Do you wish you could achieve a flat stomach with visible abs like you see posted all over magazines, TV, and the internet?
If you’ve tried, then it’s likely you’ve realized that your usual workout routine isn’t the answer. To be fair, many of those are photoshopped, required weeks of starvation, or are simply genetic anomalies. So stop comparing yourself to the images you see. Instead, focus on your body, your abilities, and what you can achieve with the right exercises.
Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean that a flat stomach is impossible for you. It just requires hard work, consistency, clean eating, cardio, and the right mix of exercises.
We’re here to help you with those exercises as well as a few tips to get started.
Success Starts in the Kitchen
First of all, the popular phrase “Abs are made in the kitchen” is true. You can’t outwork a bad diet, and you can’t spot-reduce fat. So before you can ever see those abs pop, you have to lose the fat covering them. Clean eating will make the biggest difference in appearance of your midsection. This means natural, whole foods such as lean protein, vegetables, healthy fats, fruits, and LOTS of water.
The good news is that as you’re working on tweaking your diet, you can still be building a strong core that will improve your balance, overall strength, and create definition that will show through as your body fat drops.
Now, let’s get down to the good stuff.
The Most Effective Ab Exercises
The best exercises for a flat stomach are those that work the entire core, not just the abdominals. Exercises like planks will strengthen your core, but some of the best exercises you can do allow for a full range of motion and include an element of balance. When you’re trying to stay balanced, your core muscles automatically work harder to keep you from falling, so you get more for your money.
These 4 workout tools will enhance your abdominal and core workouts for better results. Try implementing 1-2 during each workout, which will also keep your body challenged and prevent plateaus.
The Ab Wheel is a classic workout tool – simple, yet effective – which is why it’s been a staple in gyms and workout programs for years. The basic rollout is a great place to start and is extremely challenging. NOTE: Please avoid this exercise if you have lower back issues or hernias.
Ab Wheel Rollout
- Start kneeling on the floor with both hands gripping the wheel. You may want to kneel on the edge of a fitness mat to protect your knees.
- Place Ab Wheel on floor in front of you so you’re in a table top position. Before you extend, brace your core (pulling belly button in toward spine) and flex glute muscles (butt) and make sure you have a flat back.
Slowly roll forward, inhaling as you extend your body until almost touching the floor. If you are a beginner to this exercise, try rolling just halfway. Pay careful attention to your lower back. If you feel discomfort, don’t go as low.
- As you prepare to return to the start, focus on pulling with your abs, not your arms or back. Slowly draw yourself upwards toward the start position, exhaling as you do so.
- Repeat this 8-12 times and complete 2-3 sets of each, working up to more as you get stronger.
Stability Ball Crunch
The Stability Exercise Ball (also known as a balance ball or Swiss ball) is perfect for turning a basic, boring crunch into an intense core exercise. You’ll definitely feel the burn on this if you’re new to these types of crunches, because you’re using all of your core muscles to keep you stable while you move up and down.
- To start, place a stability ball on the floor and sit on the edge. TIP: If you have trouble balancing, or your feet slip during the crunch, place the ball near a wall so your toes can rest against the wall.
- Slowly walk your feet out and lower your upper body until your lower back and top of your glutes are resting on the ball. Feet should be out in front of you, flat on the floor, knees bent at about 90 degrees. Let upper body rest back on the ball.
- Find your balance, then place hands behind neck for support (but do not pull your head forward during the crunch). Tighten your core, and exhale as you crunch up until our body is at approximately 45 degrees. Don’t sit all the way up so you maintain a contraction in your abs.
- Pause for a second, then slowly return to the start, allowing your back to extend across the ball for a full range of motion.
- Repeat 15-20 times and complete 2-3 sets of each.
Abdominal Mat Sit-Up and Crunch
One of the benefits of using the Ab Mat is that you can perform crunches on the floor while allowing the muscles to move through a full range of motion for optimal engagement and better results. Plus, it’s small and lightweight so you can use it anywhere – perfect for those days when you can’t make it to the gym. You can perform both sit-ups and crunches, which are performed just slightly differently. The sit-up is typically performed in a CrossFit setting, while the crunch uses less momentum and ends before completely sitting up.
- Start on the floor with the higher end of the abdominal mat resting against the bottom of your lower back/top of your glutes.
- Lay backward with arms straight back behind you. Knees can be bent with feet planted, or you can butterfly your legs by keeping soles of feet together and letting knees fall to each side.
- Keeping arms by your ears, sit up all the way until hands can touch feet. Reverse and extend all the way back down to start position.
- Repeat 15-20 times and complete 3-4 sets.
- Start on the floor with the higher end of the ab mat resting against the bottom of your lower back/top of your glutes.
- Lay backward with knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Extend arms straight up toward the ceiling, next to your ears.
- Lift upper body from the floor, keeping arms extended up with eyes toward ceiling to prevent tucking chin. (You can also place arms behind neck for support as another variation).
- Crunch up as far as you comfortably can, which will be about 1/3 of the way up. Slowly lower back down to the start position.
- Repeat 15-20 times and complete 3-4 sets. TIP: If this is easy, hold a 5-25 pound barbell plate or dumbbell to increase the intensity.
Pilates Ring Boat Pose with Rotation
Pilates is famous for the way it sculpts a strong core and long, lean body. The movements are typically more slow and controlled with intense focus on form. This careful way of performing exercises is surprisingly taxing on your muscles, and will help develop all your core muscles as well as reduce pain. If you don’t have a Pilates Resistance Ring, you can substitute a yoga block, small stability ball, or mimic these movements without equipment.
- Start seated on a comfortable mat, knees bent with feet flat on the floor and back straight.
- Place the Pilates Ring between your calves, then lean back to lift your feet up off the floor, keeping knees bent as you pull your belly button in toward your spine. This should create a V shape between your upper body and thighs.
- Extend arms out in front of you, beside each leg, making sure to keep core contracted and squeeze Pilates ring gently. Keep back straight and avoid rounding forward.
- Hold this position for 3-5 breaths, then lower legs to the floor. If this is too hard, keep arms beneath thighs for support. If it is too easy, extend arms and legs fully so entire body forms a V.
- Now, take the Pilates Ring between your hands, and return to the boat pose position. This time, with arms straight, rotate over to one side of your body, bringing ring toward the floor beside you. Return to start position, then rotate to the opposite side. Bring back to the middle, then repeat 6-8 times.
Certified Personal Trainer & Nutrition Coach
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