In Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film Pulp Fiction, Fabienne (the girlfriend of Bruce Willis’ character) talks about wanting a pot belly because she thinks it looks “sexy”. However, for many women with a fitness goal, the aim is to get a strong, toned firm and flat tummy.
Belly fat is also not always healthy, so here’s all the important information and workout exercises you need to know how to get your abs in shape so you can look and feel confident.
Cardio Is Crucial – For Fat Burning
Almost all personal trainers and fitness instructors agree that the best way to reduce belly fat and increase muscle definition with the visibility of six-pack abs is to do High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). This involves working out at 90% of your maximum capacity, which trains your body to work in an anaerobic mode that increases your heart rate through short but intense bursts of exercise like sprints (running or cycling), HIIT, jumping rope, mountain climbers, weightlifting, and isometric exercises.
Anaerobic cardio workouts prompt your body to demand more energy than your aerobic system can produce. Plus it’s more interesting than just jogging on a treadmill.
To produce more energy, your body uses its anaerobic system, which relies on energy sources stored in your muscles. In addition to helping your body manage lactic acid more efficiently, anaerobic exercise has been shown to help you maintain a healthy body weight over aerobic (moderate intensity) exercise. Fat burners are a great way to enhance your cardio and increase it’s energy expenditure.
A fascinating study was done that examined HIIT and body fat loss, read it here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2991639/
Do A Full Body Workout – Not Just Crunches
When targeting belly fat, we have been conditioned to believe that crunches and sit-ups are the be-all and end-all for toned abdominal muscles. But this isn’t true. Sit-ups and crunches are a good workout for the abs but they target a very small isolated muscle group, and your core muscles go far beyond just the abs.
Related: Ultimate Abs Workout Belts Guide
They should be done in addition to a full-body workout which includes some strength training.
Increasing your muscle mass not only makes you look great but it boosts your metabolic rate in the long run.
Include other compound resistance exercises in the gym that work the abs and strengthen other body parts and muscles at the same time. For example the plank (include a forearm and side plank with leg raises in your routine); leg lowering (which is safer for the back and neck than traditional sit-ups); pull-ups including knee pull-ups which work the lower abs, and the weighted squat.
To get six pack abs, many people think that you need to do lots of exercises. But you don’t need to spend much time working on abs at all. They are a small muscle group and don’t take as much effort to grow as other mucles.
You might be wondering how a squat targets your core, and here’s the simple answer: your abs act as stabilizers for your trunk whenever you squat, lift or move. So when you go into a dumbbell squat, in order to support the weight, your muscle fiber of your rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and internal and external obliques is intensely activated, creating instant core power.
It’s important to remember to take rest days from your strength training workouts to allow time for muscle recovery and thus muscle growth.
Fasted Cardio – Is It Right For You?
There is a theory (that requires more studies) that if you exercise on an empty stomach, you’ll burn body fat. However, this method, also known as “Fasted Cardio” is not for everyone, as some people may feel lethargic and weak during exercise (especially high intensity training) with no fuel in their bodies.
Kayla Itsines, an Australian personal trainer, author and entrepreneur recommends that if you are doing a high-intensity workout, it can help to have a light snack first. Having a snack before you exercise can also mean you’ll be less likely to overeat after your workout.
As a general rule she doesn’t recommend having a large meal within an hour of starting your workout and advises only fruit or a few nuts if you’re hungry.
So here are the pros for exercising on an empty stomach: six hours after eating you enter the fasted state. Glucagon is released to keep your blood sugar at normal levels. Your body starts to break down adipose (fat) tissue into free fatty acids, which can then be converted into a form of energy known as ketone bodies. In layman’s terms, you’re burning fat for energy. This can lead to rapid weight loss.
The cons of fasted cardio: as already mentioned, a lack of food intake and working out on an empty stomach may make you feel tired and nauseous due to low blood sugar levels. In addition to this, when doing HIIT, your body doesn’t look to its fat reserves it will use stored muscle glucose (glycogen) more than fat, and this could actually lead to muscle depletion.
The bottom line is fasted cardio is a very personal choice and only you will know what your body needs and what feels right. Diet is everything so we’ll get into the foods you should be eating and the food you should definitely be avoiding or reducing.
Diet Is Key For Six Pack Abs
The saying “food is medicine” (ascribed to the Greek Physician of 400 BC Hippocrates) sums up the importance of food for our overall wellbeing. Our nutrition can affect our mood, our energy levels, our digestive system, our sports performance and of course our weight.
