While browsing in one of my favorite home products stores for stuff I don't need, I came across this gem: Muffin Tops baking cups.
I couldn't help but chuckle and be inspired to feature these in a blog post.
By now, you may be well aware that muffins and similar carbs can cause belly fat. But considering that processed carbohydrates make up a significant portion of the American diet, and 66% of Americans older than 20 are overweight, clearly some of us are still missing (or ignoring!) the message.
If you've got a muffin top--that layer of fat around your midsection that hangs over the top of your waistband--and want to do something about it, I've got some suggestions.
First, drastically reduce your consumption of processed carbs. That includes whole grains (100% whole wheat breads, whole grain pasta, bran flakes or other wheat-based fiber cereals and whole wheat tortillas and wraps). Studies prove that overconsumption of whole grains, even those praised as being high in fiber, contribute to declining metabolic rates. And of course, white flour products are completely out.
I can speak testimonially that the longer you eliminate or reduce processed carbs from your diet, the less you'll crave (or even like) them. For example, I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A recently, and because I have eliminated most breads from my diet over the last few years, I didn't want any of the sandwich bun. Yes, it was whole wheat with some cute seeds on top, but breads just don't appeal to me much anymore. I prefer to get my carbs through vegetables and fruits.
The same goes for added sugar. Get rid of products with added sugars and sweeteners. They're everywhere, so read food labels.
What to eat more of instead? Protein.
"Protein is much more metabolically complex, boosting metabolism and burning up to 30% of the calories you eat just during the digestion process, not to mention the fat-burning hormonal benefits of eating less wheat and more protein," says Josh Bezoni, author, nutritionist and metabolism expert. "Simply put, by swapping out toxic wheat for fat-burning protein starting today, you’ll do wonders for your metabolism and your waistline to boot,"
Now that we've addressed nutrition to whittle your middle, let's talk muffin-top-targeting exercises.
I came across the following "Miracle Muffin Top Workout" by Marta Montenegro, a certified strength and conditioning coach who teaches exercise physiology at Florida International University. I love it because the exercises involve the entire body in an intense circuit, build balance, and don't include a single crunch or sit-up (both of which may injure the spine over time).
"It's important to note that the exercises you choose and the effort you put into them really matter," Montenegro says.
Just as I tell my clients, instead of boring steady-state treadmill or elliptical work or sit-ups, Montenegro also recommends high-intensity workouts that more effectively reduce belly fat (and fat elsewhere on the body, including "the visceral fat that pads internal organs and has been linked to metabolic disturbances and increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes").
THE MIRACLE MUFFIN TOP WORKOUT
By Corrie Pikul featuring Marta Montenegro: http://www.oprah.com/health/Get-Rid-Of-Muffin-Top-Best-Exercises-Muffin-Top/1
The Circuit - You will need 2 small towels and 2 dumbbells (3–5 pounds).
*Perform the exercises in the following order, one after another, without pausing in between.
*When you've completed all 6 exercises, rest for 90 seconds.
*Do the entire circuit 1–3 times.
Dumbbell Squat to Shoulder-Press Rotation
A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research shows that exercises that work both the legs and the upper body target the core more than traditional abdominal exercises (in fact, a study in the same journal shows that crunches don't do much for you—besides make you more efficient at doing crunches). This full-body calorie-burning move from Montenegro works not just the abs and obliques but also the glutes, hips and shoulders.
1. With dumbbells at your side, bend into a squat, pushing your hips backward as if you were sitting in a chair. Keep your back straight and your abs engaged.
2. As you raise your hips to come to standing, press the dumbbells over your head, rotating the torso toward the right, using the side of your abdominals. This should be one fluid movement.
3. Lower the dumbbells and bend into a squat again. Repeat the shoulder press to the left side.
4. Alternate sides for 12 total reps.
Compared with crunches and bent-knee sit-ups, non-traditional ab moves like these (and the Arm Roll-Outs) do a significantly better job of activating the upper and lower abdominals as well as the obliques, found a study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. Montenegro suggests doing this move on a smooth surface, like a wooden or tile floor (not a rug, where the towels won't slide).
