Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Healthy Tips on How to Achieve the Flat Stomach you Truly Crave

"What is the best exercise for a flat stomach?" The most frequently asked question on Google search engine or to me as an Instructor. There is no 'hard and fast rule' to this question with no guarantee of a '6 pack' (if this is your main goal). Spot fat loss (targeting a certain area) is not possible. Don't let anyone convince you that it is by using either exercise or diet? Unfortunately, our own body decides where it will store its fat. However there are healthy routes that you can take which will improve your waistline and give you a stronger and more stable core......this in turn, will flatten your stomach. Storing excess fat around our middle (visceral fat) is in fact extremely unhealthy and can cause life threatening illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, strokes, diabetes and some cancers. 

So, if you feel you want a toned tummy for summer, then you will be doing yourself a big favour in more ways than one. Not only will you look great but you will be helping your health too.

The Abdominals

So, what are the 4 abdominal muscles and what do we use them for?
  1. External Obliques - improves capacity for stable side-bending and waist-twisting.
  2. Internal Obliques - as above (they work together).
  3. Rectus Abdominis - improves sports performance, especially jumping. This muscle is also responsible for giving the famous 6-pack look. This  muscle group is absolutely essential for maintaining good posture and responsible for flexing the lumber spine, breathing, coughing and bowel movement
  4. Transverse Abdominis - increases the ability to lift heavier and holds the entire abdominal structure together.
The anatomy is a very complex subject, but we need to understand what the muscles do. So when we work the abdominals we can acknowledge which muscles we are using and what area we are improving. Another word, in the fitness world, that causes confusion is the 'core'. The core (or trunk) is involved in virtually every movement we make. Our core extends further than just our 'abs'.......it includes everything except our limbs. A strong core will prevent injuries and provide support for our back and spinal column. Strong core muscles (all 4 abdominal muscles and our glutes) play a vital role in building strength and performance. 

Exercise the Abdominal Muscles

If we are exercising the abdominals, invariable we are aiming to flatten our stomach or we want to see our 6-pack definition. The rectus abdominis (the long muscle that extends vertically along the length of the abdomen) is the muscle responsible for the appearance of this sculptured midriff. However all 4 abdominal muscles must be exercised to increase muscle mass and achieve our flat belly. We must keep in mind though, exercise alone is unlikely to decrease belly fat. Be prepared to pair your abdominal exercises with a healthy diet and regular cardio (such as power walking, jogging, cycling, swimming and aerobics), to boost fat burning and maximise your results.

Good technique is essential when working your abdominal muscles. Using momentum instead of the appropriate muscles will cause injury and a possible 'belly pouch' and this defeats the whole objective. Good technique whilst using the right muscles for movement, will isolate the 'abs' and will access the deep lower abdominal muscles. So by getting the form and technique right, you will start to define the shape of your stomach . The above video is a great 'abs' workout.......small movements performed correctly can achieve some fantastic results.

Yoga Poses for Flexibility and Balance

It's not all about stomach crunches and planks. Abdominal muscles are required for balance and flexibility. Many yoga poses require a strong core and this type of training is beneficial for both strength and peace of mind. Yoga can also relieve stress. Stress releases a hormone called cortisol and excess levels of cortisol help cause high levels of insulin which lower your blood sugar levels. This will start cravings for sugary, fatty foods thus increasing your appetite and leading to weight gain.

Balance is required for practically everything we do. Walking, getting out of a chair and bending over, so strong core muscles keep you steady and enhance your stability. A strong core will strengthen the muscles, improve posture and help prevent injury and falls. Practising balance exercises can be somewhat challenging. It is best to start with simple exercises such as balancing on one leg for around 10 seconds. This will build your confidence and increase your stability, before you attempt the 'Tree pose' as pictured above. Standing yoga poses are challenging and intense but will build strength and solidity into your core muscles.

Exercising your abdominal muscles will help to increase the muscle mass to flatten your stomach and possibly achieve a 6-pack. These muscles also support the trunk, allow movement and hold your vital organs in place. The deep abdominal muscles together with the muscles in your back and glutes make up your core and assist your body's stability and balance as well as protecting the spine.

To achieve defined 'abs', it is going to take time and consistency before you will see results. A lean midriff takes a combination of good nutrition, cardio exercise and abdominal workouts.

Take Control of your Diet

Good nutrition is paramount if you are aiming to flatten your stomach. It doesn't matter how many 'ab' workouts you do, or yoga poses, you cannot out-train a bad diet. You must control your food intake and eat balanced and healthy meals. 

It is time to check your cupboards and get rid of all processed foods, T.V dinners and packaged foods. Most of these contain 'hidden' sugar that will prevent you from removing excess fat from your belly. Always think 'whole' foods such as fruit, vegetables, lean meat, fish and heart-healthy fats. Always eat 'clean' from scratch and not out of a packet. Remember your fibre intake. Soluble fibre helps to keep your gut bacteria healthy and promotes overall fat loss by reducing your appetite.

Stay Hydrated

Drink plenty of water. This will actually prevent 'belly bloat' and helps to boost your metabolism.

Your body depends on water to survive. Every cell, tissue and organ depends on water to work properly. For example your body uses water to maintain its temperature, remove waste and lubricate your joints. Water maximises physical performance, helps with nutritional absorption, weight loss and boosts energy. Water is needed for overall good health.

To stay hydrated it is recommended that you consume between 1 and 2 litres of water to remain healthy. This needs to increase if you live in hotter climates or exercise regularly. It is highly advisable to drink before, during and after exercise to boost your energy levels and keep you fully hydrated. Not all of your recommended allowance needs to be plain water, for example some can come from water flavoured with fruit or vegetable (berries, lemon, lime, orange or cucumber slices), or from tea and coffee.

To understand the importance of fibre, please read my article on Fibre and Weight Loss


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