Almost every movement we do engages our core, so why is it that so many people struggle to achieve top class abs? If we shoulder press a weight, our abs engage. If we balance on one leg, our abs contract. If we lift weights too heavy for us and turn to poor form in order to redeem the situation, which muscle group comes to the rescue? Yep, the old faithful core.
You could get ill and cough for hours on end (not much fun) or get someone to tickle you so that you laugh a ridiculous amount but the reality is this: if you want amazing abs, you have to work hard and remain dedicated in order to achieve them!
A lot of people have strong abdominal muscles; the difficult part is stripping back the layers of fat to reveal all the hard work. They say that to have amazing abs you must live to a 20% gym, 80% diet regime. Below is a plan on what to make the most of and what to avoid if you want your dream core.
There is a relatively common misconception that lifting weights will cause muscle bulk (I’m talking particularly to the ladies here) and so people avoid it because they want a lean, flat stomach to show off their abs. The thing is, the stronger your muscles become, the more energy they require. This speeds up your metabolism and helps you burn fat, which will strip back those layers to reveal your amazing abs! Stronger muscles do not equal bigger muscles so get lifting if you want defined abs.
If you want to achieve an incredibly ripped look with deep definition between your abs then you need to be working those compound exercises. Squats and deadlifts are amazing for engaging abs and the heavy resistance will do wonders! The bonus of this is that you will be working towards overall muscle strength, which will ensure that you achieve a well-proportioned muscular body.
Another common issue for those trying to achieve amazing abdominal muscles is that their ab routine remains consistent. Would you consistently bicep curl 5kg and expect drastic improvements? No. So if you do the same ab routine day in and day out, you will reach a plateau. Your body can’t increase muscle strength to adapt to the demands placed on it if the demand is consistently the same. By all means, you can begin the exercises without a weight to kick start your regime. But once it is no longer challenging, you have to move on. Resistance bands, free weights, ab rollers and exercise balls will help you to do this. No pain, no gain!
If you want a lean physique to show off your hard-earned abs then you will definitely need to be including some form of cardio into your routine. What most people tend to do is spend a great deal of time on a treadmill or exercise bike at a steady pace. However, the best way to burn fat is with interval training. If you are spending 30-60 minutes doing the same cardio routine and not seeing fast results, this is why! You need to mix it up!
For example, if you enjoy using the treadmill, try running at a moderate-fast tempo (depending on how fit you are) for 5-10 minutes. Then rack up the incline and slow to a power walking pace for 5-10 minutes. Changing things up will help you burn those stubborn fat stores, the incline will tone your legs and it will be easier to stay motivated because you can think ‘ In 3 minutes I can slow down/ go back to a flat running surface’ instead of ‘ I’m tired already and still have 20 minutes to go’. You may also find that after using the incline when you return to running on a flat surface it will feel easier and you can increase your speed from the last interval! 20 minutes of hard work beats 45 minutes of nonsense hands down so don’t waste your time on lengthy cardio routines.
Controlled full body exercises are not only impressive, they help to train the transverse abdominals (deeper layer of core muscle) which are often neglected during training. It is important to train the deeper layers of muscle to improve core balance, support your organs and give your body the perfect taut physique that you are aiming for.
The best bodyweight exercises to get you started are the L-sit, planche (baby planche for beginners), plank and handstand. If you fancy a change from your gym routine, yoga and pilates classes are brilliant for core stability and strength. Another option is gymnastics. I know this may sound scary if you are novice, but most gymnastic centres now offer adult gym classes and freestyle classes. Even if you just practice handstands and walk the balance beam, you will be engaging your core to stabilise your movements. If you don’t fancy trying this in front of others, you can buy a wobble board and practice handstands against the wall at home. Nobody will know your secret ;).
Like any other muscle group, it is important that you perform exercises which isolate the muscle group. However, I don’t think that this is the area gym goers have issues with. One of the biggest issues with training the core is that people tend to forget that they need to strengthen their back muscles and abdominals in equal measure. You very rarely see somebody who trains only triceps and gives the biceps a miss!
Ensuring that you strengthen your back in equal measure to your core is important for many reasons. It reduces your risk of back injury (those with strong abs and weak backs often have issues because of bad posture/muscle alignment), it improves your posture and therefore your abs look more lean than if you are slumped over and muscular backs are just as sexy (if not more sexy) than good abs.
You eat too much because you are working hard in the gym and ‘deserve’ a feast. You eat too little in a bid to starve yourself to a tiny waist. We are all guilty of doing at least one of these at some point during our training and the problem is that each one is encouraged by the other. You eat too much and then starve yourself because you feel bad. You starve yourself and then binge on junk because if you don’t eat soon you may eat your own arm. It is a vicious cycle. It is also easy to avoid once you know what/ how much you should be eating.
Eat little and often to avoid bloating and digestive upset. Yes your fitness routine is important to get killer abs, but nobody will see them through layers of body fat. All of your hard work in the gym is wasted if you don’t eat a healthy, balanced diet in small portions staggered throughout the day. It is recommended that you eat 5-6 small meals each day.
Foods To Eat
In terms of what you should be eating, the best foods to reveal sexy abs are:
- Turkey (high in protein, low in saturated fat)
- Salmon (filling and packed with fatty acids)
- Eggs (packed with essential amino acids)
- Almonds (great sources of protein and ideal snacks)
- Leafy greens (low in calories, antioxidant and packed with vitamins)
- Yoghurt (good source of calcium as you should be keeping dairy levels low)
- Quinoa (I am a massive fan of this, a great alternative to rice, filling, tasty and high in protein).
- Soybeans (great source of antioxidants, fibre and protein)
- Apples (~85% water and high in fibre)
Whole grains, olive oil, vinegar, watermelon, cucumber, berries, green tea and plain popcorn are also great additions to a healthy diet.
There are no magic foods which only burn belly fat. The best way to achieving an aesthetically pleasing mid-section is to eat a healthy, simple, clean diet which will be of benefit to your entire body.
Foods To Avoid
Avoid processed foods high in LDL (low-density lipoproteins), simple carbohydrates, foods high in dairy and try to avoid eating excessive amounts of acidic fruit. These foods can cause bloating, digestive upset and slow your metabolism. How are you going to burn fat if your digestive system is full of fast-food? And how will anyone get to see those sculpted abs if you are bloated like a balloon?
If you want to make the most of your workouts then you will need protein to prevent muscle breakdown and ensure that your muscles can effectively grow and repair themselves following a hard training session. Whey protein is ideal for a pre and post-workout shake. For a bedtime shake, try a casein protein like Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Casein Protein. It is slow digesting and increases amino acid levels for up to seven hours meaning that while you sleep your muscles have the building blocks to repair themselves.