What exercises can you do to get a flat belly?
Muffin-tops and pot bellies - we all want to lose them. Whether your tummy trouble came about through poor diet, lack of exercise or pregnancy, there’s a set of abs just waiting to be revealed. Yes, you can achieve the flat stomach of your youth.
Yo-yo dieting and haphazard exercise are not going to get there though. Think of your body as part of your lifestyle and you’ll have started your flat belly journey off on the right foot.
Abs and a flat belly are achievable through daily nutritional eating and consistent exercise. Are abs really made in the kitchen? A slim, sexy stomach can’t just be achieved through eating better or exercising alone. The pair need to work together. What you put into your mouth affects your body, no matter how much exercise you do. The body needs something to burn and if you’re eating correctly, you’ll be ridding it of the right stuff. The trick is in the balance between the two and committing yourself to it.
A cleaner, healthier diet and fat-burning, ab revealing moves will surely ignite your body’s fat furnace, helping to improve your core within a matter of weeks, and get you feeling and looking your absolute best again.
Fat Burning Tips
So, how do you go about eating correctly and exercising to lose weight (burn fat) and slim down? It’s as simple as how you’re going about it, and the details matter. Here are tips to help you form a better strategy (yes, you should have a good plan in place) and achieve your goals…
- Be realistic: Losing weight and flattening out that belly isn’t going to happen overnight, and you’d best start out not expecting it to. You may be focussed on one or two troublesome areas on your body (your tummy or your derriere and thighs), but you’re likely to achieve the best results by working to reduce your overall body fat, from head to toe, and not just one specific area. There’s no easy fix to achieving a flatter tummy. It’s going to take time (sometimes several months before any significant change is accomplished) and you’re going to have to make changes to your lifestyle that you can commit to. Your weight may not change in a hurry, but you will start to notice a difference in the way your clothes fit within a few weeks. Aging bodies are a factor to consider and some flab will be inevitable. As we age, muscle mass declines and our metabolism slows. You may not be able to prevent this natural progression, but you can make a concentrated effort to maintain your body as best as possible, keeping additional flab at bay.
- Make cardio an important part of your lifestyle: Workouts that include cardiovascular exercise are crucial to burn fat. You may find that you will need to amp it up in order to achieve your goals and get yourself into a consistent routine. A good tip is to alternate bursts of intense activity with lighter forms (running / jogging and walking). This helps to burn more calories and more fat in a workout session. You could walk for 5 minutes, then run / jog for 10 minutes (repeat a few times per session). Another good way to amp things up is to increase your exercise days (without overdoing it – the body does need rest and recovery time). You could consider two cardio days and two strength training days to start off with, with rests day in between.
- Strength training: Achieving a flat tummy is not just about cardio workouts that burn off those pesky additional calories. Cardio activities, such as running (See Running for weight loss to make this your cardio workout of the week), can place stress on the body’s tissues and muscles. You need to look after your body and keep it strong and healthy if you’re going to benefit from cardio. Weight training at least two to three times a week will help to strengthen your core and tone. It’s a good idea to work the full body which targets all the major muscle groups – not just the flabby ones.
- What you eat is going to make a difference: Some foods are natural fat burners (such as capsinoids - compounds which are derived from chilli peppers) and can be included in your daily diet to give that extra helping hand. Be mindful about what you put into your body. Increasing your intake of fat-busting foodstuffs won’t cancel out other bad eating habits (so if you’re going to have oats and blueberries for breakfast, but a whole pizza for dinner, you may never achieve the results you want to). Incorporate fat-burning foods into a sound diet. This will include whole grains, lean protein, fruits and vegetables and plenty of water. Whether you choose to eat three well portioned meals a day (with healthy snack options) or many smaller meals, ensure that what you eat and drink keeps your energy levels up. You’ll need this for your workouts and overall health. Clean up to clean out and you’ll be well on your way to burning fat the right way.
- Improve your posture: You won’t instantly lose weight or burn fat, but slouching certainly doesn’t do wonders for your body. When you slouch, your stomach pooches. Straightening up will help you to look a little trimmer without actually breaking a sweat. Align your ears over your shoulders, shoulders over your hips, your hips over your knees, and your knees over your ankles. Open up your shoulders (just like a shirt hangs on a hanger) and make an effort to keep your weight even on the balls of your feet and heels. Voila, you won’t just look a little better, your body will feel better and less achy too, plus you’ll project confidence and instantly feel more attractive.