1. Start in a high plank position with your palms on the ground underneath your shoulders, arms straight, core engaged, with a small towel under the toes of each foot. (If you have an exercise ball, you can use that instead of the towels.)
2. Use your abdominals to bring both knees in toward your chest. You should be in a crouch position with your knees between your elbows.
3. Hold for 1 count. Push from your abdominals to slide the towels under your feet back to starting plank position.
4. Do 12 reps.
Lunge to Overhead Press
This may not look like an ab move, but Montenegro says it will really feel like one—the abdominals will be working overtime to stabilize the body, especially as you press the weights overhead.
1. Hold the dumbbells at shoulder height.
2. Start in a lunge position, with your right knee bent 90 degrees in front of you (be careful not to let the knee bend over your toes) and the left knee slightly bent behind you. Imagine a string pulling up from the top of your head, keeping the neck and back long.
3. As you straighten both legs to come to standing, engage the abs and press the dumbbells up over your head.
4. Bend the knees to come back to the lunge and lower the weights to shoulder level.
5. Do 6 reps, then switch legs. (To make this move harder, Montenegro suggests walking forward while doing the lunges.)
Towel One-Arm Rollout
This works the very deep abdominal muscles, says Montenegro, and conditions you to keep your abs tucked in (which creates a flatter profile).
1. Start in a high plank position (arms straight, core engaged) with a small towel under each hand. Try not to hunch your shoulders up to your ears.
2. With your hands on the towels and keeping both arms straight, slide your right arm forward as far as you can without moving the hips or torso.
3. Bring the right arm back to starting position.
4. Repeat with the left arm.
5. Alternate arms for 12 total reps.
Unilateral Dumbbell Dead-Lift
One study compared isometric exercises where you contract a muscle with no movement—similar to the standard plank—to strength exercises, like the deadlift. "The deadlift was the clear winner because it activated the trunk 60 percent more than the other exercises," Montenegro says. Here's her ab-tacular version of the classic weight move.
1. Stand with your feet together. Hold one dumbbell in your right hand and let it hang at your side.
2. Keeping the core pulled tight, lean forward, lifting your right leg behind you (same side of the body that's holding the weight) and lower the dumbbell toward the ground.
3. Bring the dumbbell down as low as you can while concentrating on keeping your back straight, core engaged, chest up and neck aligned with the spine. Keep the arm holding the dumbbell close to your body to avoid unnecessary pressure on the back.
4. Hold for 1 count.
5. Tighten your core even more, lower the right leg, and return to standing tall.
6. Do 6 reps, then hold the dumbbell in your left hand and repeat with your left leg, for a total of 12 reps
Towel Mountain Climbers
"The most common mistake people make with mountain climbers is to roll up their whole body," Montenegro says, meaning they lift their hips and throw their weight forward on to their arms. "They'll tell me they really feel it in their shoulders, when the abs should be doing all the work." She says that putting towels under your feet, as in this move, will isolate the ab muscles and keep your back flat to help you maintain proper form.
1. Start in a high plank position with your palms on the ground underneath your shoulders, arms straight, core engaged, with a small towel under the toes of each foot.
2. Use your abdominals to bring your left knee in toward your right elbow. This should be a fluid, controlled movement. You should feel the twist in your lower abs, not as much in your back or hips. Keep your shoulders squared.
3. Return to starting position, with both feet behind you.
4. Repeat by bringing the right knee to the left elbow.
5. Alternate sides for 12 total reps.
Now, go blast that muffin top (and leave its edible namesake on your plate)!
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I am not a registered dietitian, nor a medical professional. My blog is a representation of my views and experiences, which are not intended as medical advice. While I am a certified personal trainer, descriptions of things I eat and exercises I perform may not be suitable for everyone. Please speak with a medical professional before making any changes to your current routine.