You’ve crunched and crash dieted your way to that sexy stomach but the fat still refuses to budge. What gives?
One of the questions I answer almost daily is “How do I get abs?” Variations of this question include:
- “How do I lose lower belly pooch?”
- “Can you tell me how to reduce stomach fat?”
- “What are some good fat-reducing stomach workouts?”
- “I need workouts for lower abs.”
Let’s turn our attention to the science behind abs and the tricks that will have you looking sexy and sleek in no time.
First, I’m going to dispel a few annoying myths about abs before moving onto what you can do to get that toned tummy.
Myths About Abs
First and foremost, spot reduction doesn’t work — It quite literally isn’t a thing. I’m not sure where this idea started but it has worked its way into every female brain and refuses to budge.
Unfortunately, you don’t get to decide where you lose fat. Some women hold fat in their thighs, others hold fat in their booty or arms, and the rest of us tend to hold fat around our middle area. Ab exercises won’t magically make stomach fat disappear. Your body decides where the fat comes off and in what order. You cannot change that.
There is no differentiation between upper and lower abs. The rectus abdominis is literally one giant muscle that stretches down the front of your body (called the abdominal wall.) If you’re working your core, you’re working the entire muscle.
There is a differentiation between your rectus abdominis and your obliques. In fact, you have two different sets of obliques muscles: external obliques (which are higher up, near your ribs) and your internal obliques (which are lower and sit near your waist.)
The question “I need workouts for lower abs.” drives me crazy. What women are really trying to say is “I dislike the layer of fat covering my stomach. What can I do to get rid of it?”
Fitness and Health magazines are partially responsible for perpetuating spot reduction and target exercise myths. Every day we are bombarding with headlines that read “Lose Lower Belly Pooch,” “Abs Exercises That Work!” “Crunch Your Way To A Flat Belly,” and “Workouts For Lower Abs!”
These articles are absolutely ridiculous (again, no such thing as “lower abs”) and promote the idea that women should be doing hundreds of crunches a day in order to have a flat belly.
Fact: 500 crunches a day will never strip away that layer of fat. Please, save yourself from the horror of crunches. In fact, let’s just make a pact to stop the hundreds of crunches from here on out.
Your Guide To A Toned Tummy
Since we have established the fact that you cannot spot reduce or crunch your way to a six pack, let’s cover what you can do! Body transformation is 100% doable but it takes a lot more than the desire to have a toned tummy.
Abs are made in the gym but revealed in the kitchen!
Since we don’t determine where our body decides to let go of fat, our only option is to slowly lower overall body fat. Proper nutrition and understanding some basic science about how our bodies work will allow you to make nutritional choices that work for you.
Start by slowly removing processed foods, soda, junk food, fast food, and packaged foods from your diet. These foods are what I refer to as “empty calories.” Empty calories are simply foods high in energy (calories) but low in nutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.) Candy, soda, cookies, store-bought muffins, chips, and fast food are all examples of empty calories.
Instead, fill your plate with nutrient-dense foods that are lower in calories but very high in nutrients like 100% whole grain bread or pasta, brown rice, quinoa, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.
Start with this free clean eating grocery list and read up about clean eating. If you are really struggling, check out my customized nutrition plans.
- Double Chocolate Chip Protein Pancakes
- Banana & Oat Protein Muffins
- Honey Lime Chicken Skewers
- Cookies & Cream Protein Shake
- Almond Flour Bread
Putting yourself into a calorie deficit is how you lose body fat. A calorie deficit is the “magic” that makes weight loss possible. It is simply a state in which you are burning more calories than you are consuming. A deficit forces the body to use non-food sources of energy (typically body fat) to make up for the missing calories.
By calorie deficit I do NOT mean 1,000 calories per day. Starving yourself is NOT an appropriate way to achieve a calorie deficit. Attempting to survive on coffee, rice cakes, and 100 calorie snack packs is NOT a healthy way to put yourself into a calorie deficit.
Calorie deficits vary from person to person. They depend on your weight, height, age, and activity level. Your BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate, represents the number of calories you burn at rest. Basically, the number of calories your body requires to keep you alive. You can find your personal BMR using this calculator.
This is precisely why 1,200 calorie plans from your favorite fitness magazine might not be the best choice for you. For instance, someone who is highly active (4-6 days per week), tall, and carries more muscle might have a BMR of 1,450 calories per day. Eating only 1,200 calories per day throws the body into starvation mode, which means stored fat instead of losing fat.
Never, ever base any calorie deficit or diet plan off of your BMR. You must be exceeding your daily BMR to keep your body healthy.
Cardio is a tricky subject to cover. Women seem to think 1-2 hours on the treadmill daily is the key to fat loss. While cardio is definitely an important part of an overall fitness plan, it is certainly not required (or even recommended) to spend hours on the treadmill, stair master, or elliptical.
When it comes down to the question of “Cardio or Weights For Fat Loss?” the answer is simple: Both.
The idea is to be more efficient when it comes to your cardio regime. HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, has been shown to be an incredible tool in fat loss. The idea is to shorten the time you are doing cardio (20-30 minutes) while making it more effective.
HIIT style workouts push the body into the anaerobic zone in intervals. In between these intervals, your heart is working out aerobically to recover. As long as the breaks between your anaerobic sets are strategic, you get a powerful cardio workout in half the time.
HIIT is incredibly easy to do anywhere, anytime and doesn’t necessarily involve a machine. If you are using a machine, such as a stair master, it will almost always have an interval setting. This will vary the speed and intensity without the need to constantly adjust the settings.
Bonus: HIIT style workouts have been shown to help reduce the amount of fat stored in the stomach area.
Now that we’ve covered nutrition and cardio, we can talk strength training and core workouts.
Strength training is an incredible tool for body fat reduction and an overall ‘toned’ look. If you aren’t building muscle, you will have nothing to ‘show off’ once you lower your body fat. As stated above, abs are made in the gym but revealed in the kitchen. You need to develop those abs muscles in order to actually have abs muscles to show off.
Since this is bound to come up, I am going to address it right now. Lifting will not make women bulky or manly. Women do not, physically, have enough testosterone in their body to build muscle the way men do. Building muscle is not an easy thing to do. If it was, bodybuilding wouldn’t be a competitive sport. Women bodybuilders have been lifting heavy weights 5-6 days per week for years while following an insanely customized competitive nutrition plan.
Strengthening your overall core is the absolute best way to rock a tight and toned midsection. Skip the sit-ups and sculpt your abs with these moves.
- Spiderman Planks
- Kettlebell Side Bend (“Teapots”)
- Medicine Ball Twists
- Medicine Ball Slams
- Toes To Bar
- Hanging Leg Raises
- Exercise Ball Pull In
- Reverse Planks
- Side Planks
- Mountain Climbers
- Scissor Kicks
The Take Aways
Overall, a toned tummy comes down to a few simple steps.
- Nutrition: It’s important. Eat healthy, whole, nutrient-dense food 80% of the time
- Lower overall body fat
- Focus on efficient and effective cardio workouts
- Lift weights
- Strengthen your overall core muscles