#241 Announcing . . . Hip Hop Abs!
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The one thing that can solve
most of our problems is dancing.

James Brown

Dancing Your Way to 6-Pack Abs

By Steve Edwards

Shaun T and Hip Hop DancersWhen MTV first aired in the '80s it changed our vision of what a dancer looked like. What had been the domain of the ballerina or, perhaps, a well-tailored Fred Astaire floating nimbly around a ballroom was more or less instantly transformed to the world of Madonna, i.e., scantily clad, chiseled bodies that moved with power and athleticism. And, all of a sudden, the word "dancer" became synonymous with "hardbody."

Back when we were still in the depths of the crunch craze, this depiction probably sold more Ab Lounges, Ab Rollers, and other types of crunch-based workouts than any advertisement. Unfortunately, it failed to transform us into a nation of hardbodies because crunching left out a rather large piece of the proverbial pie. It left out the dancing.

"I've never had to do a crunch or a sit-up," says hip hop dancer Shaun T, who's performed on stage with Mariah Carey and created with Beachbody his own fitness program, Hip Hop Abs. "Dancing, especially hip hop, is very powerful. You work your arms, your legs, and your core is engaged the entire time."

Let's take a look at how dancing has changed and ways that it can help you get a stage-worthy body.

That's entertainment!

Ballroom DancersDancers have always been fit. It's just the society hasn't always had the desire to work that angle. We never saw Fred Astaire with his shirt off because, most likely, MGM didn't want us thinking he might be able to take on the action heroes of the day. Back then, guys like Clark Gable or Bogie were far more apt to show up in ads for Benson & Hedges than 24 Hour Fitness. Tough guys didn't have to be fit.

Gene Kelly was the first to make a true attempt to change the public persona of the male dancer. He rolled up his sleeves, beat people up, and acted more like Jackie Chan than a ballroom king. To match his athleticism, the women he danced with were allowed more and more freedom. And once we got a look at Ann Miller's legs, there was no turning back. Dancers' bodies were hot and audiences wanted to see more of 'em. Enter MTV.

Dancing vs. sports science

Dancers looked the way they did because they danced all day, but sports trainers (and exercise marketers) began to look for something to get the same body in less time. As usual, there was some trial and error associated with the research, leading to a lot of public misconception. The main one being that those MTV-inspired 6-packs were a function of how strong one's stomach muscles were.

Unfortunately, the ripped midsection is directly linked to the individual's body fat percentage, not how strong their core muscles are. This means that you could do ab exercises until the cows (and everything else) came home and you'd never look like Madonna. But that didn't stop the major industry of ab gimmicks from flooding the market.

The crunch years

Fit Women Doing CrunchesIn spite of this, isolation training, or training individual muscle groups, was all the rage for a couple of decades. Probably spurred on by Arnold in the iconic bodybuilding movie, Pumping Iron, people were creating exercises to isolate one muscle at a time and blasting it into submission. As these exercises trickled away from Muscle Beach and into the mainstream, the one that stuck more than any other was the crunch.

The crunch is a great isolation movement. Plus, it's relatively easy and you can work your abdominal muscles to a state of rigor mortis within minutes. And, actually, it worked pretty well for bodybuilders. After all, they aren't movement-based athletes. And, since they spent so much time in the gym, isolating the abs wasn't so bad because they isolated every muscle group. By skipping that last tidbit, this spawned an entire industry of quick-fix workout gimmicks promising that you, too, could look like Arnold or Madonna. But instead of dedicating your entire life to exercise, these promised similar results in a few minutes of ab isolation.

The rise of functional training

Home Workout WomenFunctional training is basically exercising using movements that you'll encounter in everyday life. Ya know, like dancing. So, essentially, it has always been around. But functional training as a workout grew out of physical therapy, which makes sense as more and more people were landing in PT units because they'd been injured due to isolation training. What they found was that isolation training was creating muscular imbalances. This is, essentially, where one muscle group becomes stronger than it's supposed to be compared to others. When this happens it's easy to get injured.

Functional training focuses on your core: the middle of your body where virtually all movement begins. A strong core creates a base to work from. If this base is solid, your chances of getting injuries decrease greatly. Your core is not just your abs, but all the muscles that connect to your spine and pelvis. It's essentially all of the prime mover and stabilizer muscles that you use to stay standing. For this reason, core exercises often include balance movements. These include using gadgets like stability balls, boards that wobble, golf balls, soft balls, and foam rollers, but it also includes simple old-school movements like push-ups, squats, and yoga stances—which are all similar to the various forms of movements you get when you dance. All of these movements require body awareness (balance) to keep you from falling over, which is, again, like dancing.

