We all want that elusive set of rock hard abs.
I used to be one of those people who thought I should do 1000 crunches a day to get the six pack I dreamt about. I would get through 50 – maybe 57 on a good day – and either give up, get bored or just give in.
Let me tell you something I wish I would have known then.
You do not need to do crunches every day for amazing abs.
That’s right! Insert happy dance here.
I’m telling you here and now you do not need to do sit-ups and crunches until you puke to tighten your core and abs.
Hip hip hooray!
So what should we do if we want to tighten and tone our abs and midsection?
Here are my 3 tried and true methods to getting your dream abs:
1. Love your body
I know this isn’t usually number one on the list of things to do for your abs, but it’s critical for success. I personally didn’t understand the full effect that pregnancy and birth has on the belly muscles until I actually had a baby. I mourned my flat belly for a while and now have come to love the body I have and what it can do. It doesn’t look the same as it did, but I’m ok with it! I’m done trying to get my previous body back, and instead want to be the best I can be now. The vision you have for your abs and core needs to be specific to what your body can do. Please do not compare yourself to the 20 year old on the cover of Sports Illustrated. If you’ve had abdominal surgery, a C-section, pregnancies or abdominal separation, you may have abs that look different than hers (let’s face it, we ALL have abs that look different than hers). Someday she will have a baby or put on a few pounds and she’ll be going through the same things as we are! We are all in this together. No matter what you’ve been through or how old you are, you do still have abs – I promise they are there – and you can still make them work for you. So stop comparing yourself to others and get ready to rock your own body.
2. Clean up your diet
I know no one wants to hear it, but it is absolutely true. To see definition in your abdominal muscles you must help detox and release the bloat that is on top. In fact, most experts agree that your diet is as important, if not MORE important, than exercise in how your body looks. I am not just talking cutting calories, so don’t think “diet” here. The easiest place to start is to look at any “empty” calories you are consuming. The biggest places we tend to cheat are snacks (think dessert, processed snack foods, popcorn, crackers, bagels, etc…) and drinks (soda and alcohol). Your body turns carbohydrates and sugar into energy and stores it in the muscles. If you’ve eaten foods like this too much over time, it will instead be stored as fat. This usually gets stored in the belly. Start to replace soda with water, drop that second glass of wine every night and have a handful of raw nuts instead of crackers. This will make a big difference over time in your belly weight. I say this from first hand experience! My belly absolutely is the flattest when my diet is clean.
3. Do a variety of core and abdominal exercises
You didn’t think you’d get away without doing any exercise, did you? 🙂 You need to work all the muscles in your core, which include your rectus abdominus (“six pack”), your lower abdominals (transversus abdominus) and obliques. I also include back and glute muscles in this category. Gina has a great post discussing why this is important. You want to add things like planks, bridging and isometric holds to your traditional crunches and sit-ups.
I recommend people do some kind of abdominal work every day, but usually you are already doing this and you don’t even know it! If you are taking a Pilates, yoga, BODYPUMP, Zumba, water aerobics or balance class, or going on a hike, surf, run, bike ride or stand up paddle session, you are getting great core work for the day and don’t need any extra. In addition to this general core work, make it your goal to do a dedicated abdominal workout 3-4 times a week. You don’t need more than 5-10 minutes. I’ve included four different abdominal workouts that you can chose from based on your activity level. Remember to alternate workouts and switch it up! I’ve also included my newest advanced Pilates abdominal workout. It’s five minutes of burning and cursing (in a good way :), so try out this only if you are very active and have no injuries!
Pilates for Beginners – this is a longer workout but is PERFECT if you are new to ab work and want to learn the basics the right way!
Pilates for Beginners Part 2 – gets into more abdominal work and some sit-ups. This is great after Part 1 or if you are just getting back into abdominal work after an injury or surgery (after doctor’s release of course).
Hold That Plank – Plank workout (can be made intermediate or advanced based on modification!)
The Best Ab Workout – Advanced (video below)
Ab work is hard – there is just no way around it. But it’s also wonderful for our general health, back strength, daily activities and efficiency in sports. Not to mention that elusive six pack! Make it your goal to get some kind of core activity every day!
As always, check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program or making any health changes. Stop if you feel pain or discomfort.