Types of belly fat
First things first, before getting started, it’s a good idea to understand your anatomy a little better. The abdomen is the area between the chest and pelvis. Abdominal muscles assist in the breathing process, provide movement and flexibility and provide protection to the body’s organs. These muscles also support the spine, providing postural support along with the back muscles.
Beneath the skin and any underlying subcutaneous fat, you’ll find the rectus abdominis (the muscle closest to the skin’s surface). These are what’s commonly referred to as ‘abs’ (lower abdominals). It is the paired muscle which runs vertically on each side of the abdomen wall. The internal and external obliques run up the sides of the upper body, holding in your waist and assist in turning the body from side to side. These are the muscles that are often affectionately called ‘the love handles’. The transversus abdmominis is the deeper muscle which cinches in your centre. All these muscles are held together by connective tissue (fascia).
According to research, there are three types of abdominal / tummy fat:
- Visceral fat: This accumulates around your organs (the omentum, which is a large membrane that protects and supports the body’s organs), which can cause a variety of metabolic problems, and increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Abdominal muscles are pushed outward, giving you the more rounded look. Visceral fat makes up the majority of fat build-up in this area of the body. Other names by which this type of fat is known is android fat, pot belly and central obesity. This is the fat layer that is modifiable through a cleaner diet and appropriate exercise.
- Intramuscular fat: This is fat within the abdominal muscle. Excess of this type of fat is linked with a higher risk of diabetes.
- Subcutaneous fat: This type of fat is usually located around the hips, thighs and buttocks. Higher proportions can make this type of fat the second most dangerous.
Fat storage and your hormones
Your hormones have a starring role in where your fat build-up is stored. The amount of fat you have is dependent on your diet and how often you exercise. How do hormones affect men and women?
- Men: Normal levels of testosterone mean that men store more fat around the abdominal area.
- Women: Normal pre-menopausal levels of oestrogen mean that women may store less fat around the abdomen, but more about the thighs and buttocks.
Hormone imbalances caused by thyroid disorders and other conditions, can make both men and women more prone to storing fat than others.
Exercises to reveal your abs & tighten your tummy
Whether you have excess weight (fat) around the tummy or even if you aren’t overweight at all, one of the main reasons you don’t have a tight tummy is because your abdominal muscles are weak. To trim down and tone up, you’ve got to work all the muscles in your mid-section.
Workout your core
The below core workout moves pair well with 30 to 60 minutes of cardio and can be done up to six times a week. The core is the central portion of the body from which all movements extend. You’ll need to engage your mid-section by targeting it from multiple angles (crunches alone simply won’t do the trick).
These core exercises work other areas of your body and muscle groups (arms, legs, lower back, buttocks and thighs) too, to give you a great toned result for just about your whole body.
Within a matter of weeks, you’ll be able to say hello to your abs and start seeing some real change to your mid-section.
- Hip dip plank: Begin in a basic plank position (place your forearms on the ground with elbows aligned below your shoulders. Your arms will need to be parallel to your body at about shoulder-width distance. The rest of your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles). Now, tuck your right knee into your chest and rotate your waist so that the outer side of your right hip and thigh are facing the ground. Lower your body so that you are ‘sitting on your right hip’. Now lift your body back into a plank position, and raise and extend your right leg. Return to the starting position. Repeat on either side for 30 to 40 reps.
- Diagonal pike legs: Lie down on your back, face-up with your legs together and extended. Rotate your hips slightly to the left, placing them on a left diagonal. Now, place your left lightly behind the back of your head and extend your right arm out to the side with your palm facing down. Crunch up your mid-section and lift your legs, maintaining the diagonal position. Lower your legs back to the floor (slowly) and repeat on the other side. Do 30 to 40 reps. The exercise works best if your mid-section is engaged from the beginning (helping you to maintain balance throughout the exercise too).
- Inner thigh crunch lift: Staying on your back lying face up, extend your legs into a wide split. Point your toes upwards and place your hands at the back of your head. Lift and rotate your right leg, dropping the toe to face outwards. Using your inner thigh, lower your leg slowly to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Do 30 to 40 reps.
- Weighted pike: This is where some weights (dumbbells) come in. Remain on your back, facing upwards, place your legs together and extend outwards. Holding a [kilograms:1 to 2] weight, put your right hand beneath your head and extend your left arm straight back overhead. Now, bring your legs up to 90 degrees, crunching the upper and lower body at the same time as you lift your left arm up over your head and lowering it forwards (in line with your torso). Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side. Try to keep your head neutral (not strained) throughout. Do 30 – 40 reps.
