Do I just suck it up?
February 15, 2008 12:58 PM   Subscribe

Currently, I am 39 years old. Everybody seems to think I look fit & trim. I do exercise 4-5 times a week with cardio and weights and when I look in the mirror, I am generally pleased. So the question is why, when I let my self completely relax, I still have this gut?

Is there some inner muscle I need to be working (my core), or is it a product of age? Do most people walk around subconsiously holding in their stomachs?

Like I said, it is only when I let myself completely relax in a standing position. Potbelly city man! Please tell me this is normal. Thanks.
posted by repoman to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Well, what do you do currently do for your core? Does it feel like a potbelly? Can you, not to be crass, pinch an inch?
posted by canine epigram at 1:02 PM on February 15, 2008

Well hard to say with out picture, but I think it is probably normal. The gut tends to sag outward as the connective tissues that hold your organs stretch as you get older, as I understand. Strengthening your abs (aka situps) may help some. Be sure to work your back muscles to compensate for your new abs of steel.
posted by d4nj450n at 1:05 PM on February 15, 2008

Depends, is there significant fat there, or not? If there's not, that's just you.
posted by gramcracker at 1:06 PM on February 15, 2008

Response by poster: Actually, I do a lot of ab and side work. Most just traditional crunches, bicycle sit ups and some weight work for those areas. Maybe it is a core issue. Are there muscles behind your abdominals? Is that your core? Maybe I could benefit from using those balls that are entirely intimidating. And yeah, I can pinch some, but generally there is some muscle tone that you can see, at least on the surface.
posted by repoman at 1:09 PM on February 15, 2008

if you work your abs and have fat under your skin, you'll just push the gut further out. lose the fat. eat less (in most industrialised countries our calorie intake is WAY higher than what's needed) and better food. less sugar, no soda, no booze, no gassy drinks that bloat you. the gut will go away, being 39 means your metabolism slowed down but it's still doable, only harder. when I was 20 I ate and drank everything and still had the proverbial washboard. Now it takes a lot of work, and it disappears fast if I let myself go, but it's still very doable.
posted by matteo at 1:22 PM on February 15, 2008

there are definitely muscles down in there. when you do crunches, you want to be sucking your belly button in toward your spine. that activates those little inner muscles and trims your waistline. reverse crunches will also help.
posted by thinkingwoman at 1:22 PM on February 15, 2008

Try the exercise balls, but only because they're awesome. Great fun and lots of cool exercises.

That said, when I'm relaxed, sitting down, my abdomen pooches out a little bit, but I've got no real fat to lose. When you tense up your abs, does your stomach flatten up again? When I'm standing and relax my abs, my stomach pooches out a bit, but I have to consciously relax the abdomen. Part of regular core training is learning to keep your core muscles engage all the time, as it helps to protect your spine. Practice breathing, eating, typing, etc with good posture and a light, almost passive tension in your lower abdomen. You should be able to breathe normally and maintain that with no real effort, once you get used to it.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 1:24 PM on February 15, 2008

I used to ask the same question when I was 22 and 115 pounds. My mother's very sensible answer was "Honey, it's skin. You need it to bend."
posted by DarlingBri at 1:24 PM on February 15, 2008 [4 favorites]

Dr. Agaston (South Beach creator) claims that white flour and sugar lead to weight gain in the gut region. My anecdotal experience confirms this.
posted by herbaliser at 1:27 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Two things:

(1) Fat around your gut will generally not be reduced by beefing up your core muscles. It will be reduced by decreasing your body fat. So, despite being in excellent shape, you may still have a bit of fat left around your gut.

(2) Having a "potbelly" is as much a product of poor posture as belly fat. What may be happening when you relax totally is that you are allowing your lower back to round out, compressing your lower abdominal region and thrusting it out. Try looking at yourself while standing tall (e.g., try to make the top of your head as high as possible), then relax, and see what a difference this makes.
posted by googly at 1:39 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think that you might benefit from having your posture examined. Many places that do nutritional counselling/registered massage therapy/sports massage offer posture counseling or may know where to send you.
posted by porpoise at 1:40 PM on February 15, 2008

if you can see your abs, then you have no appreciable fat. Don't freak out even if you cannot. A some fat in that area is healthy. No there are not really muscles under the abs. The core muscles are just the ones in the trunk, as opposed to the limb muscles. The balls are fun and make a good, light, mobile seating.
posted by d4nj450n at 1:44 PM on February 15, 2008

You can try and strengthen the transverse abdominus, which is used to suck in your gut. As you do other core exercizes, try to suck in your tummy. It may not necessarily firm it up, but will set a new zero point for you. It hasn't worked for me yet (I don't do as much core work as I should) but it did wonders for my mom.
posted by Xoder at 1:47 PM on February 15, 2008

Also my suggestion of ab work out was not to reduce the fat around the gut, but rather to strengthen the abs to hold the gut in. There is no way to lose fat in one area, short of surgery.
posted by d4nj450n at 1:48 PM on February 15, 2008

There are 3 layers of muscles in your abdomen.
posted by hulahulagirl at 1:52 PM on February 15, 2008

Try googling 'visceral fat.' It's fat that's stored in the peritoneal cavity (under the abs) instead of subcutaneously, which is what most people think of as the usual fat storage location. In other words, you can have some fat and not be able to pinch much. I'm no doctor, though, so I don't know if there are ways to preferentially target it beyond the usual diet and exercise.
posted by Durin's Bane at 1:52 PM on February 15, 2008

Best answer: Most just traditional crunches, bicycle sit ups and some weight work for those areas.

There's your problem. You, like most people, are focusing too much on developing a six-pack.

For a truly strong and stable core, you need to develop the Transversus Abdominus (TA) and Multifidus (MF) muscle-groups. These are deep-layer muscles that should be under constant, involantary contraction when you're upright to stabilize your spine and abdomen.

