Contrary to popular belief performing vast quantities of repetitive crunches are not the answer to flat abs. It has taken many years for me to fully recognise that what we do in the gym constitutes only 30% of the effort required and that exercise alone cannot create toned abdominals. A holistic approach is the way to success incorporating good nutrition, the right combination of exercises and a healthy digestive system!
Arguably the most important element of the elusive flat abs is getting your nutrition right, and don’t get distracted by counting calories. Not all calories are equal; it’s the type of food and drink you consume that matters.
Refined carbohydrates including sugar will easily destroy your best attempts to exercise away your midriff. They activate a spike in the level of the hormone insulin, which prevents the body burning fat but results in it being stored instead, usually as visceral fat around the belly.
Diets heavy in trans fats not only result in fat being deposited around the belly but also in moving fat from other areas to the belly.
Foods to avoid:
Refined grains: White flour products such as white bread, white pasta and white rice.
Fructose: Despite being a natural sugar derived from fruit, sugar is sugar! To avoid the build up of visceral fat avoid fizzy drinks, fruit juices, anything made using the ingredient “high fructose corn-syrup” and table sugar.
There seem to be conflicting opinions on fresh fruit. It is argued that although containing a high proportion of fructose, the fiber and other nutrients contained in fresh fruit reduce the absorption of the fructose meaning it is less likely to cause belly fat. However if reducing belly fat is a priority for you then replacing a large proportion of your fruit with vegetables would be a positive choice.
Trans fats: Common in processed food, trans fats include many margarines, cakes, cookies, dougnuts, pies, fast foods and desserts .
Perhaps one of the most common questions I get asked is how to “tone up my wobbly abs”. From the earlier discussion around food it might have become clear that there really is no such thing as wobbly abs, we have to face the facts that what’s fondly known as the “muffin top” is largely visceral fat.
The right exercise can certainly help shift this fat but the ‘toning’ element comes last. Initially cardio-vascular exercise is required to burn fat and the most time effective form of cardio exercise is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Steady state cardio exercise such as running or cycling will burn fat but takes longer! Unless you are someone who enjoys training regularly those who opt for the treadmill or bike in the gym can soon find it tedious and see slow progress.
HIIT is a form of interval training and involves repeatedly elevating the heart rate for short bursts of intense activity followed by a short rest. Not only do you burn fat more quickly, (a 15 minute HIIT session is said to burn more fat than a 40 minutes at a steady level on the treadmill) you will continue to burn fat for hours after you finish your workout! Of course cardio training is not spot specific in terms of fat burning; do bear in mind that the fat will be lost across the whole body and belly fat can sometimes be harder to shift
Resistance training using weights is great for fat burning as we recruit big muscle groups, which require a lot of energy. Additionally; resistance training builds lean muscle and the bigger proportion of lean muscle we have (compared with fat) the more calories we burn just through day-to-day living! As well as fat burning, resistance training will tone the muscles so not only will you shed pounds your body will gradually change shape to become more sculpted in appearance.
I am a massive fan of Kettlebell workouts and Kettlebell HIIT, which combines interval training with resistance training for a super effective workout! You can almost see the fat dropping off participants in Kettlebell based classes.
Targeted abdominal toning will be most relevant once the belly fat has been hit and by far the best choice is Pilates training because it works the core rather than the abdominal muscles in isolation.
What is the core?
The Core is a frequently misunderstood term. Typically, the core is associated with the “six pack” abdominal muscles. However as well as the four groups of abdominal muscles, the core also comprises the stabilising muscles of the hips, the lower back and pelvic floor, indeed a large proportion of the torso.
Through core conditioning exercises including Pilates we can train the muscles of the torso to work together to create a ‘centre of strength’. This provides a foundation from which the upper and lower body extremities are able to operate more efficiently allowing better posture and support and improved muscle balance.
Given the extent of the core within the torso you will now understand why performing isolating exercises to work the abdominal muscles, such as ab crunches is not the way to create a toned midriff. In Pilates the muscles of the torso operate together creating ‘connections’, which, over time, will effectively ‘draw in’ to provide that sculpted appearance. Many good fitness classes will include core work within the overall session. Successful approaches include selecting exercises which combine core training with strength training or the use of pyramids.
Do you suffer from Bloating? You can have the most toned abs, but bloating, that uncomfortable feeling like an inflated balloon in the abdomen can wreckall your best efforts to eat right and exercise well. Although there can be many causes of bloating one of the most common, which you can do something about quite easily, is improper digestion and poor food choice.
Our top tips to reduce bloating include:
Bloating can be a symptom of a medical condition, food intolerances or a reaction to medication. If symptoms persist it is worth pursuing with your GP.
4 reasons why you can’t shift Abdominal Fat?
Are you eating well and exercising but still not shifting that belly fat? There are a few other factors which on their own can soon sabotage your best efforts:-
In summary, the secret of flat abs
With over 20 years experience in the fitness industry, Debbie's philosophy is to provide results driven, progressive but functional training solutions that fit in to our