Dance to the music

Jumping Aerobics ClassWhile functional training was slow, calculated, and difficult to sell to the masses, dancing was a different issue. For one, you didn't have to sell it. People dance because it's fun and, thus, will do it anywhere they can. When the video workout movement came about in the '80s, dance workouts became commonplace, which made a lot of sense since they were easy to sell if people thought that they could dance into great shape. The problem is that they weren't targeted. Fun, yes. Somewhat effective, yes. But it wasn't creating Madonna clones.

The problem was creating realistic workouts. Dancers work on specific movements over and over—similar to a way that you do when you would try to work on a jump shot or increase your bench press. The early dance workouts mainly just got you to move. There was no real emphasis on the true training aspect.

The next wave of dance-related workouts was hybrid, combining dance with another discipline to create a more effective workout, such as Turbo Jam. Its creator, Chalene Johnson, saw dancing as a catalyst for creating effective workouts. "You'd see these women at weddings who would dance for hours on end," she said. "It wouldn't even cross their minds that they were getting a 'workout.'" From there she used dancing as a base to work from and, bingo, had a targeted workout that felt like an activity you'd do for fun.

Hip hop: the ripped generation

Shaun T DancingAll forms of dance will make you fit but when hip hop arrived on the scene the rules changed. As a new art form, the performers could shape it any way they wanted. Athleticism and aesthetics were at its foundation as artists attempted to one-up each other in both how they looked and performed. It became, essentially, like a bodybuilding competition for dancing.

"I've done all types of dancing from jazz, to modern, to musical theater," says Shaun T. "But nothing comes close to the athleticism of hip hop. After I quit running track in college, I began to have problems with my weight, so I began dancing. Hip hop became my first love because it was so fitness oriented. Because it comes from so many different areas of dance it's, by far, the most fitness-oriented form of dance."

Core function is vital for all movement in sports, including dance—but especially hip hop dance. Though the arms and legs are what you mainly notice in traditional western dancing, conditioning the foundation is still paramount. But non-western dancing tends to begin at the core. Belly dancing and hula are probably the two most famous, but the majority of dances coming from more equatorial regions largely focus on mastery of the core area.

Shaun T and FriendHip hop dance is a fusion, a blend of athletic modern dance moves and traditional non-western dancing that features that core area. Because all the movements stem from the core, it's probably the most functionally directed activity you can do for reshaping your midsection. This is why it's rare when you see a hip hop artist who doesn't show off his or her abs.

Today, you've got a lot of choices for dance-related exercise programs. All of them will help you dance better, most of them will help you get fit. But if you want to look like Beyoncé, consider hip hop.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Steve Edwards'Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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4 Diet Pitfalls—and How to Avoid Them

By Shaun T, creator of Hip Hop Abs™

Shaun T Working OutOh sure, everyone always says to me, "Shaun, I swear, I eat very healthfully. I have a clean diet." But when people are experiencing "stubborn pounds" that won't budge off their bodies, I see uncertainty and fear in their eyes when I say, "I bet it's a common eating habit that is undermining your hard work."

Oh, yeah. It's human nature to be less than honest with ourselves about where we're cheating on our nutritional plan. We work out and have the best of intentions for our daily menu, but end up falling short of our goals for balanced nutrition for a variety of reasons. Some of the most common pitfalls can be avoided simply by being aware of them:

  1. Women RunnerStress eating. Hey, I readily admit that food is comforting—especially comfort food. You know, the mac and cheese, meatloaf and buttery mashed potatoes, an entire pint of butter pecan ice cream . . . enough said. But there are so many better ways to beat stress than eating yourself into a stupor.
    Do this instead: My favorite is to get out . . . literally take a walk. Get into your body and forget the snacks, and get some air deep into your lungs, clear your head, feel your blood pumping, and stretch your legs out. It won't take but a few minutes for you to reap big benefits from a brisk walk . . . away from the vending machine. Or if it's raining, put on some great music and dance—that works too!


  2. Peas in a PodGrazing. Many people have a complete lack of structure to their daily meals—and actually never stop nibbling all day long. From bits of bagels and a bite of donut in the morning all the way through to chips in front of the TV for late-night channel surfing. Grazers have absolutely no set meal times, and end up shutting down their body's natural calorie-burning cycle through the constant onslaught of fat and calories.
    Do this instead: Of course, avoid the bad stuff. Instead of vending-machine junk and food with low nutritional value, pack healthy snacks for nibbling. And make time for balanced meals that will satisfy your appetite so you won't be reaching for whatever's near. See the action plan for #3.

