Getting your abs to show is probably the holy grail for a lot of trainers out there. One of the most common complaints though during the quest for abs is that the lower abdominal muscles are always the hardest to bring out. This is due to the stubborn layers of subcutaneous (under the skin) fat that accumulates in the abdomen region, especially the lower abdomen and sides or the love handles. So what’s the solution to getting rid of this stubborn lower ab fat?
Spot Reduction - Is it Possible?
Spot reduction is the idea that you can work or exercise a certain muscle group and that will help to reduce fat in that particular region. Case in point is doing as many sit-ups or abdominal exercises as you can to try and remove fat from your abdominal region. After all, if working a specific muscle can build the size of that muscle, why can’t this work for fat reduction? Unfortunately, fat tissue is very much different to muscle tissue in that it is pretty inert during exercise. Skeletal muscle needs to contract in order to move limbs, joints and the body, whereas fat doesn’t really come into the equation. So, when you’re doing those sit-ups or crunches, you’re really working the abdominal muscles and building their endurance rather than removing the layer of fat that’s shielding them from being seen. While there has been a study1 to show that fat breakdown is higher in the active, working muscle, it definitely isn’t high enough to warrant using it as a method of fat loss. So, for all intensive purposes2, spot reduction, while technically possible, isn’t advised.
Reducing Ab Fat
So if spot reduction doesn’t work, what are some methods you can use to help remove stubborn abdominal fat and get your lower abs to show? Below are four of the top methods to do just that:
1. Diet & Ab Fat
Starting with one of the best methods, perhaps the simplest way to reduce body fat is to change your diet around. At the end of the day, if you are restricting your calories enough, you will lose weight and a good portion of that will be fat mass. Here are some dietary changes that can help support weight and fat loss:
- Increase your protein intake
- Increase intake of foods that can impact metabolism, such as caffeine and spicy foods
- Avoid processed foods and increase intake of vegetables.
2. Exercise & Ab Fat
One of the best ways to maintain a leaner body composition is to have more muscle mass. This is why resistance training is absolutely crucial if you want to eventually show off a six pack. By building more muscle, your resting energy expenditure can increase, which can support fat loss over time. In addition, don’t forget the importance of cardio as part of the equation. These days, high intensity cardio is often touted as the best form of aerobic exercise, especially for fat loss due to its ability to increase EPOC or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. In layman terms, high intensity exercise is thought to result in more calories burned overall. However, there have been instances3 where steady state continuous cardio may be more beneficial for fat loss in people who were previously inactive. In terms of exercise, here are some things to focus on to help you lose fat faster:
- Do regular bouts of resistance training
- Switch between high intensity interval training and steady state continuous aerobic exercise
3. Blood Flow & Ab Fat
If you haven’t noticed, body fat doesn’t have the strongest blood supply, which is often why it’s quite cold to the touch. In terms of blood supply to fat, the superficial and deep layers along with visceral fat (fat surrounding the organs) seem to have the best blood flow4. This is the reason why with exercise, these layers of fat seem to go first. So while spot reduction doesn’t work, exercising the area of concern as well as surrounding areas can increase the blood flow and support fat reduction. While it may not be the best method, it’s definitely something that can make losing stubborn fat just that little bit easier.
4. Stress & Ab Fat
Calm down. That is probably some of the best advice you can give someone to help them get their lower abs to show. This is because stress seems to be a major factor that can increase fat accumulation. One study5 for example examined healthy weight, fit sailors who were placed under the stressful condition of having to sail around the world. While the sailors did lose weight during the course of the trip, after they were back on land and able to regain their weight, researchers found that most of the fat gained tended to concentrate in the abdominal region. In addition, the primary stress hormone of cortisol can often make weight loss a much more difficult process.
How to Get Rid of Stubborn Belly Fat
The lower abs is one of the most frustrating areas to get rid of fat. Ironically enough, it’s also the one of the areas where you’re most likely to hold seriously stubborn fat stores. However, with patience and the right strategies, you can definitely get your lower abs to pop out and get that defined 6 pack you’ve been striving for. Besides focusing on your diet, exercise and stress levels, you can also utilise a wide range of supplements to help support your goal. Some of the best include fat burners, fat loss proteins and fat metabolisers, which all aim to help you reach your ideal body fat percentage.1. Stallknecht B, Dela F, Helge JW. ‘Are blood flow and lipolysis in subcutaneous adipose tissue influenced by contractions in adjacent muscles in humans?’ Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2007 Feb;292(2):E394-9.
2. Vispute SS, Smith JD, LeCheminant JD, Hurley KS. ‘The effect of abdominal exercise on abdominal fat.’ J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Sep;25(9):2559-64.
3. Keating SE, Machan EA, O'Connor HT, Gerofi JA, Sainsbury A, Caterson ID, Johnson NA. ‘Continuous exercise but not high intensity interval training improves fat distribution in overweight adults.’ J Obes. 2014;2014:834865.
4. El-Mrakby HH, Milner RH. ‘Bimodal distribution of the blood supply to lower abdominal fat: histological study of the microcirculation of the lower abdominal wall.’ Ann Plast Surg. 2003 Feb;50(2):165-70.
5. Branth S, Ronquist G, Stridsberg M, Hambraeus L, Kindgren E, Olsson R, Carlander D, Arnetz B. ‘Development of abdominal fat and incipient metabolic syndrome in young healthy men exposed to long-term stress.’ Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2007 Jul;17(6):427-35.