Working on a washboard stomach is something that many of us want but actually getting well-defined abs that look amazing takes time and effort. As far as fitness goals go, aiming your effort at your mid-section isn’t a bad place to begin either. For those who thought such an aspiration was out of reach or that they’d heard it all before, here are some top tips for that flat belly. There are a few surprises you can learn along the way so ditch your preconceptions and read our ten steps to defined abs.
Why work on defining your abs?
Choosing this part of your body is a great choice if you are just starting out on your fitness journey, or if you are already some way along the path. Why is that?
- It’s a great place to begin your body shape journey as it’s easy to take start and progress measurements and photos. You will be able to increase your motivation too as you see rapid improvements.
- Abdominals are recognized as one of the fastest results areas – just search on any fitness sites and you will see that in just a short space of time, following the right plan can yield swift and visible results.
- Defined abs can be targeted without lots of very expensive fitness equipment or gym memberships. Controlled body movements or simple additions like resistance bands are the number one way to a trim tummy.
- There are so many exercises to choose from so you’ll never get bored of working on defined abs. This will help you go the course, as you can keep changing your game plan and keep up the interest levels. Of course, it allows you to also crank up your effort levels one notch at a time for continuous and visible improvement.
- Stabilising your abs makes an immediate impact on what your shape looks like and what clothes you can wear, and this goes for men and for women.
- The broader health benefits of strong abs are vast. Given that abdominals are part of the core group of muscles, there are great health benefits to having defined abs. Benefits of improved core strength include looking amazing, improvements in all of the posture, digestion, and breathing, better athletic condition, and a reduction in the risk of lower back pain. It isn’t called the core for nothing, and everything radiates outwards from this part of our bodies.
- Looking like your favorite star never came this close: think Pink, Gwen Stefani, Britney Spears or even Ryan Reynolds and Channing Tatum.
What exactly are abs?
Abdominal muscles are those part of the core that is found mainly at the front and middle of the lower torso. Whilst creating a strong core should be part of an overall fitness plan, understanding what constitutes your abs is a good step in the right direction.
Abdominals are a group of muscles within the core which each play a role in overall body health through the prevention of injury and sculpture of body form.
Probably the most well-known abdominal muscle is the rectus abdominus. A vertical muscle, it runs from the ribs down to the pubic bone. It is responsible for the ‘washboard’ effect.
On either side of this are the external obliques. They form a V-shape across the front of the trunk. They allow rotation of the torso and compression throughout the abdomen. The internal obliques sit below and at right angles to the external obliques. They work in tandem with them to create a sleek silhouette.
The transversus abdominis is the deepest in the group. Wrapping horizontally around the trunk it ‘corsets’ the body and supports respiration. The hip flexor group of muscles are not technically in the abdominals but do contribute as they bring together legs and torso.
Now we know the why’s and where’s of abs, we need to clear out the clutter and learn what exactly are the steps to a trim belly.
Ten steps for defined abs
1. Stop believing in fairy tales
The first step is to stop believing in urban legends and listen to some tight ab truths.
- Lower abs alone cannot be isolated. Given there are different sections in the overall abs, there are also different ways to train them. There is no single magic wand. Abs work as a team and you need to train the whole team.
- You cannot eat your way to flat abs. Of course, you need to uncover your abs by losing that belly flab which may mask them, but diet alone cannot reveal and define abdominals.
- If you keep your belly button tucked in all day you will end up with tight abs. Core stabilization and control is part of a good exercise plan, but as with other body parts, keeping your abs tight at all times will not give you a six-pack.
- Bigger is not better. Massive movements, like 80’s-style aerobics, are not what is required here. Small and controlled moves are what will help you to well-defined abs.
- You can’t have your cake and eat it. The choice between carbs or abs may be a challenge for some, but the good news is it doesn’t have to be a battle. The right kind of carbs, such as whole grains, can be part of an ab-friendly diet.
- Abs aren’t the be all and end all. Being part of the core means that a holistic approach to body conditioning will be the one with the best results. Engaging all the muscle groups one at a time will yield overall results.
2. It’s not all about the crunches
Whether you are a fan of boot camps, stability and resistance training using balls and bands, or are your gym’s most valued member, when you think defined abs, crunches will almost certainly come to mind. Crunches are neither everyone’s favorite exercise, nor are they the most effective. Done incorrectly they can strain your lower back. Traditional crunches also only work the front and side muscles of the abs. And let’s face it, they can get pretty boring. Anything that can amp up the muscles worked and the interest levels have got to be good.
Adding variation into crunches with rotation is a great resistance band tip. Another training tip is to introduce planks. Planking uses up to twenty muscles, including the rectus and transverse abdominal, which makes it a star compared to the seven used when crunching. This higher bang for your buck means increased calorie burn as well as muscles worked. You can also use resistance bands with your ab workouts to make them pop out even more while still looking natural.
