Here’s a survey nobody needs Gallup to do: If you asked 100 people which part of their body they wish was tighter and flatter, you can assume that approximately 99 of them will say they wish they had a better belly/toned tummy/six-pack abs. Simply put, pretty much all of us would love to whittle our middle.
But somehow it’s not happening. Why? Well, it could be the beer. And the fries. Maybe the Mexican food.
A surprising number of people also think that it’s possible to do a gazillion sit-ups or crunches to flatten just their stomach. This notion is called “spot toning” or “spot reducing” and it doesn’t work. DOES NOT WORK. The reason is simple: The muscles you want to sculpt are under that layer of fat so until you take away most of the fat, you can crunch away and you won’t see much of a difference.
So what should you do if you want to get a flat stomach? Thankfully, that too is simple, if not exactly easy. “Number one, eat right. Number two, exercise regularly. Number three, modify your exercise,” says Jennifer Huberty, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion at Arizona State University and the founder of Fit Minded. Modifying your workouts—meaning mixing up what you do so you aren’t doing the same exercises all the time—keeps your muscles challenged, which is key to continuing to see progress, explains Dr. Huberty, an advisor to ih8exercise.com.
Not sure where to start in revamping your diet? Here are 10 simple swaps you can start making today.
“Don’t do 20 million crunches,” she stresses. “Work out your whole body, get more cardiovascular fitness and build muscle endurance, but the kind that uses your [abs].” It’s also worth remembering that we’re not all built the same, which means that perfectly flat abs aren’t in everyone’s future, no matter how hard you work and how perfectly you eat; your genes may not be helping you out, and to get a ripped look may require extreme measures.
Lastly, of course, you need to do exercises that specifically use your stomach muscles, called the abdominals (or “abs”). You’ll also hear the word “core” a lot, which typically means both your abdominal muscles and the muscles in your lower back.
If you do nothing else to get rid of your pooch, clean up your diet. “There’s no such thing as six-pack abs if you’re not eating right,” adds Dr. Huberty, whose favorite core move is the Plank. “It doesn’t matter how many crunches you do.”
THE AT-HOME AB WORKOUT
All of the exercises here focus on your abdominals and can be done at home with little or no equipment. To create an ab-focused workout you can do at home, choose two or more of these moves and alternate working out different parts of your body, from core to your upper body (arms, back) to lower body (legs, butt). You need cardio workouts (jogging, running, walking, swimming, elliptical, spinning) to burn calories and fat, which is essential to seeing the abdominal muscles you’re training in the moves below.
If you don’t have any equipment at home choose from the first four moves, which use only your own body weight. For the Hamstrings Curl you will need a stability/activity ball.
How to do it: Lie on the ground or on a step bench with your feet on the ground or step at approximately hip-distance apart. Bring your hands to your sides, crossed over your chest, or with fingers interlaced behind your head. Exhale as you lift your shoulder blades off the floor, curling slightly through your upper back and looking just over your knees. Inhale as you lower your upper back to the ground, keeping the head lifted off the ground throughout the set. For more details on how to do a Crunch safely, as well as a short video demonstrating it, click here.
How to do it: Position yourself on the ground on all fours with your hands directly below your shoulders. Lower your forearms to the ground, keeping them parallel to each other (as much as possible). Your elbows should be exactly where your hands were placed. Extend your feet one at time back behind you so your knees are off the ground. Position your feet about hip- or shoulder-width apart. Look on the floor slightly in front of you. Breathe as you hold this position for a set amount of time. For more details on how to do a Plank safely, as well as a short video demonstrating it, click here.
How to do it: Start in upper push-up position: palms flat on the ground right under your shoulders, legs extended behind you and lifted off the ground so you're holding your body up in a straight line on your hands and toes. Bend your elbows and lower your body towards the floor until your chest touches or almost touches the ground. Exhale as you push your body back up to the starting position. For more details on how to do a Push-Up safely, as well as a short video demonstrating it, click here.
How to do it: Get on the ground on all fours with your hands directly below your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips. Inhale as you lift your right arm to about shoulder height and extend it straight ahead. Exhale as you lift your left leg to about hip height and extend it (foot flexed) behind you. Continue breathing as you hold spinal extension for a set amount of time. You can also do repetitions by drawing the right elbow and left knee together as you exhale and extending the right arm forward and left leg backward as you inhale again. Repeat with the left arm and right leg. For more details on how to do the Spinal Extension safely, as well as a short video demonstrating it, click here.
How to do it: Lying on the ground, place your feet on a stability ball, knees bent. Rest your hands, palms facing down, on the ground next to your hips. Your head should stay rested on the ground and your upper back should gently press into the ground throughout the exercise. Exhale as you push your arms into the ground, squeeze your butt, and lift your hips straight upward towards the ceiling. Inhale as you press your heels (toes facing the ceiling) into the ball and straighten your legs, allowing the ball to roll away from your body. Exhale as you continue pressing your heels into the ball and roll the ball back towards your hips (bending your knees). Maintain the lifted hip bridge throughout this exercise. For more details on how to do a Hamstrings Curl safely, as well as a short video demonstrating it, click here.
Buddha photo by Stefan Rudiger