You eat a giant bagel and wash it down with an extra large coffee mixed with plenty of cream and sugar. Then you spend the next 6-plus hours stuck at your computer to make a pressing deadline. Your regular workout? There is no time. And when the day finally ends, you unwind by staying up to watch The Tonight Show or Conan and only drop off when full fatigue sets in.
This scenario may sound harmless, but it is the perfect formula for increasing abdominal fat. Here is how.
Insulin hormone spikes due to the rapid sugar release from the bagel. This flow of energy will be barely used right away, so it gets deposited as belly fat. Since you are under stress from your deadline, cortisol goes up. Visceral fat loves cortisol, which stimulates enzymes like lipoprotein lipase and promotes fat storage. Everything gets worse when you cut back on your sleep, which throws off some metabolic hormones and make you crave even more sugar and fat. In the end, you are trapped in a fat belly cycle that never ends.
Cortisol and insulin are critical for many body functions, but when they get out of control, they will not only inflate your pants size, but take a serious toll on your overall health, including your fertility. Poor insulin performance increases the risk of insulin resistance, a condition in which your body keeps up insulin production, but cannot efficiently use it. Insulin resistance is a leading cause of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a known cause of infertility problems.
The skin you can pinch between your fingers is your subcutaneous fat. This fat may not be 100 percent directly related to some health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes type 2, metabolic syndrome, and even infertility. However, the more this fat increases, the more visceral fat (the fat deep within the belly) can be stored, and the greater your risk for health issues.
The good news is that while the belly is the body’s preferred fat storage, it is also the first spot to shrink when you exercise. To lose pesky abdominal fat, you need to mix both resistance and cardio training. However, you cannot maximize the results without the right exercise selection, order, and intensity.
Your cardio intensity makes a significant difference in your mid-section. Belly fat is highly stimulated by sympathetic activity. Aerobic exercise increases the sympathetic response through the release of epinephrine, dopamine, and other catecholamine that ignite your metabolism to use your mid-section fat as a preferred source of energy. Thus, the higher the intensity, the more fat you burn.
In fact, High intensity exercise training (HIET) was more effective at reducing total abdominal fat, subcutaneous fat, and abdominal visceral fat than low intensity training, concluded a study published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
The most common exercise protocol for HIET is to alternate between short periods of high intensity exercise (no more than 60 seconds on a scale of 8-9 with 1 being very easy and 10 very hard), followed by a recovery period. This varies according to your fitness level, but is often double or triple the time of the high intensity interval. The perceived exertion should be in the 4-5 range using the same scale.
Following the same exercise protocol used in the study, the following routine calls for what is known as a Peripheral Heart Action Super-Set, which means alternating between one upper and lower body part. It also selects exercises that work big muscles. Your heart has to work harder to pump blood from one extreme to the other, which increases the intensity right away along with a brief cardio burst in between.
Exercise Routine Guidelines
Perform this routine in super-set (two exercises: one for the upper body and one for the lower body) for 60 seconds each. Select a weight in which you struggle to make it to the end. This is followed by 2 minutes of cardio—like jogging in place, bike, squat jumps, elliptical. Alternate between 30 seconds high intensity and 30 seconds recovery during the 2-minute span. Total hard workout: 16 minutes.
– Recovery time at the end of each strength-cardio super set is no longer than 90 seconds.
– Perform this routine two to three times a week on alternating days.
– Warm-up for 2 minutes with some dynamic stretching and then cool-down for 2 minutes with static and foam roll stretching.
Peripheral Heart Action Super-Set
Super-set one: Barbell Chest Press (top) followed by Barbell Squat.
Super-set four: Barbell Back Row (below) followed by Leg Press (not shown). For the Back Row, bend at a 45-degree angle, and keep your chest up, core tight, and your arms close to your body. Do not shrink your shoulders. You should feel the effort in the middle of the back. For the Leg Press, use the standard seated leg press machine in either a wide or close stance. A wide stance shifts the focus to the inner thighs while the close one works the outer thighs.
Image credits Andrew Meade Photography
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