bite-sized challenge: belly blasting

July 1, 2010

So V.K. has mastered the green smoothie kick start, fruit-bowl sugar fix, daily body meditation with aplomb…what now?  Here’s the next successful outcome on her wish list:

My stomach is flat and muscular.

Ooh.  Wouldn’t we all like that?  Well, as someone who has always had a bit of a belly even when I was the skinniest kid in the class, I definitely know the desire for a smooth midriff.  When I used to take yoga classes in gym studios, 3/4 of my time was spent looking in the mirror marvelling at how other women managed to have such perfectly toned abs while mine were in need of atonement.

I also know that the only time I’ve ever felt incredibly proud of my abs (aside from when I was fasting in Thailand) was when I was training for the London marathon in 2005.  I remember bending over just for the hell of it so I could see (once again) that no squishy rolls would ensue.  And this despite that I was chowing down entire pizzas from Strada in one sitting!

So here’s what I learned for free (if you don’t count sweat): when it comes to targeting that mid-section, nothing beats the combination of running and yoga.  For the running part, slow distance runs are the key in order to burn fat.  That’s exactly what happened after those 2-3 hour long runs I was doing in the build-up to race day.  And the yoga?  Core strengthening as a nice bonus to the stretching/relaxation/meditation.

Here’s the other thing I’ve learned: fat around the middle is very often due to high cortisol levels from too much stress.  That’s where yoga also comes into play.  See where the running/yoga combo kicks butt (and ab flab)?

So what’s V.K.’s challenge for the next two weeks?  Well, I know she’s already a runner, so her task is to start increasing her weekly long run by 10 minutes each week while lowering her speed slightly.  We’ll focus on yoga in another challenge.

If you’re following along and have not already discovered the cheap yet incredibly effective and satisfying exercise that running is, you have to take it very, very slow and start off with a walk/run program.  That’s how I went from not being able to run more than three minutes straight in Central Park back in 1999 to sprinting (okay, crying) past Big Ben at mile 25 five years ago.

And you need a plan.  My favorite is The Complete Book of Running For Women.  Also check out Brendan Brazier’s new Thrive FitnessI’ve written about this professional Ironman triathlete before and how he gets his fuel entirely from plant-based food.

Oh, and here’s yet another thing I’ve learned: all the iconic women in Renaissance art – including Venus herself – display quite generous bellies as a sign of fertility and are very in your face about them.  Bellies back then were beautiful.

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