Your stomach is often one of the first places you gain weight and one of the last places you'll lose it. Belly fat is not only bad for the beach; it's downright dangerous. A study published in the American Journal of Hypertension revealed that "A larger waist measurement predicts the development of high blood pressure, regardless of total body fat." Other studies have found that visceral stomach fat (versus the subcutaneous fat that you can pinch) is linked to higher total cholesterol, insulin resistance, colorectal cancer, and diabetes. It's time to get serious about losing the spare tire around your waist—not only for aesthetic reasons, but also for your long-term health. And with just a few more weeks until beach season is here, there's no better time to start shredding that fat so that you can reveal a flat, defined, sexy stomach.
A healthy diet—full of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats (like avocado and olive oil)—is critical to getting a flat stomach. Ever heard the phrase "your abs are made in the kitchen"? It's true. This, coupled with the Harvard Women's Health Watch recommendation of at least 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity a day, is the key to getting a flat tummy.
If seeing a flat stomach comes down to reducing your body fat through healthy diet and exercise, then why bother doing ab-specific exercises? One good reason is that "ab exercises" also strengthen your core, and a strong core can improve your posture and make you less prone to injury. Another is that the abs—like your biceps—are muscles. They're comprised of 6 different muscles: the transverse abdominal that wraps around your torso, the internal and external obliques (one of each on each side), and the rectus abdominis (see the diagram). The rectus abdominis is the "six-pack" muscle. But strengthening all of them is important. Doing exercises that target these will strengthen them so they appear defined when your body fat percentage is low enough for them to be visible. With that in mind, here are 7 of my favorite ab-sculpting moves.
- Training Camps from TurboFire®: Chalene Johnson leads this fan favorite. Start in a seated position on the floor with your heels on the ground and toes facing 45 degrees toward the sky. Lean back until you feel your abdominals engage. Twist toward your right side, lean back, and touch your right elbow to the ground. Engage your abdominals, sit up, and repeat the move on the other side. This is an oblique killer and will help you create those little "fingerlike" muscles on your sides.
- Sprinting: Remember when you used to sprint around the playground as a kid? Those short, explosive bursts of energy do wonders for your midsection. Think back to the Summer Olympics when the sprinters were waiting on the starting line for the 100-meter dash. Every single one had a six-pack. Sprinting is an anaerobic activity that targets almost every muscle in your body, and especially the abdominals. When you have to quickly drive your knees up while staying in an upright position, you're forced to use your core. Just make sure that you're well warmed-up before going full bore.
- Fifer Scissors from P90X®: This move from Tony Horton hurts so good. Lie flat on your back with one straight leg extended so that it is perpendicular to the floor. The other straight leg should hover just off the ground. Switch legs every 10 seconds and don't let either leg touch the ground.
Note: If you find that your back is coming up off the ground or if it starts to hurt, place your hands underneath your lower back.
- Stability Ball Roll-Outs: This is a real core burner! Start with your knees on the ground and a stability ball in front of you on the floor. Place your hands and wrists on the top of the stability ball and slowly roll the ball out in front of you. Keep your arms straight while rolling out the ball and keep your back straight. If your back starts to sway or if your butt drops, you've gone too far. Slowly roll back in.
- Tuck Jumps from INSANITY®: And you probably thought jumping was only for your legs! This tummy tamer gets your heart rate up, works your entire body, and tones abs all in one. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Drive your arms up into the sky and lift your knees to your elbows. Like with sprinting, you'll want to be fully warmed-up before trying this exercise.
- Stability Ball Knee to Chest: Place your hands on the ground and the tops of your feet on the stability ball so that you are in a push-up/plank position. With your core engaged (good luck trying this without it engaged!), bring your knees to your chest and then move them back out to a plank position. Do not let your back sway or your butt drop.
- Hip-Up from Body Beast®: Spot-burning fat through exercise is impossible. But this exercise will help strengthen the lower half of your rectus abdominis muscle. Lie flat on your back with your feet flexed toward the sky and your hands at your sides. Engage your stomach, lift your hips up, and drive your feet straight up. Lower your hips back down to the ground in a slow, controlled motion.
For extra support in achieving that toned stomach, follow these 5 gut-busting tips:
- Ditch the refined sugar! It may look good and taste good, but refined carbohydrates and sugars wreak havoc on your midsection. It's OK to have a treat once in a while, but try to keep these waistline killers to a minimum.
- Stand up straight: The more you slouch, the more your stomach pooches. According to WebMD®, you should "align your ears over your shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over knees, and knees over ankles. Keep the fronts of the shoulders open like a shirt on a hanger. Draw your navel to your spine
- and keep your weight even on the balls and heels." This posture will help you look much leaner and, over time, this isometric contraction of your abs will help strengthen them.
- HIIT Training: Engage in High Intensity Interval Training (also known as HIIT) and you can see more results in less time! This type of exercise, done in short bursts with brief recovery periods between sets, can help spike your metabolism so you burn calories for hours after you're done working out.
- Sleep: Getting the right amount of shut-eye can help you get the flat tummy of your dreams. When you skimp on shut-eye, your body undergoes physiological stress, which causes your body to store fat. Strive to get 8 or more hours every single night. Scientific American reports that "even short-term, partial sleep deprivation could pave the way for weight gain and other negative metabolic consequences."
- Reduce Stress: Stress can be good or bad depending on how we deal with it. We need stress to change and progress, but too much of it can cause our bodies to enter a "fight-or-flight" biochemical process. According to WebMD, this makes "our bodies store fuel, slow down metabolism, and dump out chemicals [such as the stress hormone cortisol] which are more likely to cause obesity in the abdominal region." When we're stressed, we also tend to reach for comfort foods. If you lower your stress levels (through time management, yoga, meditation), you won't need to self-medicate with food and your hormone levels will be much healthier.