Are you one of the many fitness enthusiasts who are always working to get ripped and develop great abs? Does it feel like you have tried everything but still seem to be getting nowhere?
Getting an impressive six pack has almost nothing to do with training your abs; the key lies with losing body fat. Even highly developed abs will not show if they are covered in a thick layer of excess bodyfat. So you need to lose body fat through diet and cardio; this is especially true if you are overweight. The abdominals are most likely covered with a concealing layer of fat. Only when you have dealt with your excess bodyfat will the hard work you put into your ab workouts show.
First I’ll go over the abdominal training routine and then below we will talk about how to change your diet to lose belly fat. (I know most people like to see the workouts first.)
Realize that no one single exercise can work all the different abdominal muscles.
There are three muscle groups that make up what we all refer to as “abs”:
- Rectus Abdominis – often referred to as the main core of the abs and consists of the muscles that form the “six pack”.
- External Obliques – these are the muscles that are found on each side of your torso.
- Intercostals – consisting of muscle fibers and tendons. They run from the upper pectoral muscles to the lower latissimus dorsi.
Your rectus abdominis area is a single flat muscle. The 6-pack shape is because of tendons that stretch across the length and width of the muscle. Muscle and tendon length cannot be changed through exercise. What you need to do is focus tension on the abs while performing your rep. Perform the exercises without cheating and using body momentum. Always squeeze the abs for a second or so during the contraction before releasing (extending). This applies to leg raises, knee-ins, crunches and bent-leg sit ups.
Can you get great abs from sit ups?
Regular gym class style sit-ups don’t isolate the upper abdominals very well as it is more of an exercise for the hip flexors and psoas. The psoas muscle runs from the lower back to front of your thighs.
What’s the fix? Perform crunches instead with bent legs, ideally like on an abdominal bench or with your legs on top of a ball or chair.
When it comes to the best exercises for your abs, I like them all!
The key to losing belly fat is simple; healthy eating coupled with consistent exercise. But just doing sit ups alone will not reduce belly fat. I like hanging leg raises, pelvic tilts, stick twists and crunches; they all tighten and strengthen your abdominal muscles.
Ab training helps to strengthen your stomach muscles, helps stabilize your back and improves your overall fitness level. With a low enough bodyfat level, you’ll be the envy of everyone at the gym, beach, or wherever!
4 Best Ab Exercises
The key to achieving well-conditioned abs is to focus on strengthening your abs by training the different regions and directionality of contraction of the abdominal muscles.
1. Abdominal Vacuum
An overlooked abdominal carving secret is the stomach vacuum. It’s executed by sucking in the stomach, holding while still breathing, and then repeat. Doing the vacuum will give you better control of the abdominal muscles and shrink the waist. 10 reps a day holding in your stomach, trying to create a cavern, exposing the ribs. Try to work up to holding one minute. Also between each set of other abdominal exercises.
2. Hanging Leg Raise
I love this exercise and all my new clients hate it. Until their abs get stronger. I prefer to use the arm straps on the pull up bar instead of holding with the hands. 3 sets of 20, try to touch your knees to your elbows. You won’t be able to at first. You’ll have to work up to it.
3. Pelvic Tilts
It’s good to train the lower abs earlier in the abdominal workout, as they are a thinner muscle than the upper half and require a bit more training to learn how to isolate.
To isolate the lower abs, lie on your back with your legs pointed straight up at a 90 degree angle. Pull back with your lower abdominal while thrusting the hips up for a short movement, just 1-2 inches. 3 sets of 20. I like to tell clients to try to pull their belly button to their spine.
Once it’s easy to complete 20 reps, you should add weight. The weight will help build the upper abs to poke through the skin so they will be more pronounced. This will add thickness and depth to the upper abdominal, creating that coveted “6 pack”. 3 sets of 20, 15-20 if using added weight. Refer to the photo above.
These 4 abdominal exercises are my favorite choices for sharp abdominal definition and a narrow waist. Want more options? Here’s 3 more:
5. Oblique Crunch
Similar to the traditional crunch, start with your hand placement at the temples in the same way. As you lift your upper back from the floor, you should drive your left elbow to the opposite knee before returning to the floor. Repeat the movement while driving your right elbow towards your opposite knee and return to a resting position. The same :03+ hold at the peak is helpful with the oblique crunch.
6. Russian Twist
You will start seated and with feet flat on the floor. Lift your feet from the floor and form a 45-degree angle with your knees. Look straight ahead and twist your torso left and right while keeping your core engaged. Keeping your legs still as you twist is how to do the move properly. Focusing solely on trunk rotation without the legs will eliminate the tendency to “cheat” on the movement.
Start with a moderate set of :20 seconds of work followed by :20 of rest before repeating the movement. This 1:1 work to rest is an excellent choice for the Russian twist. It does not give you much room to slack off and your abs will thank you for it. This potent ab exercise does not require a lot of time to be a challenge. Add time to create a more advanced movement.
7. Flutter Kicks
Isolating the lower abs is tough. With the flutter kicks, you can target that hard spot of your abs. Lie on your back, place your hands under your butt and alternate kicks of each leg as if you were swimming. A flutter of left then right leg counts as one rep. Perform 3 sets of these for :35 seconds each.
