Before we start blasting it, let’s get one thing straight – every healthy person has stomach fat. Anyone who doesn’t have it would not be considered medically healthy at all. Problems arise when you have too much of it, and can occur depending on the type of fat you have in that mid-section. The bad news is, stomach fat is one of the most difficult areas to shed those unwanted centimeters… but not impossible. Check out these exercises for stomach fat that will help you tone and flatten your core!
It’s important to get your head around the ins and outs of stomach fat in order to shed it. The belly is one of those problem areas that can be extremely difficult to tone and trim, and sit-ups alone won’t cure that! The reality is, sit-ups on their own or ‘miracle diets’ just don’t work – especially not in the long-term.
If you’ve read many of my articles, I’ll be sounding like a broken record by now, but it’s important to drill in again that a holistic approach to health, and an overall lifestyle change, is essential when trying to achieve a healthy physique and maintain it. It involves a number of essential changes, but it’s not as scary as it sounds. In fact, most of it comes down to good old-fashioned commonsense, with a little bit of knowledge around nutrition and muscles thrown in there. Don’t worry though – I’m going to guide you through all that. But first, let’s look at why the belly is one of those areas prone to stubborn fat storage…
There are two layers of fat in the body – some is right under your skin, called ‘subcutaneous’ fat, and some is around the heart, lungs, liver and other organs. That deeper fat is called ‘visceral’ fat, and can become the bigger problem. While you do need visceral fat to cushion your organs, too much of it can cause high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. When too much fat builds up in the body, it starts getting stored in unusual places, and the stomach is one of those go-to areas. Too much visceral fat is more harmful than subcutaneous fat, but the good news is, it is also easier to lose than subcutaneous fat. The Doctors explain it pretty well…
Exercise is not everything… In fact, it’s not even most things. Nutrition has to be a major player in toning the body and trimming fat. While no one exercise, type of food or ‘trick’ diet is going to magically blast away that stubborn stomach fat, it is still a much simpler concept and process than you probably realize. It comes down to reducing your overall body fat percentage, because the belly is generally the last, or one of the last, places that stored energy (fat) will be used by the body when you’re losing weight. And again, this is where that overall healthy approach, or lifestyle change, comes into play. The good news there is that you can do that naturally, without starving yourself, working out to the point of physical exhaustion, or buying expensive ‘fat blasting’ exercise equipment.
Nutrition plays a key role because the amount of calories you consume, and, more importantly, the types of calories you consume, relate directly to fat storage in the body. We’ve written a number of in-depth articles around this topic that can help you understand the bigger picture and how to eat sensibly. This one takes you through what not to do (and you will find some things in here that you probably have done!), and here you will find how to reduce your calorie intake without feeling hungry or becoming obsessed with food.
Sit-ups are back in fashion! The vintage core exercise of crunching is definitely beneficial, and if you do them every day or every second day, then some of those ab muscles will be hard as a rock! However, they are certainly not the only exercise for toning the belly, and unfortunately they don’t target those important lower abdominal muscles (where all the belly fat tends to hang!), so you need to add some other exercises to your stomach fat blasting routine as well. Even so, none of it involves over-priced equipment and all of it can be done at home. The only thing we’d suggest you get is an exercise ball. However, again, that’s not essential – all of these exercises can be achieved without one!
The key to any weight loss, including the stomach area, is variety. It’s important to cover all the essentials in health and fitness – cardio, strength, stretching and relaxation (as well as nutrition, which we’ve already covered). Without an overall level of fitness and movement, those abdominal exercises will make your core stronger, but they won’t get rid of all the fat! You need to be exercising every day.
That doesn’t mean a strenuous high intensity workout and these core exercises every day. What it does mean is humans should be active every day. That could be achieved by a brisk 30-minute walk on days you’re not working out at the gym. It could mean walking to and from work every day. As long as your heart rate is increased every day, then that is your base for your fitness routine. You can then add to that three or four days of strength training in some form or another, which can include our abdominal exercises.
Yoga or Pilates are also fantastic for strengthening and flattening the stomach, but go for a vinyasa flow or power yoga class if that is your aim. Anything else you enjoy – whether it be swimming, team sport, cycling, surfing or running – can also be added to the mix. Just make sure you are getting a mix!
Finally, once you do have an active lifestyle that includes some strenuous activities for the body, it’s just as important to stretch, rest and restore. That includes getting enough sleep, stretching your muscles and relaxing, whether that be through meditation, a stroll on the beach or in the forest, a restorative yoga class or yoga nidra.
As the headline suggests, this sequence is focused on the abdomen and is therefore most effective when added to the end or the beginning of your current exercise routine. That could be walking, running, swimming, cycling, sport, weight training or group fitness classes.
This is one of the most effective abdominal exercises because it targets the entire core region (while working the arms and postural muscles at the same time).
Lift yourself off the ground with your feet and hands – wrists under shoulders, body straight, and hands firmly pressed on the ground protecting the wrists. Your core should be strong and your back straight (don’t collapse in the back). Depending on your strength, hold the pose for 30 seconds to begin with – if that’s easy, hold it for a couple of minutes, otherwise work up to that.
