Flat Belly Tips from a Male Fitness Model
To banish midlife paunch, work your abs as if your paycheck depended on it
Imagine if staying in shape was part of your job description and your paycheck varied depending on whether or not you had a bloated belly or six-pack abs. That’s life for triathlete, author and fitness model Tom Holland.
An exercise physiologist, elite athlete (Holland has run over 60 marathons) and chief fitness officer of Motility Training in Austin, Texas, Holland’s physique helps promote brands such as Nautilus/Bowflex, Nordic Track, Poland Spring, PowerBar and others.
He has authored five books, including Beat the Gym and the soon-to-be-released Swim, Bike, Run — Eat: The Complete Guide To Fueling Your Triathlon (June 2014).
The best part of being a fitness model? Its built-in motivation, says Holland, who is signed with Wilhelmina Models in New York City. “Even though I model only part-time, I have to be in shape all the time.” At 45, he’s not quite a boomer, but Holland helps many men and women over 50 achieve a fit body and, yes, a flat midsection. Here, he shares his best tips.
Next Avenue: In general, what do you recommend for men and women who want a flat stomach — and is it possible after 50 if you’ve not been very active?
Holland: First of all, yes, anyone can do it. But it requires consistency in every aspect of a healthy lifestyle, which is the hardest thing for most people.
You can’t be good with your eating and diet some of the time or avoid sweets and alcohol some of the time. This holds especially true of alcohol, something many people don’t want to hear. Alcohol goes straight to your abs, especially after 40.
(MORE: How to Develop a Taste for Better Health)
OK, so to get ready for beach season we need to ditch the alcohol and stay on track. What about cardio? How much do we need?
Strive for five days a week, with cardio and weights on the same day. Split it in half, so 20 to 30 minutes for resistance training and the same for cardio. It doesn’t matter which you do first, as long as you get in both.
Try training like a triathlete with the “brick workout,” which refers to biking and then running immediately after. The workout may be done outdoors or indoors on a stationary bike and treadmill. Triathlons are great goals as we age, forcing us to cross-train and engage in multiple types of exercise. To do it simply, bike 30 minutes and then run 15 minutes.
(MORE: The Triathlon Challenge: It's Not Just for the Young)
How important is diet if you’re consistent with your workouts?
Very. Eighty or more percent of your results depend on your diet, so you simply have to eat clean — that is, a diet without processed foods, junk food or fast food.
And many people are surprised at this, but abdominal exercises are a distant factor in obtaining a flat midsection. They’re good for lower back strength and core health. But if you have 10 or 20 pounds around your midsection, don’t waste time doing hundreds of crunches; use that time for cardio. Dedicate a maximum of 10 percent of your total workout time to crunches and other ab work.
What’s a good way to change your eating habits for the better?
Keep a food diary in real time for a few days. Write down every single bite or taste — even if it’s off your kids’ plates or when you’re clearing the table. But don’t wait until the end of the day to do it or you’re bound to forget some things.
Keep a journal in the kitchen or on you at all times. You’ll find it’s incredible how much you eat without realizing it.
What are the biggest fitness obstacles for most people?
The motivation to start and stick with it. This can be a major lifestyle change and the older you get, the harder it is to change ingrained habits.
But you can change habits, and they’ll allow you to carry on. Once you do it for a while, it’s not hard. It gets easier with time.
Any final words of advice?
When your mode of exercise is something you do every day — like walking — it’s not enough to make a change. It’s fine as a way to get started if you’ve been sedentary, but walking in itself won’t give you the results you want if weight loss and being in shape are your goals. You have to include resistance training and you really need to work.
3 Recipes That Can Help
Try these healthy, clean recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They're from Holland’s upcoming book.
The Bowl (breakfast)
Combine 1/2 cup oats (measured dry) + 1-1/2 tablespoons peanut butter
OR 2 tablespoons chopped nuts with 6 ounces low-fat Greek yogurt
OR 1 fruit OR 1/4 cup dried fruit
Pack the Pita (lunch)
Stuff 1 whole-wheat pita + 2 to 3 ounces chicken breast + 1/4 cup 2 percent grated cheese, veggies + 1/3 avocado. Serve with a side salad and dressing on the side + 1 fruit.
Sauté 4 ounces chicken breast with 2 to 3 cups vegetables and serve with 1 cup brown rice; add soy sauce to taste