What is the one fitness goal you wish you could achieve? If you're like most people, you want six-pack abs. It seems easy: Do hundreds of crunches a day and wait for your abs to magically appear. But, after a few months of that you might be wondering: Where's my six-pack?
It Takes More Than Ab Exercises
As you may have found, crunches aren't enough to flatten your abs. Ab exercises will build strength, especially if you focus on core strength but, if there's a layer of fat there, you'll never see them. You've probably heard that spot reducing is about is effective as spitting in the wind, but when you work your abs in an effort to reduce the belly flab, spot reducing is exactly what you're trying to do. The body can't be forced to lose fat in a particular area by exercising the muscles directly under that area. What you should be focusing on is losing body fat and gaining a little muscle.
Start with Your Diet
- Eat more often. Eating several small meals throughout the day will boost your metabolism and help you burn more calories.
- Eat Fewer Calories. Create a mild caloric deficit by monitoring your portion sizes and making sure you're eating less than you're burning. It's easier to eat fewer calories if you fill up on high fiber foods with a focus on whole grains, fruits, vegetables and other nutrient-dense foods.
- Drink More Water. Sometimes hunger pangs are actually your body's plea for water.
Start an Exercise Routine
Once you've reduced your calorie intake, its time to start working out. Diet without exercise will lead to some weight loss, but at some point you'll reach a plateau. Exercise can get you past plateaus while preserving your muscle mass. Your program should include:
- 3-5 days of cardio a week for 30 to 60 minutes in your THR zone. Any cardio will do--doing what you like will make workouts more fun. You should also work at a variety of intensities to get the most out of your workouts.
- Weight training that targets all of your muscle groups 2-3 non-consecutive days a week, abs included. You don't have to work your abs every day and, in fact, that can be counterproductive. You're much better off focusing your energy on working the larger muscle groups and activities that help you burn more calories overall, like cardio
- Stretching after your workouts for flexibility and relaxation
- Warm ups before each workout, cool-downs after and plenty of water in between
Consider your Genetics and Lifestyle
The truth is, even if you do everything right and start losing body fat, there's no guarantee you'll lose it from your abs. Your body stores and loses fat according to your genes, so you can't control where or when you lose fat from certain places. We all store excess fat somewhere - for women it's often around the lower belly, hips and thighs. For men, it's often around the middle and back.
So, does that mean it's impossible to lose fat there? Not at all. But, it may take awhile and it may never completely go away. The only way to know is to follow your healthy diet, exercise regularly and allow your body to respond.
You also have to think about your lifestyle. It could be that you could achieve flat abs if you managed to take your body fat to lower levels - but what if that requires more exercise or stricter attention to your diet than you have the time or energy for? If that's the case, you may need to forget about getting flat abs and adjust your goals to fit the way you live.
Should You Still Do Ab Exercises?
You might be wondering if there's any point to working your abs now that you know that ab exercises aren't going to help reduce the fat around your belly. The answer is yes and no. Yes, you still want to work your abs (your entire core, in fact) but maybe not with the usual moves like crunches and situps.
I'm a big fan of working multiple muscles at the same time to build strength, work on stability and burn more calories during your workout. When it comes to your abs, there are a number of great exercises and tools you can use to strengthen your core with more dynamic moves. One of the best ab tools you can invest in is an exercise ball which can be used for a variety of moves like the ones featured in this core workout. Because you must stabilize your body on the ball, you use more muscle groups than traditional ab exercises.
These workouts will give you some ideas for how to work you abs in a more dynamic way: