July 1994, pages 66 ff.
NATURAL WEIGHT CONTROL
Give Yourself a Natural Tummy Tuck
by Mark Golin with Michele Toth
A few simple changes can take more than a few pounds off your middle.
What you've got going with your tummy is a classic love-hate relationship. You love it because it's a part of your body. At the same time, you hate the fact that there's so much of it to love.
You've exercised. You've dieted. And still there's that belly saying, "I love you. I will never desert you." And the mere mention of dessert is enough to drive you out of your mind.
Maybe you should consider a tummy tuck. No, we're not suggesting surgery just so you can once again see your toes without sitting down. But we are suggesting that you give yourself a "natural" tummy tuck. It's a simple "operation" you can perform yourself. It's an operation that has nothing to do with scalpels and everything to do with making a few simple but highly effective changes in the way you think, eat and exercise. We say: Reshape your life a little and you can reshape your belly a lot. Here's how:
Build a 'Muscle Girdle'
In the graceful days of yore, women achieved wasp-waisted perfection by submitting to corsets strung so tightly that breathing was the stuff dreams were made of. What they didn't know was that some well-developed abdominal muscles would have achieved that same thing...and still have allowed them the habit-forming pleasure of breathing on a regular basis.
"So many women are under the misconception that if you exercise your abdominal muscles too much, they'll get bulky and add a rather masculine girth to the waist," says Ken Cooper, M.D., founder and director of the Cooper Aerobics Center. "This just isn't the case."
As a matter of fact, just the opposite occurs. "Toning the abdominal muscles reduces your abdominal girth by virtue of the fact that the muscles are a little bit tighter and can hold in the stomach a little better," says Rudolph Leibel, M.D., associate professor at the laboratory of human behavior and metabolism at Rockefeller University. "It's like putting on a tighter belt."
But before you hit the floor in a mad frenzy of body-flopping crunches, heed this advice: If you want to do it right, do it slow. "People tend to perform exercise movements quickly and get them done any way their body will let them," says Jillian Hessel, a fitness trainer who uses the Pilates Method in her workout programs. "But that's often not the most efficient way of developing the muscles properly." The Pilates Method is firmly grounded in the concept of paying almost Zen-like attention to each muscle as you perform a series of gentle exercises very slowly and very correctly. One of the bonuses of this method is that your body can't cheat you by using muscles it shouldn't be using.
"While performing sit-ups or crunches, for example, I see a lot of people doing what I call the 'pigeon poke,'" says Hessel. "That's when they tighten their neck and throat muscles and poke their head forward to initiate the move rather than drawing from the abdominals. Others rely on their hip flexors. But cheating a bunch of fast reps this way isn't going to do your abdominals much good."
To really tighten and tone the upper abdominals, try some slow, well-executed abdominal crunches. With your knees bent and arms either crossed over the chest or at your sides (instead of behind the head), start by practicing exhaling and pulling your abs in. Then try to curl off the floor using only your abdominals — exhale on the way up and inhale on the way down. Do not pigeon poke your head forward. Curl up as slowly and smoothly as possible. The less you rely on momentum to carry you forward, the more you rely on your abs.
To make the exercise more effective, be careful not to let your stomach "pooch out" on the upward motion, says Hessel. It helps to keep a hand placed on the lower abdomen so that you can immediately feel when that bulging out is happening. If you find that it always happens at a certain point in the movement, you may want to curl up only to that point until you've developed enough abdominal control to go farther.