Getting ripped isn't that complicated. But leave it to society to cash in on making it seem so complex and unrealistic that you consider giving up on the dream entirely. First, there are the diet books that cut your meals down to just lettuce and water, and then there are the fitness magazines (note: not this one) that promise results with the same three ab exercises (two of which are usually just variations on the same ol' crunch)—if done every day for the rest of your life. Of course, there are also the TV infomercials hosted by so-called fitness gurus with bad hair and spandex claiming success with machines that, at best, give you a surface to crunch or run on, and at worst, electrocute your midsection to "melt the fat off."
We're here to say, "Stop the madness!" What each of these fads touches on but never seems to fully address is that uncovering abs is all about burning calories while preserving muscle. There are no three exercises—let alone one—that will do it alone, nor is there a diet that's balanced enough to let your abs appear without training them. And as for high-tech gadgetry, well, that's all designed to allow you to work less — whereas burning calories requires you to work more. Read on, and you'll see just how simple cutting up really is with the MF Ab Recovery Plan.
A BIGGER BURN
The major mistake most ab-seekers make is doing only ab exercises. You see, while crunches hit the abs, they don't work a whole lot of muscle overall (and therefore don't burn many calories), and that makes them only a small part of the equation you need to equal a six-pack. Unlike your arms or chest, which need to be buffed up a bit to stand out, your abdominal musculature is already distinguished (just think of how many movements you do daily that have you bending and twisting and you'll get an idea of how muscular your abs already are). You just need to shed the fat that covers them.
The workouts that follow do just that, relying on very few direct ab exercises to do it (and no crunches—gasp!). Every move you'll do is a tried and proven calorie burner that at the same time calls in a lot of support from your core to stabilize the movements done by the bigger muscles, such as those in the legs and back. So, in that sense, you could argue that every exercise is an ab exercise. And since the program is designed to keep rest periods between exercises very short, it'll cause your heart to race, and that increases caloric expenditure as well.
However, as a result of the fast pace, you may find it hard to use the same load for every required set on a particular exercise. Since we want you to hit all your reps and complete each set no matter what, plan to reduce the weight you're using by 5%–10% on each set. It's more important to keep up the momentum than to lift heavy.
RUN YOUR GUT OFF
If you're still not sold on why we like intervals better than steady-state cardio, we're going to break it down for you. Say your current routine has you warming up on the treadmill for five minutes at a pace of 6 mph and then running at 7 mph for 30 minutes. Finally, you jog lightly at 3.5 mph for five minutes to cool down. In 40 minutes, your total mileage is 4.3 miles, which you're probably able to run without losing your ability to carry on a conversation.
Now check out the "Cardio" table on the opposite page to see how to reorganize this run into intervals.
While it may look like the intervals were chosen at random, they're actually based on the work-to-rest ratios that work best for fat loss. You'll be working at speeds that are derived from different percentages of the maximum pace you're used to (in this case, 7 mph). Because 7 mph is a speed you can maintain for 30 minutes, it's a relatively mild pace, and you'll be asked to go above it at times (for instance, 110% is 7.7 mph). You'll be working too hard at times to talk during this workout—but when you see the results, you won't care.
By letting your intensity ebb and flow, you'll be able to accomplish more work in the same time, without burning out too early in the workout or taking it too easy on yourself. In this example, you'll complete 4.7 miles in 40 minutes, as compared with 4.3 (your usual steady-state workout). While that may not seem like much of an improvement, when performed three times a week in between weight-training days, it's more than one extra mile a week—and that's a ton more calories burned.
To determine what speeds you need to perform your intervals at, simply take the percentages of your normal max speed (be it 8 mph, 6 mph, or whatever) that are listed in the table. If you'd rather use an exercise bike or elliptical machine, select a resistance/grade that allows for a 40-minute workout, and apply the intervals from the table to your particular revolutions or strides per minute.