The abs are, unfortunately, some of the hardest muscles to tone in the body. The midsection is the first place most people, particularly women, store weight. It’s just the way the body works.
“People think targeting just the abs and doing thousands of crunches will help them reach their goals,” Joey Gonzalez, CEO and trainer at Barry's Bootcamp, says.
Crunches are not the best option because they put too much pressure on your neck and lower back. That's why they are one of the exercises doctors will never do.
Other culprits, some of which are surprising, are soft drinks, which are slowly killing you, low-fat diets, eating too few carbs, neglecting strength training, and lack of sleep, which leads to weight gain in many ways.
“A flat stomach with visible abs cannot be achieved if poor eating habits are in place,” Gonzalez says. “Anything carbonated will produce unwanted bloat.” In a study conducted by the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, people who drank two or more diet sodas a day had waist sizes that were six times bigger than those who didn’t drink diet soda (which is in some ways even worse then regular soda).
“Any processed foods, particularly those that are high in saturated fat and sugar, should be avoided if you want to shed pounds around your middle,” Gonzalez says. Processed foods have a lot of sodium which leads to fluid retention. For this reason, many trainers never eat this kind of food. It can also have a lot of Trans fats. Labels are allowed to round down Trans fats grams to 0 if they have less than 0.5g per serving, but most people eat more than what they determine a serving is.
Studies link alcohol consumption to bigger waists because when you drink booze, the liver burns alcohol instead of fat. Booze also has a lot of sugar. Losing weight depends on many factors, but calories in vs. calories out are a huge component. Keep it less than 10 percent of your calories for the day, Joey Gochnour, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer at Nutrition and Fitness Professional, LLC, says. That is usually one drink for women and two for men.
“Cardio must be implemented in order to eliminate excess fat around the abdomen,” Gonzalez says. There really is no way around it. You have to sweat. “It could take 6-8 weeks of rigorous high-intensity exercise combining cardio and weight lifting, as we do at Barry’s Bootcamp, to see results,” he adds. He recommends mountain climbers, jack knives (both weighted and without weights), toe touches, table top to reverse pike, Russian twists (both weighted and without weights). You have options in case you hate running.
“Crunches just don’t cut it when it comes to reaching every area of the abdomen,” Gonzalez says. “Furthermore, people tend to exhibit poor form with crunches which can lead to potential neck injuries, back pain (read about its other surprising causes) and can be an overall waste of time.” You can get flat abs without a single crunch. The bird dog, hanging ab machine, dead bug, the hundred, and a hollow hold are a few examples.
“You cannot neglect your obliques, Gonzalez says. Side planks and side bends can be effective for that area. “We offer a full day of classes dedicated solely to the abs,” he adds. “During these classes, I incorporate a lot of plank variations – elbow planks, side planks, side planks with bends and leg lifts, and more. Planks hit all the key areas needed to produce a lean, chiseled midsection. Twists, woodchoppers, overhead circles and push-ups balancing on a medicine ball can be really effective as well, he adds.
“The biggest misconception people have is that cardio is more important than strength training,” Yvette Salva, personal trainer and founder of Yvette Salva Fitness, says. “Strength training is where you will increase your metabolism by adding more muscle to your frame. When you have more muscle, you burn more calories. So strength training should be a priority just as much as cardio.”
“You can do all the exercises in the world, but if you’re not burning fat, you won’t get those flat abs,” Jill Brown, personal trainer, fitness instructor and a wellness coach, says. If you don’t burn the calories you consume, they will be stored as fat. Don’t forget that the abdominals include many interconnected muscles that run up the back and stretch down to the glutes (strengthen those muscles) and the thighs.
A study found that participants who were on a low-carb diet lost about 10 pounds more than those who were on a low-fat diet. Other research has shown that monounsaturated fat rich diets prevent central body fat distribution. Low-carb diets can be some of the worst things you're putting your body through. So eat monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) coming from nuts, avocado, olive oil and fish.
A lot of people who are overstressed experience change in habits such as eating more, which can result in weight changes. The extra pounds people gain under stress are usually stored as abdominal fat because the adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormone, make you hungry for carbs and fat. One of the biggest stressors is work; learn a few tips to handle it.
If you want to lose belly fat, or fat in general, you should work out as many muscle groups as possible,” Gochnour says. Carbs are stored in the muscles and if you don’t have enough, they will deplete, he adds. Carbs are what the muscles use for energy. Between 45 and 65 percent of your daily calorie intake should come from healthy carbs.
Foods that are rich in protein help you lose weight because the nutrient keeps you full for longer. Protein activates the hormone ghrelin which makes our brain tell us that we are full. A study found that obese women who followed a diet that was roughly 30 percent protein, 40 percent carbs, and 30 percent fat lost significantly more fat, including belly fat.
In a study on weight gain and loss, where every aspect of diet and exercise was controlled in a lab, the researchers added 1,000 calories to all of the subjects’ daily diets. None of the people were permitted to exercise, but some people in the study were able to maintain their weight, while others gained weight. Those who maintained their weight did so by unintentionally moving more throughout the day. Sitting can be literally shortening your life.
Lack of sleep and weight gain are closely connected. Science has confirmed time and again that fewer hours of quality shut-eye affects your waistline. Sleep deprivation affects the brain in a way that makes you want to eat more and not process food efficiently. It sparks a vicious cycle where you are left feeling tired, your metabolism is slowed down, and your hormones are messed up.
If you’re having trouble shedding the extra pounds off your waistline, try green tea. It has a lot of antioxidants, called catechins. They help burn more fat during exercise, according to a medical review. One of the catechins, the EGCG, boosts metabolism. Cells break down more fat, which is then available for energy use.
“Too many calories of any kind will be stored as fat,” Gochnour says. Good or bad, the body burns as much as it needs for energy and the rest gets stuck in the belly, legs, and glutes (6 exercises for a strong behind). About 20-35 percent of the calories you eat every day should be from healthy fat, he adds.