Flat stomach workouts are easier to write than they are to actually implement. And why is that? Because body fat or “belly flot” is notoriously hard to lose, especially for women. I myself have struggled with my stomach area my entire life – and I mean from childhood on (thanks, evil ‘90s beauty culture). Three kids and into my 30s now,my fitness journey to visible abdominal muscles is still a work in progress, but there’s been a lot of progress! There is a formula to it, with physical activity, nutrition and genes all playing a part. It can’t just be a “stomach workout,” unfortunately. There’s a lot of dedication that goes along with it, but the results…speak for themselves. Buckle up.
Shedding the Body Fat
Oftentimes, the goals to lose weight and to lose body fat go hand-in-hand. This isn’t a nutrition article (there’s a million of those out there), but a few general things to know. There’s no set number to the age-old question “How many calories does it take to lose belly fat?” Sorry. Generally, to lose weight, your doctor or personal trainer will tell you to be in a calorie deficit through good nutrition and regular exercise. In other words, if your starting calorie number is 1800 (and this isn’t an arbitrary number – work with your doctor or a nutritionist to come up with this number. Please don’t try to guess it on your own), you should consume fewer calories in food and drink than 1800. Basic math.
Health experts recommend 30 minutes of cardio exercise per day to try and trim body fat. Some good ones to try:
But the best piece of advice from health experts? Whatever you’re doing, make sure it’s something you really, REALLY enjoy! And don’t be afraid to shake it up with different ways to move throughout the week so you never get bored.
Spot Training Isn’t a Thing
If you think you can do 1,000 crunches every day, but eat trash and watch Netflix, and still end up with fat loss and a strong core – well, you’re dreaming. Spot training, or the idea that if you work one body part (and people mainly do this for their stomach exercises) over and over again for quick results just can’t happen.
This really doesn’t work for your stomach because of one frustrating fact – you won’t lose body fat from just working your core. Your body draws energy from the body as a whole, not just the area you’re working (e.g., you aren’t burning fat in your abs just because you’re engaging them over and over). You might be able to gain strength in your legs or upper body by burning those muscles repeatedly, but that kind of workout philosophy won’t work for losing fat and improving the look of your abs. Again, that’s why it’s important to keep the diet cleaned up and incorporate some cardio along with your ab workout. That’s the best way to get the results you’re looking for.
The Science of a Good Ab Workout
When looking for stomach exercises that really pack a punch, here are a few starting tips:
- FInd one that works your entire core
- Stay away from movements that can strain your back or neck
- Concentrate on deep, even breathing
- Don’t necessarily aim for high reps – aim for GOOD reps with proper form. If you want to make it more difficult, keep a light set of dumbbells, barbell plate or medicine ball handy.
All that being said, let’s take a look at an abs workout that really fits the bill.
Oh, planks. How do I love thee, let me count the ways?! Planks are a beast for your abs – in fact, these are such a great core exercise that you could stop reading after this paragraph (but doing planks every day would get really tedious. Please keep reading). While holding a plank, whether in a high plank position (where you place your hands on the ground and stack your arms and shoulders over your hands) or in a forearm plank position, you’re using your ab muscles just to hold yourself up and to keep your back in a straight line. That keeps your body’s natural alignment (the same can’t be said for movements like crunches).
Planks work your whole core, including those deep and elusive transverse abdominis muscles and are much more effective for an ab workout. Bonus – planks are all about keeping a straight line, which means they won’t strain your lower back or your neck.
- Your starting position is up off the floor. Your toes should be resting on the ground, heels straight up toward the sky (don’t fall into the temptation to rest back on your heels). For your upper body, you can do a high plank position on your hands (it should look like the top of push up position), or a forearm plank, where your elbows are bent at a 90-degree angle and your upper body rests on them.
- Keep your hips in line with the rest of your body. As your body tires, your hips might naturally rise (into a U-shape) or lower to the ground. Neither are good, because they throw your alignment out of whack and make the exercise less impactful.
- Breathe deeply as you keep your core engaged.
Start with a 30 second hold, going for longer periods as your abs get stronger. If you need a modification, you can spread your feet hip width apart to steady your balance.
To work those obliques, try a side plank. How to do it: Slowly twist out of a regular plank to stack your weight on one side.
Start with your right side. You can stack your body over your bent right elbow, or for an extra challenge, stack your body over your right hand and straightened right arm. Hold for 30 seconds. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, lift your right leg off the ground and hold. YIPES – it’s a deep burn and requires some serious balance. Need a modification? Lower on to your right knee instead of staying on your feet. Switch sides and repeat on your left side.
If you want to add in a little cardio, try plank jacks. From a standard plank, jump your feet in and out like a jumping jack. Aim for 3 sets of 10. You can do the same with mountain climbers, driving your knees into your chest.
Glute Bridge March
OK, I know, I know, this one starts with “glute” and not “ab” – stay with me here, it does both.
- Your starting position is to lie flat on the floor, legs bent and feet hip width apart, flat on the ground.
- Extend your arms over your chest.
- Raise your hips and keep a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Keeping your core engaged, lift your right knee over your hip, simultaneously lifting your hips off the ground.
- Hold for a few seconds then switch to your left knee.
Aim for 10 on each side. And that added bonus I was talking about? Not only does this exercise help with a strong core, you’re squeezing your glutes while your hips are lifted! Bonus boothy gains!
Of all the core exercises talked about in this article, the leg lower is the one that really fires your lower abs.
- Your starting position is to lie flat on the floor, both legs straight up in a 90 degree angle. Your hands can be behind your head (this ones harder) or by your sides.
- Breath in, and slowly lower your legs as far as possible without your back lifting off the ground.
- Exhale, return your legs back to the 90-degree angle.
- Do 20 seconds worth for 3 rounds, taking 15 seconds rest between each one (you’ll need it).
For a modification, you can do this ab workout using one leg at a time. While keeping your right leg in the air at 90 degrees, slowly lower your left leg as low as you can. Exhale, return your left leg back to 90 degrees. Switch sides, this time lowering your right leg only.
Challenge your inner gymnast with a movement that moves your whole body!
- Lie flat on your back, with your legs straight out in front of you and your arms overhead.
- In a quick, fluid movement, engage your core to lift your arms and legs up into a v shape. Slowly lower down.
- To make it significantly harder, lower down with your feet hovering and your shoulders off the floor before repeating the movement.
- To make it easier, keep your knees bent slightly.
- Do 8-10 reps.
A low impact exercise that’s good as an ab workout, but also good for a warm up move.
- Start on your hands and knees, feet shoulder width apart (tabletop position).
- Draw your shoulder blades together and engage your core as you lift your right arm straight out in front of you and your left leg straight back.
- Switch to your left arm and right leg.
- Do 10 on each side.
Your abs are complex muscles. They stabilize your whole body for standing and moving. They protect your spine, and even hold your internal organs in place. Point being – show them some love for exactly what they are – vital to your health and wellbeing! Aiming for a six pack, or at least a flat stomach, is fantastic, if that’s your goal. It will take time, patience and practice – but it can only lead to a healthier, stronger you!
Kendra Whittle is a writer, novice CrossFitter, marathon runner and triathlete. She lives in St. Louis with her husband, three kids and two dogs.