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Michael Stefano, FDNY captain and author of The Firefighter's Workout Book, has been training with men and women from all walks of life for almost 20 years. In addition to his book, Stefano offers a Personalized Fitness Plan.

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The Truth About Abs Are You an "AB"-oholic?
The Truth About Abs, Plus Bonus Ab Workout
by Michael Stefano

Are you obsessed with having a flat stomach, spending hours doing endless sets and reps but still see no results? You're not alone. Most people let their obsession ruin their chances of ever developing lean and visible abdominal muscles.

The abs are actually more than just one muscle. The abdominal muscle group is made up of the oblique muscles (internal and external), the abdominus rectus and the hidden transverse abdominus.

The obliques are thin muscles that form a continual wrap around the torso, enclosing your bony structures and internal organs in a protective support. Unfortunately, even the most developed obliques can be hidden under layers of fatty love handles.

The rectus abdominus is what forms the classic and sought after six-pack. It attaches the sternum and ribs to the pelvis. Buried beneath the rectus is the transverse abdominus, which remains virtually unseen, but can act as a girdle to flatten your midsection. Here again, fat can mask the most developed muscles.

How can you tone and strengthen your abdominal muscles, while at the same time burn off the fat that covers them? Before we answer, let�s dispel two of the most common fitness myths.

Myth One: Spot Reduction
The best way to reveal those fab abs is with properly executed aerobic exercise combined with some strength training. Three to five times a week you need to train in the target heart rate zone for 20 to 30 minutes.

Back this up with two or three short, but intense strength workouts to tone and tighten the entire body, not just the abdominal muscles. The added muscle gained from strength training will speed up your metabolism, and increase your fat burning potential.


  • CARDIO TRAINING: 3 to 5 times a week, exercise in your target heart rate zone with some form of sustained aerobic activity (IE: walking, jogging, swimming) for 20 to 30 minutes or more
  • STRENGTH TRAINING: 2 to 4 times a week, perform anywhere from 8 to 12 sets of properly performed progressive resistance movements (IE: weight training, nautilus, pushups) that workout the entire body
  • FLEXIBILITY TRAINING: Perform at least 5 to 15 minutes of stretching exercises (IE: simple stretches, Yoga) at the end of every workout

    *For a three-in-one combination workout, click here

Myth Two: The Flat Stomach
On most people the abdominal muscles are designed to be somewhat rounded, not flat. Your body type, sex, and any age related hormonal changes also affect the size and shape of your midsection. Focusing on a super flat stomach can also cause frustration, anxiety, and lead to eating disorders and excessive exercise syndrome.

Save yourself time, energy and possible injury; lose the obsession with things you can do nothing about. Focus on things you can change. Eat right and exercise, but don't obsess about either. Here�s something else you can try.

Examine your posture or how you hold your body. Poor posture can give you that pot-belly appearance, while good posture can promote a taller, leaner and more youthful look. Take a peak at the list below as a guide to good posture.

  • Head balanced on your neck, not leaning
  • Shoulders relaxed and down, rolled back
  • Abdominals contracted, tailbone pointed to the floor
  • Knees are kept soft, not locked
  • Ears, shoulders, ribs, hips, knees, ankles all vertically aligned


Crunch / Bike Kick Combo
While abdominal exercises won't reduce your waistline; you can still tone and tighten your midsection, and add to the appearance of flat belly. My personal experience with these two simple, yet highly effective movements, has made this my ab workout of choice.

The Crunch / Bike Kick Combination will tighten and tone ALL of your abdominal muscles, leading to a flatter, stronger midsection, as well as a pain free lower back. When combined with other strength and aerobic exercise, this routine will produce dramatic results. (Get the full routine, click here)

crunch Exercise # 1  CRUNCH
Lie on your back on a mat or padded carpet with your knees partially bent, feet flat on the floor, arms folded across your chest (least intense). Be sure the feet are not too near your buttocks. Exhale as you press the lower back into the floor and begin to raise your head, shoulders and chest off the floor in one unit, concentrating on bringing the ribs towards the hips. Pause briefly as you feel your abdominal muscles contract. The movement need only be a few inches. Inhale and slowly curl back down, trying not to let your head and shoulders touch the floor, maintaining tension in the abdominal muscles for the entire set. Repeat to muscle fatigue.

Trainer's Notes:
Be sure to keep the knees only partially bent with the heels at least one foot from your butt. This engages the oblique muscles as well as the rectus abdominus. To increase intensity, lengthen the pause when the abs are flexed to 2 seconds, or place your hands behind your head (as in the bicycle kick). Extend the arms overhead to maximize intensity levels.

Goal: 2 sets of 20 to 30 repetitions

bike kick Exercise #2  BIKE KICK
Lie on your back on a mat or padded carpet with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Press the low back into the floor, engaging the abdominal muscles, as you put both hands behind your head (don't pull on the head). Bring the right elbow over to the left knee, and then bring the left elbow over to the right knee in a twisting, bicycle-pedal motion. Continue to breathe naturally. Alternate opposite elbow to opposite knee with hands interlaced behind the head in a slow and controlled manner to muscle fatigue, with full extension of the legs on every repetition.

Trainer's Notes:
Be sure to breathe naturally and not hold your breath at any time during this exercise. Full extension of the legs will increase intensity (as shown), as will performing the motion very slowly. Keep the knees bent throughout the movement, while you tap the toes to the floor (instead of extending the leg straight out), to decrease intensity.

Goal: 2 sets of 20 to 30 repetitions

For more fat-burning and body-sculpting workouts, click here

The Firefighter's Workout
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