To many of people, a sexy, toned stomach is like the Holy Grail of fitness, but like the Holy Grail, it can also be frustratingly elusive. Most of the time it’s not for want of trying, but rather because you’re putting most of (or even all of) your effort in the wrong place. Let’s put it this way: 1000 crunches a day alone is NOT going to get you there – I’ll explain why in a moment. And don’t worry if you’ve been doing this, because tons of people fall afoul of this rampant fitness myth, so when you hear it you’ll see exactly what you’ve been doing wrong and more importantly, what to do about it.
It’s Your Health Too
What’s more it’s not just about vanity either. Sure we all want to look good and most of us agree that a tight, toned tummy is sexy, but there’s more to it. According to Harvard Women’s Health Watch belly fat is worse than hip and thigh fat in terms of health risks.
The Bad News
If you’re interested in the science: the gist of it is that belly fat tends to be visceral fat, i.e. beneath the abdominal walls and surrounding the internal organs. This kind of fat is worse for you than the surface-level (subcutaneous, i.e. just below the skin) fat because it secretes more of retinol-binding protein 4 (RBP4) which increases insulin resistance (which can lead to diabetes as well as a host of other health problems). The more visceral fat you have the more RBP4 is secreted into your bloodstream. Not good.
The other issue is that as we get older the proportion of fat to bodyweight tends to increase, and fat begins to favour being stored in the upper body over the hips and thighs. Which means that even if you don’t gain weight, you waistline can grow by inches as the visceral fat pushes out against your abdominal wall. And sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but ladies, we’re more susceptible to this than men. Harvard! Why did you have to get all science-y on us?!
The Great News
As with everything in life though, there’s always a silver-lining (you didn’t think I’d just leave you there did ya?). The
good great news is that visceral fat responds really, really well to exercise and diet. Much better, in fact, than fat on the hips and thighs. Which means that you can get the flat, sexy stomach you’ve always wanted, if you’re willing to put in the effort and do what works. Which leads us nicely to… what doesn’t work!
Belly Fat Myths
Crunches = Sexy stomach
Remember how I said 1000 crunches a day alone won’t give you a toned belly? It’s not that crunches aren’t a good exercise (although there are better exercises, see the workout below) but the main reason is: you can’t spot reduce fat! What this means is that you can’t target a specific area of your body to selectively lose fat. So it doesn’t matter how many crunches, sit-ups or ab-blaster machine reps you do, it won’t give you a flat stomach unless you do some of the other things I’m going to tell you about in a moment. Not only that, but there are far better ab exercises than crunches which you could be doing.
It’s all about exercise
I wish this were true. Wouldn’t it be great to workout and eat cupcakes, pizza, ice-cream and everything else you wanted… and still be able to walk around with a six-pack? Unfortunately, I’ve tried this, and I can tell you for a fact: it doesn’t work. This doesn’t mean you have to eat a perfectly clean diet – where’s the fun in that – but you do have to eat clean most of the time. I’ve found that you can actually enjoy eating a clean diet because you retrain your body to enjoy food which is actually healthy. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true!
Just do cardio
Yes, aerobics are great for fat loss, but they’re not the be all and end all. Make sure you incorporate some of these tips if you want to boost fat loss when you do cardio.
So now that I’ve covered some of the fitness myths you may have had, you may be wondering what you should be doing instead. Well stick around, because I’m about to tell you…
How To Get A Sexy Stomach Fast
Now I know this article isn’t titled “Lose Belly Fat Really Freakin’ Slowly” but there is a healthy speed most people should lose weight: 1 – 2 lbs per week. Yes, this isn’t as fast as some people would like, but it’s the healthy option, plus you’re less likely to lose muscle along with the fat – which would be a bad thing, since muscle helps you burn fat. In other words, it’s not going to take 3 days, it could take weeks or more likely, months.
And if you want visible abs, that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. First, there are the biological factors, namely: your genetics and sex. Women have to have higher body fat percentages than men to be healthy, this often means they can’t have visible abs showing and also be at a healthy, sustainable body-fat. Even so, due to genetics, some women do have visible abs at healthy body-fat percentages. You have to do the best you can with the genetics you have, not use them as an excuse. Same thing goes for guys, but they can get away with lower healthy body-fat percentages, hence the six-pack.
The other issue with getting visible abs is it requires you to adhere to a clean diet a lot more strictly (again, depending on your genetics). So you can decide if it’s worth that extra commitment or not (and as long as you can keep a healthy body fat).
The good news is regardless of your sex or genetics you can still get a sexy, toned stomach… get healthier and look great naked. So let’s talk about how to do that!
