Today I want to cover a topic many people ask me for help when looking for fitness advice. They ask, “How do I tone my little tummy?”
Whether it’s a “pooch” you don’t like, or just flatter/toned abs. The midsection is a hot issue and many want to firm it up.
Unfortunately, because abs are a hot issue, there’s so much misinformation out there, and the fitness industry takes advantage of us and tries to sell us products or teach us techniques that are not effective.
I’d like to sort through these myths and give you REAL tools to help you lose that little tummy and get the abs you desire.
5 BELLY FAT MYTHS
MYTH 1: Doing ab exercises burns off abdominal fat (i.e. you can spot reduce)
- This myth bothers me a lot because I see it all the time – and it’s not true. This myth comes from the idea that if you exercise your abs, alone (if you do a lot of crunches or planks) you can spot reduce any jiggly parts… love handles… muffin tops, etc. In reality abdominal exercises may build the muscles underneath (which is good!), but you cannot “burn away” problem areas by doing abdominal exercises alone.
MYTH 2: Ab muscles should be worked everyday
- Your abdominal muscles are just like any other muscle in your body. You shouldn’t train your shoulders or legs hard everyday without giving those muscles time to rest, recover and rebuild. Your abs are no different. Working out your abdominal muscles directly no more than 2-4 times per week will ensure you are not over training those muscles.
MYTH 3: Ab machines and other “magic ab-gadgets” are more effective than bodyweight workouts
- As mentioned, the fitness industry takes advantage of customers and markets fancy ab gadgets or have many people believe working their abs with an ab machine in the gym will do the job better than exercising with bodyweight alone (such as planks, etc). While it can be good to use machines (occasionally, if you’d like) bodyweight exercises do an excellent job working your core.
MYTH 4: If I’ve had babies, or if I’m over 40, it’s impossible to ever have a flat midsection again
- Yes, we may have extra skin or stretch marks that may not go away after a baby. It’s also true that as we age it may take more work than before to drop body fat from our midsection, BUT it is still usually possible to have “flatter abs” and make noticeable changes. How do you do this? By reducing your overall body fat and adding strength training. More on this below.
MYTH 5: Aiming to get a strong core is all about obtaining a 6-pack or toned tummy.
- I love core workouts, but a big reason why goes beyond aesthetics. Other benefits of core workouts include: less back pain, improved posture, improved performance in sports or other physical activities, and better balance and stability.
5 TRUTHS: REAL WAYS TO FIRM UP YOUR MIDSECTION
TRUTH 1: You need to lower your total body fat to firm up your midsection
- As mentioned above, you cannot spot reduce, so instead focus on lowering your total body fat to not only reveal a toned midsection, but also lean down in other places as well. “Seeing” toned abs – or even if 6-pack (if that’s your goal), is all about body fat %. The more body fat you lose over time as you continue dropping weight, the more your abs will be revealed.
TRUTH 2: You need to add strength training – and not just for your abs
- So, how do you burn off body fat? It’s a process with multiple pieces that need to be simultaneously put in place so your body will respond. Performing total body strength training exercises will burn off body fat more efficiently than sticking with abdominal exercises alone. For many, adding cardio will also be necessary, whether it’s metabolic conditioning workouts, adding plyometrics, or other high intensity interval training. I’m not a fan of over-doing cardio, but adding some in your program (in a smart way), can be helpful here.
TRUTH 3: You need to monitor nutrition – the most important piece: being in a caloric deficit
- You need to drop body fat to see your abs. The biggest driver of body fat reduction will always be diet. You need a caloric deficit to burn body fat. For the majority of people, it is near to impossible to get the caloric deficit you need to drop body fat from exercise alone. There is value to tracking calories (at least temporarily) on a calorie-tracking app, like My Fitness Pal to make sure calories and portions are in line for fat loss. Another way your diet may be preventing you from getting abs are the foods you are consuming. You can track calories, but if your calories are coming from too many processed foods, you may lose weight, but still have higher levels of body fat – and for many you will hold onto that body fat in your midsection. In the fitness world this can be called, “the skinny-fat phenomenon.”
TRUTH 4: Hormones may be a factor and stress reduction & sleep can help
- Stress and the hormone cortisol have been shown to have an impact on belly fat. Hormones are huge when it comes to fitness, but they are often the forgotten piece of the puzzle. Make sure you are aiming to get a good night’s sleep and build restorative activities into your lifestyle – like leisure walks, yoga, massage, etc.
TRUTH 5: You need to be consistent
- Once you get all the pieces in place, you need to be consistent. This not only relates to getting toned abs, but to your lifestyle changes in general. Commit to a nutrition and workout plan that feels sustainable (don’t try to change too many things at once!). And remember, you do not have to be “perfect” 100% of the time. Consistency always trumps perfection.