A rippling six-pack is the holy grail for many gym goers, but it’s not uncommon to spend hours doing crunch after crunch in the gym, only to find that the stubborn fat in your midsection simply won’t budge.
Even if you’re not in the game of losing belly flab for aesthetic reasons, studies have linked obesity to diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease – so it’s a good idea to try and stay fit and lean in this area at any age in life.
If you’re looking for an extra dose of definition though, these abdominal tricks will help you optimise your core workouts, so you can get strong abs faster.
1. Fuel properly
You could already have the best set of abs in the world, but if they’re covered in a layer of belly fat, you won’t see the hard work that you’ve put in at the gym.
If you’re struggling to see definition on your stomach, you’ll need to decrease your overall body fat percentage by managing both your diet and your exercise regimen. This is achieved by working to a calorie deficit, where you burn more calories than you consume.
The key here though, is not to crash diet or embark on drastic low-calorie meal plans that won’t fuel your gym sessions properly. Instead, cut back on processed foods and sugars and load up on vegetables, nuts, fruits, lean protein like chicken and healthy fats like olive oil, fatty fish and avocados instead.
Keeping your calories, protein and fibre in check is a key starting point for improving your body composition.
2. Think quality not quantity when it comes to reps
Many people think that rapidly cycling through set after set of ab exercises is the way to see results, but if you’re not engaging your core correctly, you could be wasting your time completely.
“Focus on creating tension and contracting your muscles correctly, instead of counting endless repetitions,” says Marvin Burton, head of product at Anytime Fitness UK (anytimefitness.co.uk).
“Think about the movement quality of an exercise and executing it properly.
“Fast, out of control and high repetition exercises are usually unsafe and counterproductive.” Slowing down and improving your exercise quality leads to greater improvement in a shorter space of time.
3. Swap sit ups for planks
When it comes to abs, old school sit ups are not necessarily your friend. They can put a strain on your lower back and aren’t as effective as other exercises like planks, bicycle crunches and side planks, which stimulate more abdominal activity.
“Think core exercises instead of specific abdominal exercises,” says Burton.
“It’s much safer to strengthen your core and support your spine. Overtraining your abdominals with excessive crunches can lead to lower back pain and poor posture.”
4. Get a good night’s sleep
Getting an early night doesn’t just work wonders for your mood and motivation, it could also help you to blitz the body fat and uncover your abs.
There’s a growing body of evidence for a link between lack of quality sleep at night and increased weight and body mass index. Research published in the Public Library of Science: Medicine suggests that this is because sleep deprivation causes changes to the hormones leptin and ghrelin, which regulate hunger and appetite.
In a nutshell: the more sleep you get, the less likely you are to make a lunchtime trip to McDonald’s.
5. Think of the bigger picture
Even if your goal is to achieve better abs, don’t just focus on core exercises. As we mentioned earlier, many strong gym goers already have abs lurking under their midsection – they just need to lose a degree body fat to reveal them.
“A training regimen which consists of heavy resistance work, with plenty of compound exercises, will build a strong core and help you to blitz calories,” says Melissa Weldon, head trainer at Sweat it (sweat-it.com).
“Add to that some high intensity interval training for cardio, and a balanced and nutritious diet, and you are bound to see incredible results.
“Try mixing heavy compound exercises like squats, dead lifts and renegade rows, with HIIT training on the treadmill, for a solid full body blast.”
6. Limit the booze
Boozy nights out are basically your enemy when it comes to sticking to an abs plan. This is because alcohol is often full of empty calories, can derail your training plan and will leave you mega dehydrated the next day (which can affect your exercise performance).
“Naturally, if you cut down in alcohol, you’ll accelerate your results, as many alcoholic beverages are high in calories. Plus, we’re more likely to make questionable food choices when under the influence or hungover,” says Weldon.
The good news is that you don’t have to go sober entirely. “Many of us enjoy a glass of wine with our friends from time to time, and it might be unrealistic to give up drinking completely,” says Weldon. “Finding a balance with alcohol is important though, as it can help you to prioritise making gains with your fitness.”