  3. Journal and VeggiesUnconscious eating. Eating without paying attention to what you're doing, or without even realizing that you're consuming calories.
    Do this instead: Keeping a food journal is the best way I know to determine whether you have unconscious eating tendencies. One of my clients confessed that while keeping her journal, she would catch herself working at her desk and suddenly realize that she needed to jot down in her journal the cookie she'd just eaten at a coworker's desk. They'd offered her a homemade cookie and she'd eaten it without even thinking about it—much less factoring it into her daily planned food intake. Cha-CHING! Those 200 sweet calories needed to be added to her daily tally in her food journal to get an accurate picture of what she was eating.


  4. Stuffed SandwichDouble portions. It's not just restaurants that are offering us bigger portions to show us the value of their meals; it's loved ones and friends and ourselves who proudly serve up much more than our bodies need for fuel at meals—on a regular basis. It's because we're showing love through the food and would feel stingy if the plate had less on it. The sad fact is that "normal" portions in the U.S. aren't just a fraction more food than needed for a balanced meal—it's like double, which is WAY in excess of what your body requires, and WAY more than you can burn in your daily workout!
    Do this instead: Ask yourself, do 20 bites of a huge sandwich really taste that much better than 10? How do those 10 extra bites taste when you know you can't burn them off that day and at least half that sandwich is going to turn into those "stubborn" pounds? Stick with sane portions; listen to your body.

Yes, these are four common pitfalls, too common—but that doesn't make them any less devastating to our fitness results and our ultimate health (and don't forget mental image). Be aware of where you might be defeating yourself and take some time to form a personal plan to help you avoid these pitfalls on a daily basis.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Trim Your Waist in Just 6 Days

By Shaun T, creator of Hip Hop Abs™

Waist MeasurementIt may be February, but that's no excuse to let your resolutions slide. We all struggle with keeping our focus and commitment to our New Year's resolutions. That's because keeping up with commitments that improve our lives and improve our bodies are the hardest to keep. It's just something about how our mind works that makes these commitments anything but a breeze!

But I've got a tip if exercise and flat, sexy abs are anywhere in your New Year's resolution list. If you've fallen off the workout wagon, I'm extending a hand to pull you back on the wagon where you know you want to be. Keep it fresh by not doing the same workout every day.

Shaun TI happen to have something you've never tried just in time to get you focused on your abs with my brand-new Hip Hop Abs program. And that's not all . . . if you're up for a challenge, and want to lose up to 3 inches off your waist, I'm starting a 6-Day SlimDown in my Message Boards forum on February 19th, so come with me for six short days and see if you can't kick your results into high gear and transform your abs in no time at all. Hope to see you there!

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Test Your Abs IQ!

By Joe Wilkes
  1. Female TrainingFALSE: Adding more weight and resistance to your abs workout will give you a flatter stomach faster. Actually, adding weight and resistance could give you a thicker midsection, which might not be what you're after. To get the coveted "6-pack," you need a combination of exercises to develop your abdominal muscles along with cardiovascular exercise and a reasonable diet to burn body fat. After all, no one's going to see your chiseled abs if they're buried underneath inches of fat.

  2. Ripped AbsTRUE: The rectus abdominus muscle is what gives you the 6-pack. This is the big muscle that extends from your rib cage to your pelvis and provides that underwear-model physique we covet. It may be the star of the ab muscles, but its supporting players, the internal and external obliques on the sides and the transversus abdominus around your core also need to get worked out to provide the posture that makes a terrific torso.

  3. TRUE: Some people genetically have better abs. Genetics can play a part in terms of body shape and the amount and type of fat-burning hormones that your body produces. But even though some people have a leg up in the gene pool, anyone can improve on what they were born with through diet and exercise. So less hating and more motivating—and your keg will be a 6-pack in no time.

  4. Shaun T's Class TrainingFALSE: Certain exercises will burn stomach fat more effectively. You can target certain muscles in exercise, but fat will burn off your whole body at more or less the same rate—even the places you want to keep the fat. So if you want washboard abs, you're gonna have to lose the junk in the trunk, too.

  5. Rick JamesFALSE: The term "hip hop" was coined by superfreak Rick James. It actually was believed to first have been used by Keith Cowboy, a member of Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five. Before that, the music genre was often referred to as "disco rap." It was officially added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1982.

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