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 A Muscular Midsection  
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Keeping Fit by . View all columns in series
Dr. Westcott Recently there has been a lot of attention on the abdominal muscles, with the assumption that everyone can develop a ripped and ridged midsection. Unfortunately, this is not the case, anymore than the misconception that anyone can build broad shoulders and bulging biceps. Genetics has a lot to do with our physical structure and muscular potential. Consequently, most of us are unlikely to produce washboard abdominals, regardless of how many sit-ups we perform.

Consider the three basic physiques, called somatotypes, that largely determine how we look. People who are born with a relatively small number of muscle cells tend to have a linear appearance (ectomorphic physique), and encounter more difficulty in developing large muscles. People who inherit a relatively large number of fat cells generally have a round appearance (endomorphic physique), and experience more difficulty in developing defined muscles.

Individuals who are gifted with a relatively large number of muscle cells and a relatively small number of fat cells typically have a triangular appearance (mesomorphic physique), and are more likely to develop large and defined muscles. These are the same people who characteristically have wide shoulders, and narrow hips, as well as large torsos and small midsections. With appropriate training, mesomorphic men and women have the best chance to achieve chiseled abdominal muscles.

The same training program will enable all of us to improve our midsection strength and appearance, even if we don't develop the so-called six-pack set of abdominal muscles prominently displayed by bodybuilders. For most of us, a reasonably lean and tight midsection is an attainable goal that can be realized through proper nutrition and exercise.

The role of appropriate nutrition should not be underestimated with respect to reducing fat and slimming your waist area. In fact, a small decrease in your daily calorie consumption results in the use of stored fat to meet your daily energy requirements. For example, if you eat just 350 fewer calories on a daily basis, you will lose about a pound of fat every 10 days. Generally speaking, shifting from a typical American diet to a lower fat menu that emphasizes grains, vegetables, and fruit will cut at least that many calories from your daily food intake.

Endurance exercise such as running, cycling, or stepping, is an excellent means for burning extra calories, as well as for improving cardiovascular fitness. Depending upon your training intensity, 30 minutes of these aerobic activities can burn between 250 and 450 calories. Assuming an average of 350 calories per half hour training session, every five hours of endurance exercise should result in a one-pound fat loss.

Strength training also uses a lot of energy during the exercise session, burning about 250 calories in a 30-minute circuit workout. A typical circuit workout involves 10 to 15 different strength exercises performed with brief rests between stations. However, unlike endurance exercise, strength training builds muscle that requires additional calories all day long for tissue maintenance. Every pound of new muscle resulting from the strength training program increases your resting metabolic rate by 35 to 50 calories per day.

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 About The Author
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is strength training consultant for numerous national organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, the......moreWayne Westcott PhD
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