Have you ever noticed a girl who does the same crunches and ab exercises every time she comes to the gym, but never changes the way her midsection looks? That is the definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result! You can do as many crunches as you want, but unless you have a multi-faceted approach to obtaining a flat stomach, achieving that washboard look will be virtually impossible.
1. Cardiovascular Exercise
There’s no way of getting around the fact that you must include some cardio in your weekly regimen to get your stomach to where you want it. Cardiovascular exercise is the most effective exercise for burning a ton of calories, and will help rip off the fat on the mid-section. Interval training is the best way to go. Intervals are quick bursts of exercise interspersed with slower periods. A good interval workout would be 1 minute fast, 2 minutes slow for 25 minutes total on the treadmill. These “bursts” will keep your body burning calories after you’re done exercising. Steady-state, or steady-pace training will also help, but make sure to exercise for at least 45 minutes. Aim for three or four cardio sessions per week. Remember…there is no such thing as “spot training.” You have to take fat off of the body as a whole.
Drinking plenty of water will help the body to flush fat and toxins out, as well as flushing excess water out of the body. If you don’t drink enough water, your body will hold onto what water it does have, and that can make you look bloated.
This may be the most important part to getting a flat stomach. You can practice all of the keys to a flat tummy, but if you skip this one, it’s probably just not going to happen. In general, your diet should be about 50% carbs, 30% fat and 20% protein. Most people don’t consume enough healthy fats. As a result, their body, just as in the case of water, will hold onto fat when it doesn’t get enough. Your carb choices should be fiber-rich, like oatmeal, fruits and veggies, brown rice, cous-cous and quinoa, and wheat, sourdough and rye breads. Try to save non-fruit and veggie carbs for during and immediately after your workouts. Protein choices should be complete (meat) and typically be lean, like tuna, salmon, chicken and turkey, but don’t be afraid to consume beef sparingly. Fats make up the rest of the diet, and should include 20% unsaturated fats and 10% saturated. Unsaturated fats include omega-3 fats from fish, as well as olive and nut oils. Saturated fats should be limited. Don’t sweat it trying to be perfect. If you follow the 80/20 rule, you should be fine. Eat healthy 80% of the time, and you can mentally release with some cheating 20% of the time.
Obviously, you need to work your abs to flatten them, but that doesn’t mean you should focus only on ab exercises. Utilizing multi-joint, compound movements that challenge your core in conjunction with ab isolation exercises is the best combination to achieve a flat midsection. Compound movements like squats, deadlifts, push ups, and pull ups will develop a lot of muscle as well as force the abs to work to maintain posture. These movements will also stimulate your body to release growth hormone, which increases the utilization of free fatty acids and the breakdown of fat for energy (Baechle and Earle 57-58). A combination of isometric (held position) core exercises like planks as well as dynamic (with movement) ab exercises for all areas of the abs (lower and upper rectus, obliques) will promote definition and strength in the core.
It is almost impossible to have a flat stomach with poor posture. In today’s world, most people have some postural deviation adversely affecting the way they stand, sit and move. Kyphosis, or “hunched” shoulders, is very common because in today’s world we do a lot of sitting, and when we sit we typically hunch over our desks or computers. Often associated with kyphosis is lordosis, or excessive arching of the low back. Both of these conditions can make the abs look distended. Rounded shoulders close off the chest cavity and the front compartment of the body, while lordosis makes the abs “push” out the front, detracting from any flatness in the midsection. Good posture is a combination of practicing standing, sitting and moving correctly, as well as practicing corrective postural exercises. It may sound silly, but think “shoulders back, chest out” when you walk. You’ll walk and feel more confident, and your abs will naturally flatten. Strengthening the upper back with postural exercises as well as strengthening the abs and glutes will also help counteract poor posture.
Baechle, T., & Earle, T. (2008). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.