Tips To Lose Belly Fat & Get A Sexy Stomach
There are really only 3 keys to getting a flat stomach: exercise, a clean & healthy diet and getting enough sleep. These are the 3 big ones, they form the foundation of losing belly fat and getting a sexy stomach. At the same time there are a lot of things you can do to compliment these and boost your fat loss, which I’ll include in a moment.
First, let’s go into a little more detail on these 3 keys:
You should aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days. If you increase the duration and intensity of the exercise you’ll lose more fat, quicker.
Combine cardio with strength training
Most people turn to aerobic exercise for fat loss, but you will increase your fat loss substantially by combining cardiovascular exercise with strength training. This is because strength training builds muscle and muscle burns fat (i.e. increases your metabolic rate). Muscle also takes up less room than fat, so even though you may not lose weight… you will lose fat and get a smaller waist and more toned stomach – which is exactly why you shouldn’t use the scales to judge your fat loss! Not only that, it’s not enough to simply focus on ab exercises, you also want to do whole-body training especially using compound exercises like squats, deadlifts and shoulder presses.
Eat clean & healthy
“Abs are made in the kitchen. 30% exercise, 70% diet. You can’t out-exercise a bad diet.” You’ve probably heard those before, and they simply illustrate how important a clean, healthy diet is to losing belly fat. The important thing is to commit to it and follow it consistently, to the best of your ability. It’s not about perfection, it’s about sticking to it as best you can and getting back on when you occasionally fall off. You could write an entire book on clean eating (and that’s been done) but I’ll give you the basic rules here, each day:
- Eat lean protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.
- Eat lots of veggies, especially cruciferous and dark green leafy vegetables.
- Eat some fruits.
- Drink water (9 cups for women, 13 for men). That’s total water amount, i.e. counting other beverages.
- For losing belly fat, there is evidence that you gain less visceral fat the more calcium you consume. Yogurt, cheese, sardines, kale are all good sources of calcium.
- Avoid all processed and refined foods. This means sugar, white flour, candies, baked goods etc.
- Avoid sodas and juices. Don’t drink your calories, get your calories from food.
- Avoid junk food.
- Especially for losing belly fat, avoid foods which seem to encourage it: hydrogenated vegetable oils and fructose-sweetened foods and beverages.
- No alcohol.
Looking at the list above, you may be a little bit daunted, but remember it’s more important to take small incremental steps which you can maintain, than trying to do everything at once and lasting a month. I’m talking from experience here: add a little bit at a time, maybe one or two items per week, get a good feel for it and then move onto the next items in the list. If I had to pick two to start with, I’d choose to up my vegetable intake substantially and cut way down on sodas and juices. Choose what works for you and don’t be afraid to experiment.
Get enough sleep
But not too much. A five-year study showed that adults who got less than 5 hours sleep a night accumulated significantly more visceral fat… but those who slept more than 8 hours a night also gained more visceral fat. So 6 – 8 hours seems like a good range. Interestingly, this wasn’t the case for people over 40 – who said getting older didn’t have benefits!
Boost fat loss with these tips
Try out some of the 101 fat loss tips to boost your fat loss. Remember, the 3 above are the core foundation of what you need to do, but by adding in some of these tips they can add up to a cumulative effect of greater fat loss.
Phew! Okay, now that we’ve laid the foundation for getting the tight, toned, sexy stomach you want, let’s get on to the working out part. So we’ve put together an ab-licious workout which focuses not only on the front part of your abdominal region (rectus abdominis), but also on the sides (obliques) and even more importantly the deep inner abdominal muscles (transverse abdominis). When most people think about abs, they think about the often sought after six-pack or eight-pack in the front, and by the way, getting an eight-pack is purely down to genetics, there is no exercise or amount of exercise which can give you an eight-pack if you don’t have that abdominal separation genetically speaking.
Sometimes people include the obliques (often seen as the groves to either side of the rectus abdominis, e.g. here and here) but very few people include the transverse abdominis (TVA), which are the deep inner abdominal muscles. Now the amazing thing about the TVA muscles is that they act as a natural corset for your body, cinching in you core – in other words, strengthening these muscles can give you a smaller waist. Not only that, but your TVA muscles are part of the foundational core you use in just about every compound exercise, so getting stronger here is definitely a good thing!
Now, every abdominal exercise you do works all of your abdominal muscles, but there’s one exercise I love which especially targets your TVA muscles: the abdominal vacuum (you can see how it’s done in the video below). This is a fantastic exercise for strengthening your inner core and the great thing is you can do them anywhere. You can do the ab vacuum alone, but for optimal efficiency it’s best to combine them with a kegel which leads into the ab vacuum, so in this way you strengthen both your pelvic floor muscles as well as the TVA muscles. Boom! Better sex and a flatter stomach – you win!
And if you want to print this workout out:
Your turn: What are your favorite abdominal exercises? Have you tried the abdominal vacuum yet? Was this workout challenging enough for you? Let us know!