Glance at any fitness magazine cover, or eavesdrop on most gym conversations, and you’ll read or hear about everyone’s obsession with having a ripped midsection. But a toned set of abs isn’t just about looking good at the beach or pool. A strong core is also crucial for a strong, happy life.
In one study, researchers found that athletes with a weak core were four times more likely to be injured. Your abs also help with back health, good posture and any daily activities that involve twisting, bending, lifting and even balance. Think cleaning the house (or car), carrying a child or doing yard work!
Abs Are Made in the Kitchen (And Everywhere Else)
The common refrain you’ll hear is that abs are made in the kitchen, implying that it’s all about diet. But the reality is that if you don’t just want strong abs but also a visible six pack, those abs are made all day, every day. Exercise is key for strengthening and defining the abdominal muscles, but then it takes a finely tuned diet to eliminate the layer of fat that often hides our hard work from the world. Remember, talk to your doctor before making any changes to your diet or exercise routine to ensure you’re getting advice that best fits you.
Diet Tips to Make Your Abs Pop
Paleo. Vegan. Raw. Low carb. These days, everyone follows a different philosophy of eating, but several meal strategies can help you shed fat and reveal more of your toned core.
- Go whole to get “swole.” In a study of 2,834 participants, increased whole grain consumption was linked with reduced belly fat. Think quinoa instead of white rice, or oatmeal instead of refined grain cereal.
- Cut out alcohol and sugary drinks. Sorry Double-Double lovers, that includes sweetened coffee. Beverages are one of the most common ways for extra calories to sneak into your life. According to research, drinking just one sweetened drink a day leads to an extra pound of weight every four years, while a six-year-long study, notes how a lot of that weight gain centers around your stomach.
- Researchers at the Riddet Institute found that taking whey protein before a meal helped people to eat less, and triggered the release of hormones that helped people feel full faster.
Ab-Boosting, Belly-Burning Workouts
From crunches to planks, you likely already know the most common ab workouts. But not all workouts are the same. If you’re short on time or simply want the best workout that builds, sculpts and strengthens your abs, try:
- The traditional crunch. According to a study conducted by the American Council on Exercise, the crunch activates the upper and lower abdominals more than most other exercises.
- The decline-bench curl-up. In the ACE study, this was one of the best exercises to hit your external obliques, which are the ab muscles that wrap around your rib cage.
- Yoga and Pilates. In a study published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s health journal, scientists found that movements like the yoga boat pose, yoga dolphin pose, and the Pilates double-leg stretch were exceptional at activating your deep core muscles, abs and obliques. Overall, the researchers found both workout styles were beneficial to developing a strong six pack.
But it’s not just about the exercise form, but also how you exercise.
- Do cardio in the morning before breakfast. Some studies suggest you can burn up to 20% more fat when doing fasted exercise.
- Mix up your current workout with high intensity interval training (HIIT). It involves doing your favorite form of cardio at a high intensity for a few seconds, then taking it slow for a few seconds, and repeating this cycle back and forth for 20-30 minutes. HIIT can quickly increase your aerobic health while also targeting fat around your waistline.
- Try a clean pre-workout product that contains natural flavours and sweeteners. If your pre-workout is caffeine-free, you have the option to try some caffeine before a workout. It may improve exercise performance, so you can hit those abs longer and harder. Caffeine may also increase how many calories you burn.
- Lift weights. Many people head to the treadmill to burn fat, but resistance training has a greater after-burn (the amount of calories burned in the 24 hours after you’ve finished exercising). For the best results, mix weightlifting with cardio for a holistic approach to trimming your waistline.
The Six-Pack Upkeep
Use them or lose them. Keeping a ripped midsection means looking at your entire lifestyle.
- Start the day with a protein-rich smoothie with added fruit, greens, whole grains and healthy fats. The dose of protein, antioxidants and nutrients will rev your metabolism and give you a baseline for building and maintaining lean muscle.
- Wear a fitness tracker. One study found that these trackers can hold you accountable and motivate you to stay more active throughout the day.
- Avoid increased levels of cortisol, the hormone released when you are stressed or don’t get enough sleep. It’s been linked to increased fat storage around your waist. Relax and unwind with meditation, deep breathing exercises, or a calming tea like chamomile or valerian.
- Take a probiotic or eat fermented foods. Healthy gut bacteria has been linked to faster fat loss and improved weight loss and maintenance.
- Integrate small amounts of movement into everything you do. Take the stairs instead of the escalator. Walk around the office every 30 minutes. Sit on an exercise ball instead of an office chair. Craft a washboard abs-friendly lifestyle outside of the gym to maintain the results of your hard work.
Strong Abs Will Serve You For Decades
If you want to live your best life, cultivate a strong core. It’s less about vanity, and more about having the foundational strength to do more of what you love throughout your entire life. Focus on your abs, and they’ll serve you for many years.