- Pike and extend: Place your weights aside and lie back down, face up with your legs extended and arms overhead. Now, crunch up and reach your hands towards your toes (bringing your arms and legs up to meet in the middle). Slowly lower your upper back down, place your arms back overhead and lower your right leg only towards the floor. As you lift your leg back up again, crunch up and reach for your toes. Repeat and do 20 reps, alternating sides.
- Chest flye and leg extension: Lie back down and bend your knees over your hips at a 90-degree angle. Hold a weight in each hand with your arms extended over your chest (palms facing inwards). Keeping your right knee bent, straighten your left leg towards the floor at the same time as your lower your arms out to the sides (towards the floor). Hold for 1 count and return to the starting position. Do 10 reps, alternating your legs.
- Knee-up with overhead press: Now, sit up and place your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent. Hold your weights near your shoulders with your elbows at your sides, palms facing inwards. Lean back slightly and extend your arms overhead while lifting your feet a few inches off the floor, and bringing them towards your chest. Hold the position for 1 to 3 counts and return to the starting position. Do 15 reps.
- The canoe twist: Now, stand up with your feet slightly apart. Lock your fingers to create a solid grip. Breathe in and as you exhale, move your hands, arms, shoulders and chest to the right in a sweeping motion (as if you were rowing a canoe). At the same time, lift your right knee upwards and to the left. Take a deep breath and return to the starting position. Switch sides and do 20 reps.
- The cat kick: Stand upright again and place your feet together. Place your arms outwards like aeroplane wings and take a deep breath. As you exhale, lift your right leg forwards and extend your arms in the same direction, in line with your shoulders. Round your spine slightly like that of a cat. Take in a deep breath and return to the starting position. Switch legs and do 20 reps.
- Pilates zip up: Stand upright and place your heels together with your toes slightly turned out. Join your fingers on each hand and bring your arms up just below your chin. Breathe in and press your arms downwards as you exhale. Keep your arms close to the sides of your body as you lift your heels slightly off the ground (onto your tiptoes) at the same time. Hold for 2 counts and return to the starting position. You will feel your abs move inwards and upwards as your arms extend downwards. Do 20 reps.
Cardio exercises for weight loss
Cardiovascular exercises you can best benefit from for your weight loss goals include:
- Walking: A great aerobic exercise for fat burning, you can burn between 300 and 400 calories per hour. If you’re new to exercise, have an injury or are obese, this is a perfect exercise to start you off. It won’t instantly make you fit or help you lose weight quickly, but it will increase your metabolism and get you moving, and that’s important. You can include 20 – 45 minute walks, 3 times a week into your daily lifestyle.
- Running: A great high impact way to lose body fat and improve your cardiorespiratory fitness. The high intensity of this exercises helps to burn a greater number of calories (up to 600 per hour), while stimulating your metabolic rate for a longer period afterwards. Running works your hip flexors, hamstrings, quadriceps, as well as the gastrocnemius and soleus
muscles (calves) and also recruits the arms for an additional calorie burning effect.
A 20 – 30-minute running session, 3 times a week can help you achieve your weight loss goals.
- Cycling: This exercise is lower impact which makes it ideal for individuals prone to injuries. It involves the same muscles as running, and although it is low impact, it is a high intensity way to burn body fat (up to 600 calories per hour). You can choose to head outdoors or use a stationary bike. A 30 – 45 session, 3 times a week is ideal, especially for beginners.
- Rowing: The bonus of rowing as an exercise is that you’ll achieve a total body workout. You can burn up to 800 calories per hour using this high intensity way to strip body fat. It’s higher intensity than walking and lower impact than running.
- Swimming: This is also a great total body workout that is low impact on the body and burns a high number of calories (up to
600 per hour). Freestyle stroke works well for most people, using the body’s main muscle groups.
- HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training): This intensive aerobic way to exercise takes a shorter time to complete a session than some other traditional cardio
methods. HIIT combines an intense aerobic exercise (such as cycling) with a very high intensity component (significant intensity
increase) to provide a maximum fat burning effect. To do this you cycle or run at a rapid pace for a minute, then pick up the pace to maximum for 30 seconds, then bring the pace back down again – cycling or running these intervals for a specific period of between four and 15 minutes depending on your fitness level.