3. It’s not all about lying down either
Yes, you can define your abs standing up. The incentive here is increased motivation through variety, higher caloric burn as you are not lying supine, again the activation of more muscles, and better posture to boot. Some great vertical abs exercises include:
- Standing bicycle – Engage your abs as you stand with hands clasped behind head. Contract your abs as you lift the left knee and aim towards the right shoulder. Repeating twenty times before switching sides is recommended. Incorporating a resistance band between the ankles can also ramp up the muscle gain of this exercise.
- Extended toe touch – Stand on one leg with the same-side arm straight overhead and the other leg behind you above floor level. Scoop the rear leg forwards bringing your raised arm down to meet toes as you draw in your belly button and repeat ten times before alternating on the other side. Again, introducing a resistance band between ankles could really increase the muscles worked.
- Stepping chop – Standing with ankles together and your resistance band around them, and your arms overhead with hands clasped, step out widely to one side. As you step out, bring your arms down in a sweep towards the stepped-out leg then take them back up to the opposite side. Try twenty reps per side.
Include resistance bands with unique workouts if you want to get the results that you want. Don’t be afraid to include pull up bands with your workouts that specifically target your abs.
4. Twist and rotate
Rotational exercises are certainly the key to your core. Engaging the whole range of motion means they engage all the abdominals.
The Russian twist is certainly a classic ingredient in this recipe. Balanced on your butt, with legs bent at the knee so feet are just off the ground, grasp a resistance band between your hands as if you were holding a double-ended paddle. Now go paddle! Twist your way upstream for up to twelve reps. A fun way to work out here is with a partner. Sit back to back with knees bent. Lean back until you feel your abs are engaged but not so you touch your partner’s back. Hold a ball just in front of your chest. Both turn to the same side to pass the ball and then return to the center line as you inhale. Repeat on the other side for twelve reps and throw in some pull up bands for an extra dimension of strength.
5. Sixth, Include cardio in the plan for abs definition
One of the best things about working on a flat belly is the self-reinforcing way in which you get to see pretty quick results. This is especially true with the right sort of exercise. Combining internal stability moves which target the muscles identified above, with some intense minutes, say thirty of them, three times per week has been shown to dramatically improve results.
High-intensity cardio, such as HIIT uses much more energy released from fat. Sprints, shuttle runs or beep tests can be done anywhere, as can burpees, jump rope, or speed skater lunges. Thirty seconds followed by thirty seconds rest for about twenty to thirty minutes is recommended.
6. Eat for a flat stomach
Love handles or pooch, call it what you will, are only going to work against all your hard work creating defined abs. Smart choices in how to fuel your engine not only allow your body to take energy requirements from the right sources (think: fat loss) but can also help abs definition with reductions in water retention.
Combine fresh fruits, leafy green vegetables, beans and pulses, nuts, and the healthier fats and lean proteins, and your diet will provide the energy and recovery mechanisms for exercise and draw out what your body no longer needs.
7. Engage all your abdominals
Paying attention to upper abs, as well as lower abs, and obliques will all bring results. A mix of exercises targeting all these in a circuit is a sure-fire way to sculpt defined abs. Think exercises which involve sit-ups or crunches, as well as reverses, twists or side-planks, any boat poses or V-ups for a whole range of movement. You can integrate light or super strength resistance bands for your oblique workouts if you want to engage every abdominal muscle that you have.
8. Think abs when doing any sort of exercise
You can get a double whammy whenever you workout, not just doing an abs circuit. During each movement, bring your focus to what your abs are doing. If you are doing gentle movements like yoga, draw in your belly at the end of each motion as you exhale. When in a faster-paced class, or if you are lifting weights, remember to address your abs through the right form, an elongated spine, and tucked-under tailbone. During lower body moves like squats and lunges, focussing on your pelvic floor will actually fire up your abs. Even during a spinning class, fire up your abs with a one-minute plank for better alignment and engagement. This is also the type when you should integrate resistance bands to add some flavor to your workouts.
9. Focus on your abs at any age
Make the most of your body shape, metabolism, hormones, and lifestyle, and use what works best for your abs. For example, in our twenties, whilst higher levels of estrogen mean the body is less likely to store fat around our middle, college parties and late night eating and drinking can be a more destructive force. In our thirties, careers, and for women babies, can all get in the way of focus on flat abs. The good news this isn’t irreversible. And hard work in that decade helps to hit the forties with good muscle tone to develop and maintain defined abs.
10. Be creative in your exercise, not routine
One of the best aspects about the abs is their ability to respond, so go ahead and talk to them. Look for exercises such as the crab walk, the abs snail, and the dead bug, if you want to be really creative. Engage them and they will join in the conversation! Creativity will always shine when you include resistance bands that you can get for every strength such as light or super strength.