If you have weak or injured wrists, practice plank with your forearms (elbows to hands) on the ground. When you have built up your strength and balance, you can also add arm and leg raises. Start in plank, then raise one leg straight up and then extend the opposite arm up and out in front of you. Make sure you’re not collapsing in the back. Hold for three breaths, then take a couple of breaths in regular plank and repeat with the other arm and leg.
Another way to crunch those muscles and include obliques into the mix is by lifting one leg and bringing the knee forward to the outside of the elbow and hovering before moving it back into place. Repeat with the other leg and then repeat bringing each knee to the opposite elbow. You can move with your breath, exhaling as your knee comes forward and inhaling as it goes back.
As mentioned above, sit-ups or crunches are oldies but goodies, and you can add variations to the traditional up-down version. For example, add twisted crunches to work the oblique muscles (sides of the abdominal muscles) by starting with your knees bent and legs raised – hands behind your head. As you lift your upper body using your core strength (don’t strain your neck), twist, sending your left elbow to your right knee while straightening out your left leg and hovering it about the ground, all during an exhale. As you inhale, lower your torso back down and bend the left knee up again. On the next exhale, lift up and twist your right elbow to your left knee, straightening your right leg. Repeat at least 10 times, building that up by a couple each time you do it as your strength increases.
You can also add an exercise ball into the mix here, either practicing regular crunches or twisted crunches. Rest your lower back on the fitball with your buttocks hovering off the bottom part of the ball and your shoulders off the top.
This is one of the best core strengthening exercises, and works on most of the abdominal muscles.
Bend your knees and rest your hands underneath them. Lift one leg, then the other so that your lower legs are raised and parallel to the floor in a straight line. Ensure your back is straight by lifting your collarbone towards the sky, making sure you’re not straining your neck or rounding your back. Release your hands and rest them gently on the ground by your sides. As you build strength, you can lift your arms up, keeping them straight next to your legs. Hold this pose for as long as you can, or take a few breaths, release, and repeat a few times. Again, everyone’s ability is different, so increase your pose length and repetitions over the weeks as you build strength. You can also work towards straightening your legs, rather than bending the knees over time.
Now to really target those lower abdominal muscles… Start lying on your back and lift both legs up towards the sky for L-shape. Slowly lower your right leg on an exhale, hovering it just above the ground before again very slowly lifting it back up (keeping it as straight as possible) on an inhale. Repeat with the other leg. You’ll find this one is extremely intense and takes a lot of abdominal strength, so you won’t need to repeat it too many times, especially to begin with. As you become stronger, add a couple more rounds lowering and lifting both legs at the same time. You can squeeze an exercise ball in between your ankles and repeat lifting and lowering both legs at the same time.
While you are in L-shape, you can add some other movements into the mix. Lift your head and shoulders off the ground and move your arms up your legs towards your toes. Hold here for as many breaths as you can or pulse, lifting higher and higher. You can also add some twists to your leg lowers. As you lower your right leg and hover it above the ground, bend your left knee and lift your shoulders off the mat, twisting and sending your right elbow towards the left knee. Then twist the other way, bringing your right knee in towards your left elbow as you straighten and hover the left leg.
Recovery is just as important as exercise, and this pose works to stretch those muscles we’ve just worked, while working the back muscles and some leg and postural muscles at the same time! Bridge pose is a great one to release the abdomen.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet planted on the ground, hip-distance apart. On an inhale, slowly lift your pelvis and lower back towards the sky, pressing your hands into the mat. If that feels good, lift yourself up higher, lifting your middle back and upper back, tucking your shoulders underneath and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Lift your collarbone towards the sky and clasp your hands underneath you or place your elbows on the ground and hands on your lower back, supporting it. Stay in this pose for at least 10 breaths.
It’s imperative here to note the importance of realistic goals. Your ideal physique should be based on health, not on photoshopped images of women with skin suctioning onto six-pack abs, or ‘fitness models’ who dehydrate themselves before going on stage. They might look fit and healthy, but in reality, they have very likely achieved that picture-perfect muscle definition in an unhealthy way. It is actually unnatural for most women to have a defined six-pack while maintaining a healthy relationship with food and a sustainable exercise regime.
Women need a body fat percentage of at least 20 per cent to function normally and maintain regular menstrual cycles and fertility. Compare that to men, who can go down to as low as 6 per cent, while still being classified in the ‘healthy’ category. That’s why it’s so much easier for men to achieve visible six-pack abs compared to women. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule and we are all individuals. Some women have naturally lower body fat levels than others and can build muscle easier, which means their abs will look different to yours. However, they are not in the majority.
For most ladies, ‘abs of steel’ just aren’t realistic if you want to be healthy. They will require you to maintain a strenuous workout routine that focuses largely on that stomach area, potentially ignoring and unbalancing strength in other muscle groups, while watching every calorie you eat, to most likely reach a lower body fat percentage than you should have. All of this can over-stress the body and impact on your social life, mood and overall wellbeing. On top of that, it’s highly unlikely you will sustain that for the remainder of your life, which means you are doing more harm than good for the future.
It’s best to aim to be strong and healthy with a flat stomach that doesn’t stick out and wobble!
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