Perhaps nothing says “sleek” better than a flat midsection. But in the ever-elusive quest to get that rippled, defined “six-pack,” Americans are spending millions of dollars on all kinds of abdominal gadgets, supplements, diets and creams. Save your money.
All you need for a flat and hard tummy is to eat right, sweat, and crunch! We all have abdominal muscles — yours just may be hiding under an extra layer of fat.
Here are a few exercise hints to get real results:
- Do some type of cardiovascular exercise (walking/hiking, jumping rope, playing soccer, rollerblading, bicycling, even gardening) at least 3-5 days per week for 30-60 minutes, to burn fat and help your abdominal muscles show through. If you can sing while you are exercising, you are not training hard enough—so get working!
- Eat 4-6 small, well-balanced meals throughout your day. Aim for lean proteins (chicken, fish, turkey and chicken sausages, tofu, nuts, beans and egg whites), whole grain breads and cereals, vegetables and fruit, and low-fat and non-fat dairy products (cheese, milk, and yogurt). Eat carbohydrates (pasta, bread, etc.), fats (salad dressing, butter and margarine, oil) and sugars in small amounts.
- Strength-train, or CORE-Train a couple days/week and you will burn fat around your tummy even faster. Muscle requires more energy to sustain itself—and calories are energy, so with more muscle, you burn more calories! Muscle also increases your metabolism so your body burns more fat—even at rest!
- Crunch! To sport a beautiful and lean-looking midsection, work your abdominals 3-5 days/week. Be sure to train your “6-pack” superficial abs, your sides or obliques, your lower abs, and especially, the deep or CORE abdominals– the most important ones!
Let’s start with the what is probably the best abdominal exercise ever – planks! Planks strengthen the deepest layer or core abdominal muscles. With a strong core, posture, coordination, spinal stability and balance are all improved, and back pain is reduced. Lie on your belly with your forearms out in front of you, your elbows directly below your shoulders, and toes on the ground/mat. Push your torso, glutes, hips, and legs off the floor into a plank position, resting only on your forearms and balls of your feet. Stabilize your hips, so they do not sag toward the ground. Pull your navel into your spine and breathe. Hold for 20-30 seconds. Come down slowly and try it again. When you can hold your planks for 30 seconds, try lifting a leg off the ground for 5-10 seconds. Switch legs. There a many varieties of planks to challenge your core abs. Come back soon, to read my blog about “plank progressions for the advanced athlete”.
Now let’s do some crunches, or “torso flexions,” as Pilates Instructors call them, since you are flexing your spine, when you crunch. Crunches target the superficial abs, or rectus abdominus muscles. Lie on your back on a mat, feet flat on the mat and knees bent. Clasp your hands behind your head and make your head dead weight in your hands. Inhale and prepare. On your exhale, slowly lift your head and shoulders off the mat, flexing your upper torso, as if you are trying to flex into a letter C. Concentrate on tightening your abdominal muscles as you lift, and gently pull your navel into your spine. Lower down. Do 15 repetitions. Now place a small ball between your legs and squeeze it hard as you crunch, to really activate the abs (and inner thighs too)!
Now to target the side abdominal muscles, alternate between reaching your right elbow toward your right knee 10 times, and left elbow to your left knee, 10 times. Keep your non-working, or opposite shoulder relaxed as you crunch. To make this exercise even more effective, try bringing your knees up towards your elbows as you crunch, ouch!
To target lower abs, place your legs in the air, knees bent about 90 degrees. You can either place your hands behind your head, or you can place them on the mat along your sides. Lift and curl your hips off the floor toward your body, exhaling and drawing your tummy muscles in, throughout this reverse crunch. Try about 10-15 reps.
Master these ab exercises, eat nutritiously, and do your cardio, and you should be well on your way to great abs!