Flat, defined abs – that’s the goal of many fitness conscious people. Unfortunately, many of the “flat abs” plans you see in magazines promise to deliver toned abs, but how many people really get abs as you see in magazines? To be fair, the abs in fitness magazines are “enhanced” a bit digitally – but there are other reasons so few people are able to get them. For one, the ab plans you see in magazines are mostly crunches and isolated abdominal exercises. These are designed to strengthen your abs, not remove fat.
Plus, each person is a little different. Some people have an easier time getting flat abdominals than others. Not fair, is it? Of course, it may be easier for you to get toned thighs or firm biceps than the next person, so it evens out to some degree.
Here are six factors that could be making it harder to get the flat abs you want:
With hard work and a clean diet, almost anyone can improve the appearance of your abs. Some people can even achieve flat abs with visible definition if they can get their body fat low. Your potential for flat abs depends to some degree on genetics. If you have a genetic tendency to store fat in your abdominal region you’ll have a harder time than someone who mostly stores fat on their hips and thighs.
There’s another factor you have little control over – the size and shape of internal organs like your liver and intestines. Some people have fullness in their lower tummy even at low body fat levels because of the way their organs are shaped. They simply have bigger organs! Abdominal fullness may become more prominent after a meal as your intestines fill with fluid and gas. Ever notice how your abs are flatter in the morning before your intestines “fill up?” When your intestines fill with air, fluid or gas your tummy looks more prominent.
A High Percentage of Body Fat
Infomercials would have you think you can get washboard abdominals using an exercise gadget. Even doing regular ab-firming abdominal and core exercises won’t make a jiggly belly flat. For some people, the problem is too much body fat. When there’s a layer of fat covering your abs they won’t look flat, firm or defined no matter how many ab exercises you do. Abdominal and core exercises strengthen your ab muscles but won’t burn the fat off of them. That’s where fat-burning workouts that get your heart rate up come in. If your body fat percentage is above 15% and you tend to store fat in your tummy, your abs may not look defined no matter how many ab exercises you do.
Too Much Moderate-Intensity Exercise
Moderate-intensity exercise like jogging or riding an exercise bike at a steady pace isn’t the best way to melt away belly fat. High-intensity exercise activates fat-burning hormones like growth hormone, adrenalin and nor-epinephrine to a greater degree than
moderate-intensity exercise. It creates a greater after-burn effect so you burn more fat even after your workout is over.
Switch some of the moderate-intensity exercise you’re doing for high-intensity interval workouts to mobilize more abdominal fat. Be prepared to sweat! Strength-training large muscle groups using compound exercises that work compound muscle groups like deadlifts and squats also help scorch belly fat.
The Wrong Dietary Choices
You can do everything else right and still not get enviable abs if you’re lax with your diet. There’s a popular saying that abs are made in the kitchen – and they are. Some people underestimate the importance of diet for shaping abs. They think as long as they’re working out they don’t have to watch their diet so closely. No so. Diet can make or break you. Cut back on processed carbs and focus on fiber-rich carbohydrates, lean sources of protein and moderate amounts of healthy fats like those in fatty fish, nuts, olive oil, and avocados. There’s some evidence that unsaturated fats are less likely to be stored in your abdominal area than saturated fat.
Stress and Lack of Sleep
Exercise and diet aren’t the only factors that’ll make your abs jiggly. Too many late nighters and stress in your life can too. Stress and lack of sleep elevate your cortisol levels. Cortisol is aptly named the “stress hormone” because it increases when you’re under mental or physical stress. Why is this bad? Cortisol mobilizes fat and sends it to your abdominal region where it becomes belly fat. If you’re doing everything else right and can’t seem to lose belly fat, look at your sleep schedule. Are you getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night? If not, time to make some changes. Do it for your waistline – and for your health. For relaxation, add a few sessions of yoga a week. Research suggests that yoga reduces stress and lowers cortisol.
Never Varying Your Ab Workout
If your goal is abdominal definition, you need to vary your ab routine to continue to build strength and definition. Add some variety by changing the exercises you do, the position you’re doing them in, the tempo and the amount of resistance you’re using. Try holding a dumbbell during some exercises to increase the resistance. Make sure you’re working all the muscles in your core and back.
Flat Abs: The Bottom Line?
It’s not easy to get completely flat abs and genetics and anatomy can work against you. Still, if you follow these guidelines you can improve the appearance of your abs. Getting firm, strong abs takes more than doing crunches. It takes a balanced workout and eating program – but it’ll pay off.
Medscape.com. “Effect of Exercise Training Intensity on Abdominal Visceral Fat and Body Composition”
Science Daily. “Abdominal fat accumulation prevented by unsaturated fat”
“Super Abs Resource Manual” Len Kravitz Ph.D.
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