weighing almost 100kg, I have low level of body fat. Additionally, a dozen of years of regular training is important, therefore, my body is adjusted to burning fat (the more muscles, the easier it is to get rid of body fat). It's like you were trying to copy the methods of tuning ferrari, or any other “monster” with 600-horse power and... transfer it to skoda or fiat. Or, if you used workouts of a present marathon champion and tried to train like him/her. It won't work! When you read tips concerning six-pack, you should always take under consideration the fact, that the body of a 30-year old man with 7% of BF acts totally different than a body of 40-year old man with 25% of BF. The more BF, the worse tolerance of carbohydrates. Overweight and obesity is connected with insulin resistance, which is lower receptivity of muscles and other tissues to insulin, faster gathering of fatty tissue after consuming carbohydrates and very slow usage of gathered fat by the body.
For women, the effects will be even slower (small amount of testosterone, much more body fat, less muscles), just like for inactive people. Finally, bad diet can ruin all the reduction procedures, e.g. snacking chocolate bars or sweets. Common sense is the most important. Tips from the bodybuilding magazines usually focus on crunches and doing other exercises for abs (with a Swiss ball, hanging on a bar, etc.) - which will not bring any effects. You can do all the exercises for abs for hours. But the most probable result is injured spine. Why? Each excess abs workout has to have the workout for the back – each lack of balance may lead to health problems (e.g. posture disorders).
It happens very often that the authors of the guides – professional bodybuilders, use illegal pharmaceutical support for most time of the year. You can find out from research, that increased level of testosterone for a longer time for men leads to lower abdominal obesity and better insulin sensitivity (supplying testosterone through injections, pills, gels). The effects the competitors achieve, however, are impossible to be obtained by a person without any supplements doing the same training. You are surprised by the enormous amount of sets and ultra-hard exercises that strongmen, bodybuilders, power lifters or weight lifters perform day after day? Is it only a coincidence, that since 1980s (the end of golden era in sports) nobody has improved the world record in clean and jerk? That the disqualified Canadian sprinter, Ben Johnson, was the scapegoat of the battue on doping? (after many years it occurred, that his competitor, Carl Lewis, who gained the medal taken away from Johnson... also used pharmaceutical products). What's interesting – in many disciplines, the results achieved nowadays wouldn't even ensure sixth or eighth place during the “pharmaceutical boom”!
In guidebooks concerning abdominals the authors often ignore the influence of diet and aerobic/interval exercises on revealing the six-pack. Unfortunately, introducing only abs workout without any changes in diet or aerobic training usually bring no effects. Crunches and other exercises “for abs” are only efficient for people who have already lost body fat! With large waistline – doing sit-ups, crunches and knee lifts will give no results. Whereas, running, running with marching few times a week, as well as removing “junk food” from diet – turns out to be extremely efficient. You don't believe it? Open any possible magazine with catchy titles, like: “Your six-pack is here!” For future reference, do not read any of those – it's a waste of time. Start balanced training which doesn't only focus on abs, implement changes in your diet – and you will definitely succeed.