Sore to the Core
I’ve always wanted a flat stomach. As I got older, I also wanted a six-pack. I thought, back when I was in high school, that if I did sit-ups every day I would get a flat stomach. Well, I know better now. You can’t spot reduce any area of your body. It’d be so much easier if I could pick and choose the areas to lose fat, or tighten up, but that’s a dream. However, we can work on that core so that we improve strength and function, while also improving the appearance. And who knows? Maybe a flat tummy or six-pack could be in the near future.
The Full Picture
Most of my clients used to think of just the front of their body when they talked about their abs. But, when you train, you want to work around your entire torso. The muscles of your midsection work together to support your spine, bend, twist and turn. While certain exercises may target one muscle, the other muscles are often helping it out. So, this workout is going to work your body from different angles.
How Much and How Often
Your core is strong and resistant to fatigue. This means that as you get stronger, you can train it more often. Ideally, you should train your core two to three times each week on nonconsecutive days. That way your muscles can recover from one workout before you do another. Proper recovery is what will allow you to see results. Some advanced people may train their abs every day, but you don’t have to. Start slow!
The other component is how much should you do. This varies based on your ability. You want to fatigue your muscles, so you don’t want to stop until you feel it. I’m going to give you some basic guidelines, but I always do each exercise until I feel it, then I do five more. It should be challenging, but you also want to maintain proper form. Use these numbers as a tool, but adjust based on how you feel during each exercise.
Beginners: one to two sets of 10-15 repetitions.
Intermediates: two to three sets of 20-25 repetitions.
Advanced: three to four sets of 30+ repetitions.
Remember, don’t sacrifice your form!
Planks: These are a great core exercise. Hold your body straight and stiff like a board, or plank. You can do them on your knees if you’re a beginner or have back issues. You can also choose to do them from your hands with your arms straight, or on your elbows and forearms. Try different positions so you can find what challenges you. Instead of repetitions, you want to hold this exercise. So, start with as little as 5 seconds, and slowly try to build up to 60 seconds. Then repeat for up to four sets as you get stronger.
Crunches: I think the crunch is underrated and I’ll tell you why. It is a basic exercise, which is the reason some trainers skip it. But this is why I love it. Mastering the basic crunch allows you to feel your abdominal muscles working. It’s a small movement that most people can perform. You can really focus on your abs, and it puts you in tune with those muscles. Now, for you more advanced people, get those feet off the ground! Legs straight up to the ceiling, or angle them slightly for more of a challenge.
Reverse Crunches: Even though you don’t technically have lower abs, this is an exercise you will feel in the lower portion of your abdomen. It’s basically the opposite of the crunch. Beginners, keep the movement small. Try to lift your hips off the ground, but don’t use momentum. As you get stronger, try to tap your feet all the way to the floor, keeping your knees bent. For advanced people, straighten those legs. Lower your straight legs to the floor, keeping your low back on the floor. Then, raise your legs back up straight to the ceiling and try to lift your hips off the floor. No momentum, just abs working.
Bicycles: Bicycle crunches will work the front and sides of your midsection. Now, if you look at the link, your legs are moving opposite your upper body, with your legs never touching the floor. That may too challenging if you are a beginner. There are two options. First, you can angle your legs more towards the ceiling rather than parallel to the floor. It will be less stressful on your abs, so easier for you. Or you can keep your feet on the floor. As you lift your torso up and twist, bring the opposite foot off the floor and bring the knee in. Alternate sides, with one foot always maintaining contact with the floor.
As I said before, you can’t spot reduce. So, if you really want the best possible midsection, add in some cardio. Aim for at least 20-30 minutes a minimum of three times each week. Choose an activity that is challenging and break a sweat. Often the easiest choices are walking or running.
Also, you need to monitor your diet. If you overeat, you are not going to see those abs. You need to eat a balanced diet that includes fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean sources of protein and heart-healthy unsaturated fats. And drink your water! This will help reduce bloat and fluid retention, among other benefits.
I change up my ab workouts often. I usually pick three or four exercises that work my midsection from different angles. Beginners should try to do the same workout for at least four weeks. Allow your body to get used to these movements, then change it up. The American Council on Exercise is a great tool to use.
If you have questions or comments, please let me know. There are so many exercises to choose from, and ways to train, achieving a flat tummy doesn’t have to be a drag!