These Are Officially The 5 Basic Steps To Get Flat Abs
Endless crunches aren’t actually the way to a washboard tum…
Rule #1: Attack Your Hidden Core Muscles
Crunches are a good fitness tool but they target only superficial muscles, so they aren’t the most efficient way to work your abs. Hard fact: to burn half a kilo of fat, you have to do 250 000 crunches, according to researchers at the University of Virginia. That’s 100 crunches a day for seven years. Uh, no thanks.
Instead, you need to target the muscles that lie beneath the superficial ones: your transverse abdominis, multifidis and internal obliques. Strengthening them pulls in your middle like a corset, keeping the area looking flat and toned. “Not only are these muscles weak in many women, but most of us don’t have a clue about how to engage them,” says celebrity trainer Valerie Waters, whose clients include Jennifer Garner and Elizabeth Berkley.
To practise engaging those hidden muscles, try this drill: Lie on your back and place your palms just below your navel. Exhale and allow your tummy to expand as far as you can, then focus on pulling your belly button toward your spine, drawing your abdomen toward the floor. Hold for five seconds. Repeat eight to 10 times.
Rule #2: Move Your Butt
Your booty and your belly are unlikely partners in crime. Here’s why: over time, sitting around too much renders your glutes practically useless and causes your hip flexors – the muscles that connect your hipbones to your legs – to become stiff. This couch-potato combo tilts your pelvis forward, which increases the arch in your back and puts stress on your spine. From a cosmetic standpoint, it pushes your abdomen out, making even a relatively flat stomach bulge. That means that to lose your gut, you’ve got to work your butt.
Combat tight hip flexors with this stretch: In a lunge position, lower yourself so your back knee is resting on the floor. Push your hips forward, keeping your back upright, until you feel a stretch in the front of the hip. Hold for 10 seconds, relax and repeat. Switch legs. You can increase the stretch by reaching your arms over your head.
Rule #3: Eat flat-belly Foods
You can’t see ab muscles if they’re buried under a layer of fat. Excavate them by following these easy dietary guidelines.
Pump up your protein intake
Substituting meat, fish, dairy and nuts for carbs can reduce the amount of fat around your middle. Researchers at McMaster University in Canada assessed the diets of 617 people and discovered that when they exchanged carbohydrates in favour of an equal amount of protein, they reduced overall tummy fat.
Eliminate added sugar
You could be eating up to 20 teaspoons of sugar daily in the form of processed foods like fizzy drinks, baked goods, breakfast cereals, fruit drinks and even flavoured yoghurt. That’s about 1 400 empty kilojoules every day. All that sugar increases insulin production, which slows your metabolism.
Don’t fear fat
Research shows that diets containing more than 50 percent fat are just as effective for weight loss as those that are low in fat. “Fat is filling and adds flavour to your meals – both of which help you avoid feeling deprived, so you can stick to your diet,” says nutritionist Alan Aragon. Eat foods rich in monounsaturated fats, such as olives, nuts and avocados; research has even found that it’s okay to enjoy whole foods that contain saturated fat (including milk, cheese and butter) in moderation.
Beat the bloat
No matter how much ab fat you lose or muscle you tone, if you’re bloated, you won’t look (or feel!) your best in a bikini. Carbonated beverages, and even good-for-you foods such as beans and broccoli, can make your stomach swell. And keep your sodium intake in check: nutritionists suggest you stay under 2 000mg to avoid retaining excess water. (Most of us get closer to 5 000 a day.)
Rule #4: Stop Stressing
Your bank balance. Your in-laws. Your never-ending to-do list. We get it – life is hard. But anxiety can produce extra cortisol, a hormone that encourages the body to store fat, particularly in your tummy. According to researchers at Yale University, your midsection is four times as likely as the rest of your body to store stress-induced fat. Help keep anxiety in check by taking little breaks from work every 90 minutes. “It’s almost like recalibrating your body – reminding you to breathe and relax,” Waters says.
Another way stress sabotages your abs: when tension runs high, we reach for fattening foods. Keep your distance from the office vending machine. In one study, participants who had to walk two metres to reach the sweet stuff ate up to seven fewer chocolates per day than when it was conveniently located near their desk.
Rule #5: Work Your Abs Less Often
Ditch your daily abs workouts. You need only three sessions a week to see maximum results. “Training every day with endless crunches won’t flatten your belly faster,” says strength and conditioning expert Bill Hartman. “You’ll see benefits quicker if you give your muscles a day to fully recover between workouts.” That’s because stressing your muscles during a workout breaks down the tissues, and they need rest days to rebuild and get stronger.
What’s more, you should stick to only 15 to 20 reps of each move. “If you can easily do that many, it’s time to for harder moves,” says strength and conditioning expert Rachel Cosgrove.
And if flat abs are important to you, promote them to the top of your fitness to-do list. “A lot of people exercise their abdominal muscles at the end of their workout, and that’s when you get sloppy or run out of time,” Cosgrove says. “You should do them first, and then move on to your cardio. To get them looking great, you need to make them a priority.” You’ll be glad you did.