By Tom Furman
The optimal female form is not chosen through Madison Avenue or Vogue Magazine, but through Anthropology. The waist to hip ratio signals, on a deep hormonal level, that the female is healthy and capable of breeding. This is not about sociology, but propagation of the species. Oddly and historically, the ideal ratio of 0.70 has been represented through models and icons as the ideal.
“Scientists (and Western society) think a curvy figure trumped other body shapes. This idea was based on results from medical studies that suggested a curvy waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 or lower (meaning the waist is significantly narrower than the hips) is associated with higher fertility and lower rates of chronic disease. The most current studies in this area, (2018), indicate this is not the case. That men prefer this ratio for other reasons than fertility. Possibly the chance of being fertile longer.
Research has revealed that men prefer a ratio of 0.7 or lower when looking for a mate. Along those lines, Playboy centerfolds tend to have a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.68, Cashdan found. Raquel Welch at her prime was 0.63. Pamela Anderson is 0.64. Sophia Loren was 0.63, and 1950’s model and wife of publisher, Joe Weider, Betty Brosmer had a 5.0 ratio.
However, what is attractive to the opposite sex and what is efficient to flee danger are two different things. Female sprinters have notably narrow hips. Wider hips make running at high speed inefficient due to the mechanics. This is called the, “Q Angle”. With hips too wide you are at a mechanical disadvantage to run.
So what is better? The answer is often, “It depends.” Being born with narrow or wider hips is a matter of choosing your parents correctly. As well, realize that hips are 50% of the issue. Having a strong, lean, waist is the other. This article will focus on thine waist.
The anatomy of the waist, including the shape of the muscle bellies is genetic and not subject to change. No amount of training changes a 4 pack into an 8 pack. The segments of the rectus abdominis are shaped by tendinous inscription, not by your trainer.
Controllable factors for improving the waistline should be firmly based in diet and exercise. However there are other components that need to be discussed regarding the abdominals.
The subject of rib removal for a narrower waist often appears in discussions and comments. Almost any photo of a celebrity or model receives commentary of intense emotion that the individual in the photograph has had rib removal. Usually there is no evidence other than anecdote. It is actually not a common surgery, with only a few cosmetic surgeons performing it. It was previously used for bone cancer, developmental issues and from what I understand, transgender individuals. It’s highly controversial and many cosmetic surgeons in the USA won’t do it. Those individuals who pursue it are often doing so, out of the country.
Another controversial cosmetic methodology is corseting or waist training. This has a long history and it’s popularity increases every so often. It involves binding the waist with lacing or latex and literally squeezing the mid section in an effort to make it smaller. This will not strengthen the muscles. (It actually causes the muscles to atrophy). It will not reduce fat depots. It will however displace organs. This is not healthy.
Waist reduction by way of cosmetic procedure, primarily liposuction, advances rapidly. There are currently many options for liposuction and reduction of both depot fat and subcutaneous fat from the abdominal and low back region. Any surgery, of course, has risks. Vetting your surgeon for board certification and patient outcomes is of utmost importance. You should be making the most informed decision possible. Usually along with liposuction there is abdominoplasty to deal with excess skin as well.
In line with both the cosmetic and necessary, is repair of diastasis recti. Diastasis Recti is the partial or complete separation of the rectus abdominal muscles along the linea alba. This is most common in women after pregnancy or in men who become profoundly obese. While for some it’s simply a cosmetic issue. However, any problem associated with a, “weak core”, can be attributed to diastasis recti. This can include hip pain, low back pain, constipation and lack of bladder control. For minor cases, physical therapy along with a life long program of maintenance exercises may be all that is needed. For many, surgery is the only option. Below is an example of the variations of this condition.
Lastly there are hormonal issues. Women and men store fat differently due to hormones. Women primarily in the lower body and men around the waist. This changes with a reduction of hormones later in life. There is a saying in fat loss, “First on, last off”. That means the first place you gain fat is the last place that you will lose it. There are specific physiological reasons for this. These fat depots are often called, “Stubborn Fat”. This interview, with Lyle McDonald, has him expanding on the issues of stubborn fat.
This leads us to diet and exercise. Fat loss is primarily driven through diet. A diet for fat loss must create an energy deficit. This deficit will change as fat is lost and you become a smaller person. Protein needs are increased during a fat loss regimen. A good rule of thumb is one gram of protein per pound of target bodyweight. Whole foods are the best sources and items such as low fat dairy, poultry, fish and meat have the most complete spectrum of amino acids and nutrients. The remaining parts of the diet should include ample vegetables, fruits and whole grains. This is largely based on taste and individual tolerance. Fats should come from healthy sources such as fish, avocados, nuts and olive oil. Recording calories by hand or using an app are equally effective. Weekly weigh ins and measuring the waist also provide metrics and data.
Exercise should be systemic and not just one bodypart. The following routine, however, can be plugged into any program that combines the triad of strength, aerobics and mobility. The movements can be done separately or in a circuit. This depends upon where you workout and what equipment is available.
- Reverse Crunch. This is drawing the hips towards the rib cage. Flatten your low back and slowly raise your hips off the ground. Pause at the peak of the motion and lower slowly. Start with 10 repetitions and one time through the circuit. Eventually you will do the circuit 5 times.
2. Twisting Side Plank. This exercise may take some practice. Position in a side plank with feet stacked. Rotate the upper elbow down to touch the floor, slowly while maintaining perfect body alignment. Repeat for 10 repetitions each side.
3. Hollow Plank. This is simply a plank from the push up position that includes the hollow body hold. This increases the stimulus of the exercise. Use 30 to 45 second holds. Remember to keep the back flat while planking.
4. Supine Bridge. This exercise brings into play the buttocks, hamstrings and lower back muscles. It adds an element of balance to the routine. Hold each repetition for a count at the top. You may find the exercise feels better holding a folded towel between your knees. Do 10 repetitions. Remember to move smoothly.
5. Stomach Vacuums. This exercise stimulates the transversus abdominis, which is a deep muscle that flattens the abdominal wall. While this may take some practice, it is well worth it. It is done, while learning, on all fours. Focus on breathing out all of the air in your lungs and while not inhaling, drawing your stomach in. Again, this takes practice. Eventually the degree of vacuum is profound. Hold it a count, then regain your breath and repeat for 5 total repetitions.
Move from exercise to exercise focusing on perfect form. For the first week, do one circuit on two, non consecutive days. For the second week, add a second circuit and so on. At 5 weeks you are doing ample work. At this point you can increase repetitions or sets or frequency. You may also move onto another routine.
Coupled with diet, total body strength training and aerobic work, this abdominal intense routine will push you closer to your genetic limits.
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Tom Furman has been involved in martial arts and conditioning since 1972. With an early background in wrestling and a student of the methods of the York Barbell Club, Tom immediately separated fact from fiction growing up outside Pittsburgh. Eleven members of his family were combat veterans, the most famous one being “Uncle Charlie” (Charles Bronson) His down to earth training methods are derived from his decades long practice of martial arts and his study of exercise science. The application of force, improvement of movement and durability rank high on his list of priorities when training. He gives credit to hundreds of hours of seminars, training sessions, and ‘backyard’ workouts, including training time with many martial arts legends. He also credits his incredibly gifted training partners who came from varied backgrounds such as Exercise Physiologists, Airborne Rangers, Bounty Hunters, Boxing Trainers and Coast Guard Rescue Divers. His best selling ebook, “Armor of War’’, is available at tomfurman.com. His guide to mobility, “Bamboo Gods, Iron Men and Rubber Bands’’, is available on Amazon.