If you want a flatter tummy, exercise alone is not going to be enough to achieve it. It will take other lifestyle changes. You don’t need to be a fitness nutrition specialist but you should switch to healthy, natural, whole foods like fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and pulses. Here are the top foods for a slimmer stomach:
- Green veggies: cucumbers have a 96% water content so they’re not only hydrating but can reduce bloating. Celery, broccoli and cauliflower are great greens for getting the right nutrients too!
- Bananas: are packed with potassium (which helps lower your risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease) and are a resistant starch, which is a healthy carb that digests slowly and keeps you full for longer (preventing overeating later).
- Lentils: part of the pulse family and packed with protein and fiber, which helps you feel fuller for longer. They’re also a good source of iron – studies have shown that an iron deficiency can slow down metabolism.
- Whole grains: like oats are good carbs that can actually help keep you slim. They’re a good source of fiber, aid digestion and help better regulate blood sugar and insulin levels. In one study, researchers found that women who regularly consumed whole grains, such as brown rice, had a 49% lower risk of major weight gain over time.
- Healthy fats: don’t be one of those people that completely avoid all fat. Healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados or peanut butter can actually help with weight loss and provide many other health benefits too.
What all of the above foods have in common is that they are all fiber rich – which reduces body fat, not only because fiber-rich foods are generally low in calories but also because they’re filling and good for the digestive system. There are also supplements for six-pack abs that can boost the reduction in body fat.
We can’t stress the importance of eating natural food, that comes from the earth and is not made in a factory.
But watch the sugar, especially those in fruit juices!
Avoid sugar and processed foods (which usually come in a plastic packet and contain preservatives, e-codes and other chemicals that have no place in our bodies). These wreak havoc with our blood sugar and insulin levels, can cause bloating (usually due to high sodium) and are just generally bad for our gut health.
Try to avoid white flour goods such as bread as they contain high amounts of simple carbohydrates. Also, if you find yourself bloated a lot, you may wish to look into and food intolerances you might have. You should also consider getting adequate protein intake to support your body in growing and maintaining muscle mass. Eggs or lean meats such as chicken or fish are recommended and more regular servings are better for your metabolism.
The basics are to eat less than your energy expenditure. If you are confused as to exactly how many calories and the amount of carbohydrates, protein and fat you should be consuming is, check out this clever tool that will help you calculate your macros: https://www.iifym.com/macro-calculator/
Reduce Your Stress – And Relax
Our busy, demanding lives mean we are hard-wired to be stressed, and this constant fight or flight state results in us being drip-fed the stress hormone cortisol.
High cortisol levels raise our blood sugar levels, which then raises insulin – the fat storage hormone.
The waistline area also has more fat cell receptors than the rest of the body and to make things worse, elevated cortisol levels make you crave sugar and salt. In order to make your weight loss and six pack journey sustainable, you need to get plenty of rest and sleep. Taking a break from your diet every so often can also help you to relax and also get your head back in the game.
Now we know that visible six-pack abs isn’t just for athletes and those with great genetics, here are some other things to consider in your pursuit for a slimmer waistline:
- Drink plenty of water! – Glorious H20 not only keeps you hydrated (when you’re dehydrated your retains water), it boosts your metabolism, cleanses your body of waste and is an appetite suppressant. If you want to add natural flavor (and we emphasize natural), add a slice of lemon, orange, apple or cucumber to your water. It’s also great for your skin!
- Don’t Skip Breakfast – The word “breakfast” exists because it is the first meal that breaks your overnight fast. It’s therefore a very important meal to kickstart your metabolism, restore glucose levels in the body, and stop you overeating in your next meal. Try and eat within two hours after waking up to get all the benefits of breakfast, and of course, keep your breakfast healthy and nutritious (doughnuts do not a breakfast make and muffins lead to muffin tops).
- Snack smart – In between breakfast, lunch and supper, you can include healthy snacks like fruits and nuts or mini-meals – like an egg and tomato on whole grain toast or baby carrots and hummus – that don’t leave you feeling heavy. If you have cravings, they can often be curbed with a protein bar or shake. The less hungry you are throughout the day, the less likely you are to binge on junk.
- Be consistent in your efforts – Stay disciplined and stick mostly to your healthy eating (use a meal plan) and exercise routine. If you “cheat” once in a while that’s okay, but don’t let it become the norm.