Target your hidden core muscles
Crunches target only superficial muscles, so they aren’t the most efficient way to work your abs. Hard fact: to burn just 450 grams of fat, you have to do 250,000 crunches, according to researchers at the University of Virginia, US. 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.
The core moves in our fave ab workout target these “hidden” muscles. To practise engaging them, try this drill from Waters: 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 towards your spine, drawing your abdomen towards the floor. Hold for five seconds. Repeat eight to 10 times. See the ab workout below.
Move your butt
Your bum 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 an aesthetic standpoint, it pushes your abdomen out, making even a flat stomach bulge. That means, to lose your gut, you’ve got to work your butt.
The glute bridge march and hip-thigh raise will help you get a stronger behind. Combat tight hip flexors with this stretch: in a lunge position, lower yourself so your back knee is resting on the floor. Push hips forward, keeping your back upright, until you feel a stretch in the front of the hip. Hold for 10 seconds, relax, repeat. Switch legs. Increase stretch by reaching your arms over your head.
Eat stomach-friendly foods
You can’t see ab muscles if they’re buried under a layer of fat. Excavate them by following these easy dietary guidelines – and by tucking into the ab friendly foods. See examples below
Pump up your protein intake Replace some of the carbs in your diet with meat, fish, dairy and nuts and you can reduce the amount of fat around your middle. Researchers at McMaster University in Canada assessed the diets of 617 people and found when they exchanged some carbohydrates in favour of an equal amount of protein, they reduced overall belly fat.
Eliminate added sugar We eat a lot of sugar – some estimates put it at 31 teaspoons a day. According to consumer watchdog Choice, 80 per cent of this sugar comes from packaged foods: cereals, baked goods, fizzy drinks, yoghurt – so we don’t realise how much we’re eating. All that sugar increases insulin production, which slows your metabolism. One way to cut down: divide the grams of sugar listed on labels by four – this is the amount of teaspoons in it (that means a glass of orange juice has around 9 tsp sugar.)
Don’t fear fat Research shows that diets containing more than 50 per cent 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,” says nutritionist Alan Aragon. Eat foods rich in monounsaturated fats, such as olives, nuts and avocados; research has even found that it’s OK to enjoy whole foods that contain saturated fat (milk, cheese and butter) in moderation.
Beat the bloat No matter how much fat you lose or muscle you tone, if you’re bloated, you won’t look (or feel) your best. Fizzy drinks; even good-for-you foods like beans and broccoli, can make a stomach swell. And keep your sodium intake in check: nutritionists suggest you stay under 2000mg to avoid retaining excess water. (Most of us get closer to 5000mg a day.)
Your never-ending to-do list. Your in-laws. Your mortgage. All that anxiety can produce extra cortisol, a hormone that encourages the body to store fat, particularly in the stomach. According to researchers at Yale University, US, 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 short breaks from work every 90 minutes. “It’s like recalibrating your body – reminding you to breathe and relax,” says Waters.
Work out less
Ditch your daily ab 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 trainer 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 for harder moves,” says trainer 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 abs at the end of their workout, and that’s when you get sloppy or run out of time,” says Cosgrove. “You should do them first and then move on to your cardio. To get them looking great you need to make them a priority not an after thought. ” You’ll be glad you did”