Aim to increase the challenge by adding more time to your sets as you get stronger. The movement goes fast and truly recruits more of that lower region that you’ll want to show off in your board shorts.
Torch Bodyfat with Steady State Cardio
Preserve muscle and lose fat with steady state cardio. You have heard about the benefits of interval training but recovery is the name of the game for keeping quality muscle tissue and eliminating excess fat. Interval training has its place but can leave you depleted and sluggish going into your next training session.
With steady state, you will recover faster from a low to moderate intensity exercise and still achieve the blood flow benefits to tissue that is recovering from a previous workout. Training consistently is crucial but none of it is sustainable without recovery. Intervals let you work for shorter periods but your central nervous system (CNS) could be fried afterward and start to affect your feelings of fatigue outside the gym. It also has a tendency to increase the appetite more than lower intensity steady state cardio.
If you use a heart rate tracker, work under 80% of your max heart rate for longer durations. 20 minutes on the treadmill in that in that heart rate zone will be effective to preserve muscle mass and trim fat.
Torch stored bodyfat and spare your gains with a smart diet and moderate intensity cardio work. Cut back on that starving feeling at the end of a session and enjoy the fat burning “low and slow” benefits of steady state cardio.
How To Lose Belly Fat
Have you measured your waistline lately? Studies show that men whose waist measures 40 inches and above and women with a 35 inches or more waistline are putting themselves at risk for all kinds of illnesses, like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, cancer, and many others. Part of the reason so many people in America are struggling with their waistlines is because of what we eat and don’t eat. Pizza, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fish sticks, chicken nuggets, French fries, pasta are staples for so many, while artichokes, asparagus, broccoli and other great foods remain off the grocery lists.
The most important thing to do is to correct your diet. While burning more calories than you take in is vital for dropping fat, eating fewer calories than you burn off is the other end of that element. The truth is that 80% of your weight loss results come from correct diet design. Prioritizing the right macro and micronutrients and at the correct time is essential to having the energy to power through your workouts and your busy schedule. You will not be able to torch calories if you are running on empty, but being overfed can lead to storing excess calories as fat.
Starting exercise first primes that pump of motivation to make further lifestyle changes, with the first being nutrition. Create a healthy, nutritional grocery list. Fill it with fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates, and maybe some whole grains. These choices will fill in the gaps to ensure you are fueled and can create new lean muscle tissue, while eliminating excess stored fat and waste from your body.
Cut out the junk food, empty calories and processed foods. What do you notice? Your grocery bill is REDUCED, not increased. When you take the time to think about your food and plan your meals in advance, you’re taking the first steps to a healthier lifestyle. Success with any fitness program is a planned event. It does not happen by magic but by discipline. Every era of bodybuilder, figure and physique competitor has found the benefits of smaller meals more frequently throughout the day. 5 means that help keep cravings at bay, stabilize blood sugar, and fuel your muscles are staples for competitors and athletes getting the most out of their metabolism.
Add low calorie condiments like salsa and lime juice instead of reaching for heavy globs of ranch and sugar-packed ketchup. Find great, sodium-free seasonings for your meats, fish and eggs. If you need a bit more crunch in your meals and fresh veggies are beginning to bore you, consider an air fryer to add some variety without adding excessive amounts of fat to your diet. A little bit goes a long way in creating flavorful, heart-healthy meals.
Remember that you are what you eat, and no exercise program can help you lose those unwanted pounds if you don’t stick to the right kind of foods. The trick is not only following a diet and exercise plan, but also knowing what foods help to shrink your midsection.
Best foods for reducing your waistline
- Asparagus, reduces water retention and cleans the blood
- High-Volume, low-calorie leafy greens that help you feel fuller
- Avocado, healthy fat, otherwise known as monounsaturated fatty acid or “MUFA.” A study published in the journal Diabetes Care found that eating a diet high in MUFA’s can help reduce abdominal body fat.
- Artichoke, rich in fiber and helps liver regenerate cells
- Fish, lean protein high in omega 3 fatty acids
- Peppers, help to decrease appetite
What foods to avoid to aid fat loss
- Wheat, it’s an allergen
- Dairy products, they are not necessary for adult bodies
- Fatty foods/trans-fats (processed, packaged fats used in ingredients)
- Processed foods, anything that is packaged in your grocery store
- Simple sugars found in most desserts
- Refined sugar and carbohydrates (like pasta) that cause insulin spikes and water retention
- Excessive sodium
- Carbonated water, it does not hydrate and causes bloating.
7 Tricks to Reduce Your Appetite
- The smell of grapefruit juice will fool your brain that you are full, it tells your body “I don’t need to eat”
- Take a breath strip, it will take away your cravings
- Just a handful of almonds or walnuts 40 minutes before a meal will send a message to your brain that you are full.
- Drink more water, especially lemon water
- Avoid stress
- Get enough sleep! Being over-tired increases cortisol production which slows muscle recovery and causes water retention and can lead to fat gain. It also wreaks havoc with your appetite.