BioSignature Modulation – Cortisol Control and Belly Fat

*Please note, these articles on BioSignature Modulation are maintained for historical interest and no longer reflect our current practices. We do not endorse BioSignature as a methodology.

By Nick Mitchell

This is the third part of our serialised articles on BioSignature Modulation that appear in the online men’s magazine AskMen.com.

A Fat Belly? Get leaner by doing less

We all have areas on our body that seem to hold onto fat no matter what we do. Many of you will have well defined arms, legs and shoulders without nary a glimpse of a six pack. If this sounds like you then read on.

Would you believe that some of you can get leaner and stronger by actually doing LESS?! This has long been the secret of some of the world’s most successful athletes, and if one looks at the so-called “easy gainers” in the world of professional bodybuilding, men such as 8 time Mr Olympia winner Ronnie Coleman, you will find that they are the sort of characters who rarely get stressed and let things bother them. In short, their relaxed attitudes keep their levels of the stress hormone cortisol low, and that in turn helps them to stay in top shape. In a continuation of our series of articles on BioSignature Modulation and what your body fat says about you, we will now turn our attention to the dreaded spectre of belly fat and cortisol, what they mean, and how to do something about it to get into your best possible condition.

Stubborn versus Easy Going Fat

Every day without fail my inbox has at least half a dozen queries in it all asking the same thing. Whether it’s from a man or a woman, young or old, one thing that everybody wants is a flat stomach. They want to know what to eat, how to exercise, and more often than not why all the work they are currently doing (for some reason I tend to frighten off most of the couch potatoes from even contacting me in the first place!) just doesn’t seem to be working. It’s not all that hard to lose a bit of fat – drop the carbs, cut out the junk, do some exercise, all are strategies that will work up to a point.

Yet so many of you hit sticking points you cannot budge past. I know that in the past you may have been taught that all fat is the same, but quite frankly that doesn’t make a blind bit of sense does it? If “al fat was equal” then having rippling abdominals would be as easy as having lean forearms. And unless you are a total freak of nature that just isn’t the case at all. I don’t want to get into a physiology lesson here, there isn’t the scope for it nor is it necessary, suffice to say that fat can be divided into distinct categories (essential, brown adipose tissue, visceral, subcutaneous) and even within a single category such as subcutaneous, this being the fat under your skin that obscures muscular definition, there are differences. According to Lyle McDonald in his erudite and excellently referenced book “The Stubborn Body Fat Solution”, research has identified three different levels of abdominal fat. There is deep abdominal fat that is easy to deal with, and then there are two levels of superficial abdominal fat that can be divided into upper and lower areas. The upper area fat is more readily mobilised for energy – hence we get a top four pack long before the true six pack graces us with its presence!

Stop Trying So Hard!

So here is the “inside” scoop on what it takes to finally achieve that lean and streamlined waistline you have always dreamed of having. Take a deep breath, relax, let it out, think of watching the ocean lapping the sunny shoreline of a Caribbean beach as you sip your pina colada. There you go, that’s your first step to a slimmer stomach! You don’t believe me?! Does that sound too good to be true? Well today is your lucky day because if you’re doing everything right and still not getting there then that was the best abdominal defining exercise you have could possibly have done.

The key to a flat stomach lies in diet, exercise and the forgotten art of relaxation. I have a number of clients who come to me with skinny arms and legs and bafflingly (to them) protruding bellies. It’s the curse of the 21st century. This is because stress directly impacts upon the way we store body fat. People who have stubborn localised deposits of fat around their abdominal region, especially in the lower abdomen and belly button areas, have elevated levels of cortisol due to stress. These are often people who train like demons and eat the “perfect diet” so it is counterintuitive to them that by taking their foot off the gas a little, by not stressing quite so much over their training or calorie intake, they will improve.

How to Relax

If everything else is right (a big “if”) we have seen tangible improvements in a matter of weeks with as little as 15 minutes of morning meditation. Of course the cosmetic benefits of reducing cortisol levels pale into insignificance in comparison to the overall health and well being improvements, but I know that you’re a vain bunch and want to focus on the superficial!
Yoga is another fabulous way to reduce cortisol, and serves as a great balancing tonic for those of you who like to spend a lot of time pumping iron. The Chinese know a thing or two about maintaining the equilibrium between Yin and Yang, and Yoga is the essential Yin to the Yang of the gym. I have seen both cosmetic, health and performance benefits with Yoga and recommend it unreservedly.

Tricks of the Trade

There are a few other tricks I have up my sleeve that can also be put to great effect. One protocol I have been implementing with startling results is to apply licourice root gel onto the stomach first thing every morning after showering. Two weeks of daily application will assist your hormones in “resetting” themselves and give you ample time to see visible changes. Credit for this goes to the man who I consider to be the greatest conditioning coach in the world, Charles Poliquin, whose BioSignature programmes form the basis for much of the thinking behind this article and are radically reshaping our understanding of spot reduction and hormonal manipulation.

Another “trick” that I have clients undertake is to steer well clear of traditional cardio / aerobic work. Endless bouts of jogging, bike riding, or similar activity can actually increase the body’s cortisol levels making your belly fatter. The very thing you are working so hard to avoid! Instead do your cardio in an interval fashion – pick any exercise that works your entire body and go as hard as you can for 45 seconds, reducing to a slower recovery speed for 1-2 minutes and repeat 5 to 10 times. Not only does this reduce cortisol, it’s also an infinitely better protocol for burning body fat than regular, steady state cardio. Studies have shown its 3 times better in fact!

And the best exercises for toning and tightening the abdominals? Try 3 – 4 sets each of these exercises, twice a week:

1) Swiss Ball Crunches

  • Lie on a Swiss ball so that your lower back is resting comfortably on the ball.
  • Exhale, contracting your abdominals to lift your torso away from the ball, keeping your chin firmly on your chest. Do NOT put your hands behind your neck, instead fold them across your chest.
  • Hold the contraction at the top of the movement for two seconds, then inhale as you return slowly (on a 4 count) to the starting position.
  • Aim for 15 reps and don’t be afraid to add weight if 15 is too easy

2) Low cable pull-ins

  • Attach a looped rope or weight belt to the low end of a cable pulley.
  • Lie on your back in front of the machine and hook your legs through the loop. Your knees should be bent and the loop resting on your lower thighs.
  • Place hands under your glutes.
  • Exhale, pulling your knees toward your chest as you contract your abs. Keep your spine flat to ensure that you feel your lower abs having the deepest contraction.
  • Hold the contraction at the top of the range of movement for two seconds, then return slowly (on a 4 count) to the starting position.
  • Aim for 15 reps

Conclusion
It may seem strange that a strength coach is telling you to get leaner by doing less, but sometimes that is exactly what is needed. A reduction in your body’s production of cortisol will improve all your other hormonal profiles, including testosterone and thyroid, leading to a stronger, leaner and healthier body.
One word of warning however, all of the advice in this article only applies to those of you who are working hard already and have reached something of a sticking point. If changing the PS3 CD is the extent of your current physical activity then you need to forget everything you have just read and start moving your lazy arse as much, and as quickly as possible!