Situps, leg-raises etc. do NOT develop the TA and MF properly, because involuntary-muscle contractions are suppressed when voluntary-muscle contractions occur. If you train the "abs" without training your TA/MF, your TA/MF will actually weaken over time, and you will become over-reliant on your "abs" to maintain stability and develop muscle imbalances. You're fine now, but as you get older this will lead to a lot of problems.

You should attend a core-conditioning clinic run by qualified physiotherapists, not by gym-monkeys (aka "trainers"). They'll teach you proper techniques like the vacuum excercise, and teach you how to sense if the TA/MF are being utilized correctly.
posted by randomstriker at 1:58 PM on February 15, 2008 [20 favorites]

Best answer: Three things:

1) Decrease overall body fat.
2) Exercising my transversus abdominis helped me.

Totally different than your abs-

a) stand in front of a mirror and carefully LET you gut hang out. DO NOT PUSH your gut out. Be careful. Don't get a hernia.
b) without flexing your abs, use your transversus abdominus to flatten your gut, right across your pelvic bones, like a seatbelt. (Sort of between your pubic-hair line and belly button, and even lower.) Drawing up your pelvic floor, and possibly squeezing your butt cheeks will help you find/engage the TA.
c) Do this ten to thirty times, starting with like five. Your TA should be completely isolated. Try this every day or every other day. Listen to your body.

3) Also, do you have duck feet? To they splay out when you walk? Doing leg, hip, and lower back stretches to get your feet back parallel will tilt your pelvis back, and you'll more naturally engage your pelvic floor which also makes your transversus abdominus fire. As always, I recommend Egoscue's books and Aaron Mattes.
posted by zeek321 at 1:58 PM on February 15, 2008 [13 favorites]

Glad to see that others are also mentioning the TA. I want to emphasize though that the TA and MF must be developed TOGETHER. They are opposing (antagonist) muscle groups, and probably the two most important in your entire body. Get thee to a class.
posted by randomstriker at 2:04 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Spot reduction and targeting certain areas of your body with exercise to lose weight is futile.

Get on a diet and lose weight in general.
Swim and try using a kettlebell - two exercises that will literally melt fat from your body.
Bear in mind that the stomach, alongside the underarms, is one of the last flabby areas in men to disappear - be patient.
posted by fire&wings at 2:45 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

So how do you get at the MF? I haven't figured that one out yet.
posted by zeek321 at 3:44 PM on February 15, 2008

Being in a state of ketosis will burn abdominal fat first, so a ketogenic-style diet is the ticket.
posted by JaySunSee at 4:48 PM on February 15, 2008

Here is an article about exercising the transversus abdominus.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 6:28 PM on February 15, 2008

Since I've been doing Pilates regularly, I've been answering a lot of AskMe questions thusly: Pilates!

Even when I was a teeny, tiny 95 pound slip of a teenage girl with about 16% bodyfat, I had a potbelly sort of thing going on. I didn't look good in slinky dresses because of it. Now, at 33, I weigh 120 pounds and have more body fat, but I look great in skinny clothes because my abdominal muscles are tighter.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 9:12 PM on February 15, 2008

To be a bit late, but I do a fair bit of cycling, and the occasional situps. I don't have much of a gut but sometimes it looks that way. I find it has a lot to do with my posture.

If I stand up straight with my shoulders back, my gut actually goes inwards from my ribcage. But when I do my usual slouch (something I've cultivated far longer than any exercise regimen - 15 years or so), I look like I've got a bit of a paunch.

So maybe your version of relaxing is slouching as well, even though it shouldn't be.
posted by Jhoosier at 12:23 AM on February 16, 2008

So to summarize: everyone says you look fit and trim and you are in very good shape, and your stomach has visible muscle tone, and your problem is that you can still pinch some fat around your abdomen and it obtrudes a little when you relax? My friend, your problem is vanity.

Most people's stomachs are round. Look at this body-builder. Abdominal muscle will make your stomach obtrude some and if you have any fat at all then it will be on your stomach, that's where men store fat. So the reason your stomach is round is because that's what stomachs do. I've been lifting for about 2-3 years and I think my stomach's grown proportional to my chest, so that in effect I'm always round in front -- I have two round man-breasts over what looks like a big lumpy loaf of bread and almost all of it is muscle...muscle is not flat, it's round, because people are round. My girlfriend came in here to tell me that curves are sexy, even on men, and that you're the only one who notices this problem.

It seems you're comparing yourself to fashion models, who really do have flat stomachs. I think they achieve this by having about 5% body fat, which is not a noble goal nor does it become a person with dignity.
posted by creasy boy at 11:51 AM on February 16, 2008

Sorry for the late reply, I just saw this post and thought you might find this video useful -

It's called "Weight Loss Tips: Secrets of the Pooch Belly" and explains how the curvature of your spine effects your pooch / stickey-outey belly. It also shows a test you can do to see if your spine is aligned properly and you just have a pooch belly, or if your pooch belly is being caused by your spine pushing your stomach (and all it's contents) forward.

Also remember that genetically we're supposed to have a bit of a gut, it's the bodies way of preparing for the possibility of famine and it's really really hard to get that flat stomach because when you get down to those last few kg's of weight to lose (which are invariable on your stomach) you start to crave chocolate and chips and all sorts of yummy fat-filled foods because your body is freaking out and doesn't want to lose those last few fat stores. It's almost like it says "Enough! I've put up with your dieting and your gym rat ways but this is the last straw! Now go eat a pizza."

I really do think it's easier just to learn to love your pooch belly than to achieve the near-impossible. Anyway I hope that helps :)
posted by katala at 4:05 AM on March 3, 2008

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