A flat stomach is not achieved through lots of ab work by itself, you cannot spot reduce fat. A large percentage of the work is down to what you eat, the rest is exercise.
For the exercising part you should be doing a combination of cardio and strength training. You want to burn off fat but also work your muscles to prevent a loss of lean mass. By working your muscles you will burn off more fat than cardio alone and also firm up your muscles to give you the defined and toned look to your body. In addition strength training is what changes the shape of your body, if only doing cardio you will lose weight but your body will not change shape.
Doing only direct ab exercises will not guarantee you a flat belly, if you don‘t burn off that fat it can make your belly look larger as you will be strengthening the muscles under the fat. Don’t worry though, as soon as the fat starts to melt away your hard work will show and your belly will take on a flatter more defined look.
If you don’t have much time to work-out don’t skip other exercises in favour of doing abs, do compound movements such as squats, push ups, and shoulder press (using the barbell and standing) these movements will not only be working out the specific muscles for the movement but your core will also be getting a work-out. Choose free weights over machines and you will be using your core (your core includes all the muscles in your midsection) for almost every exercise, as you will be having to uses these muscles to stabilise yourself throughout the exercise.
If you still want to add ab exercises on to your work outs then they should always be done at the end of your session. Some great ab exercises are:
- Mountain climbers (whole body work out)
- The Plank with leg raises
- Jackknife using a stability ball
- Leg raises using the captain’s chair
- Ab roller/wheel
Banish the Bloat
Exercise and diet are not the only things to think about when trying to get a flat belly. Water retention and bloating can effect not only how you feel but also how your belly looks, the list below contains information on what can cause bloating and water retention and some tips on how to prevent it.
1. Dehydration – Drink Water, I know I say this a lot, but it is a very important point! Dehydration can cause water retention and by drinking water you also aid the digestion process. 8 glasses a day or 2 litres is the daily recommended amount, some people say it doesn’t have to be just water but can include fruit juice, tea, coffee etc. That is fine to keep you hydrated but you need to remember that tea and coffee are acidic and fruit juices can be high in calories.
2. Salt – Sodium is one of the causes of water retention. This is only temporarily but can leave you looking puffy and holding extra water weight, you don’t want to have a belly that looks bigger than it really is. Check salt contents of food when buying them, processed foods usually have a high amount, and avoid adding salt when cooking or eating.
3. Acidic Drinks – tea, coffee, hot chocolate, fruit juices, alcohol are all acidic and these can cause bloating as they irritate your GI tract and cause swelling.
4. Overeating – eating too much can cause indigestion and bloating. Be careful with your portion sizes, when eating out a lot of restaurants can serve you more then necessary don’t feel obliged to eat everything that’s placed in front of you. Eat slowly to allow time for you to feel full, by eating quickly your body doesn’t have time to register when you are full until it is too late. If you feel hungry at every meal then consider eating more frequently but smaller portions.
5. Refined Carbs – white bread, white pasta, potatoes and white rice can all cause bloating, swap them for wholemeal versions.
6. Food intolerances – these can cause all sorts of side effects including diarrhoea, bloating and gas. It could be something that you eat on a daily basis and your body is unable to fully digest the food, this is not to be confused with food allergies. The most common intolerances are lactose and wheat, if you find yourself feeling bloated after eating certain foods try to cut them out, or swap them for alternatives to see if it makes a difference.
7. Air – eating and drinking too fast, talking while eating, chewing gum can all cause you to swallow excess air, which becomes trapped in your GI tract and can cause you to become bloated.
8. Veggies – Broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts, cabbage, peppers, onions and citrus fruits are all foods that cause gas and bloating, yes eating lots of fruit and vegetables is good for you but maybe be more selective with your choices or eat less of these gas inducing ones.
9. Fatty Foods – these types of foods take longer to digest leaving you feeling bloated and heavy. The fat that you need to stay away from is trans fats and saturated fats but don’t cut all fat out completely as you do need it in your diet but it should be the monounsaturated fats, found in nuts, seeds, avocados an olive oil.
10. Increase Potassium – Eating foods which are rich in potassium i.e bananas, kiwis and strawberries can help reduce bloating by regulating body fluids.
11. Go for a walk after eating – going for a walk will help aid digestion and reduce bloating and gas that can often occur after eating.
12. PMS – it is common for some women to experience bloating during PMS, or even up to 2 weeks before, and this can be made worse by certain drinks and foods (the same drinks and foods mentioned in this list). A good way to relieve PMS bloating is to exercise and drink plain water.
13. Sugar Substitutes and Sugar Alcohols – such as those found in low calorie and low carb foods such as cookies, energy bars, cakes, diet drinks and sweets can actually cause bloating, abdominal distension and gas as they are not easily digested. A lot of the time when products say they are sugar free they are likely to contain sugar substitutes, some of these substitutes are worse than others, such as aspartame, so remember that just because it says it is sugar free does not mean it is the healthier option.