Michele Sotak (@musclesmichele) is a CPT and Life Fitness Master Trainer. Here, she offers an inside look at what it really takes to get a six-pack.
Dreaming of washboard abs? Who isn’t?! Before you clock a few hours per week at the gym, consider this fast fact: there is no such thing as spot training. You can train your abs to be stronger, but to burn the fat over the stomach muscles, you must incorporate a combination of effective core exercises, cardiovascular activity and high intensity interval training (HIIT), and proper nutrition.
Effective Core Exercises Do Exist
Let’s get one thing straight here, right off the bat; training abs is essential not just for the sake of vanity, but for our health. A strong core protects the spine and is the foundation for a strong body. But overdoing crunches can put your health in jeopardy. Also, if crunches are done incorrectly, it can put unnecessary pressure to the spine and cause more harm than good. Think of lifting your chin up to the ceiling when coming up on the crunch versus lifting the chin forward. It’s a very small movement and most people shake if done correctly. Another idea: skip the sit-ups and do other “abs” exercises that are more safe and functional instead.
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Think Outside the Sit-Up
You may not realize it, but you’re engaging your core while performing many common exercises including squats, presses and pulls. In addition to doing these exercises in its normal form, try removing points of stability with some presses and pulls, such as standing on one leg or working with one arm. Unilateral exercises use your stabilizer muscles. For squats, try holding a weight in one hand to fire up the stabilizers.
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Invest in Some Fitness Accessories
The Bosu forces you to stabilize and challenges your core when planking or standing on top of it. The TRX is another great tool for working the core. Place feet in cradles to suspend legs and hold up body weight, which adds stress to the abs. Also, stand on one leg when performing upper body exercises, or use only one hand for suitable exercises where applicable, such as rows or bicep curls.
Try Out Cables at the Gym
My favorite core exercises are variations of woodchops and trunk rotations performed with a cable pulley machine. This hits the obliques and even parts of your lower back, including love handles. A great exercise is a lunge hold with a high to low wood chop that really works the midsection, pairing it with a lower body element.
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Get Your Cardio Fix
Next up, cardio. The most effective cardio to help shrink the midsection is high intensity intervals (HIIT) such as sprints on a treadmill, plyometrics such as burpees, and intervals on the StairMaster. HIIT burns calories post-workout so it torches more fat up to 24 hours after the workout. Steady state cardio is also helpful, including jogging, elliptical or StairMaster for about 30 minutes a few times a week.
Make Sure You’re Eating Clean
Your nutritional choices are super important when working toward flat abs. Keep the following tips handy next time you’re meal prepping for the week.
Macronutrients are always needed. Incorporate the proper macronutrients — proteins, complex carbs and healthy fats — into your diet. I love getting my protein through Vital Proteins products.
Take probiotics. This helps promote a healthy gut.
Up your fiber intake. It helps you stay full.
Pay attention to foods that bloat you. Different foods affect people differently.
Eat slowly to avoid inhaling extra air. Eating fast may lead to excess bloat.
Eliminate sugary drinks. Water is the best beverage for flat abs.