Take a 360° Approach
Being a cardio queen won’t give you the six-pack abs you’re looking for, says personal trainer Aimee Victoria Long, who recommends a combination of strength and cardio for a stronger midsection. “Exercise is amazing for changing body composition, but cardio alone is not where it’s at. You need to reduce body fat and build muscle to see definition in the abs. Keep it simple and don’t overcomplicate it. Stick to a 50/50 split of cardio and core on days when you’re focusing on your abs, but don’t discard things like Pilates, which is great for honing in on your core strength, combined with cardio – a 30-minute jog, cycling or even an incline walk will all help you achieve results.” Megan Davies, super trainer and creator of Muscle Burns Fat, a home fitness workout available on Beachbody On Demand, also says prioritising resistance training is key. “I currently train with weights three days per week, and on the other two days, I do a core circuit, which includes getting the heart rate up. My week also includes a short, powerful workout that focuses on weight training and cardio, as well as a separate session focusing on mobility.”
Don’t Just Focus On The Abs
When we talk about abs, we’re actually referring to specific muscles – i.e. internal and external obliques, transversus abdominis and rectus abdominis – whereas your ‘core’ is everything housed in the trunk of your body, including your pelvic floor, diaphragm and back muscles. The experts agree that when it comes to a flatter, more toned tummy, it’s better to focus on core training. “Whether you’re doing cardio or strength training, you should always be conscious of engaging your core, both during exercise and ab-targeted movements,” advises Lex Shamis, integrative health coach and trainer at P.volve.
Clean Up Your Diet
Regardless of how hard you go in the gym, the experts agree what you do in the kitchen is still the most important factor – as the saying goes, you can’t out-train a bad diet. Aimee’s nutrition rules for better abs are simple: eat natural, whole foods. “The best advice is to base your diet around eating more whole, single-ingredient foods. Whole foods are packed with nutrients, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Also, make sure you are increasing your lean protein intake, eating plenty of foods rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, and drinking plenty of water,” she advises. Aimee also recommends adding apple cider vinegar (ACV) into your diet – some studies have suggested the acetic acid produced during the fermentation process of ACV can control appetite and burn fat. Aim for 25ml daily with a small amount of warm water and lemon juice.
Understand The Body Fat Equation
“Everyone has abs,” says Megan. “They are just hidden under a layer of fat. For women, a body fat percentage of around 14-20% will result in visible abs, or at least some form of core definition. At the end of the day, abs come down to a lower body fat and that comes down to calories in vs. calories out.” Aimee agrees, adding that a calorie deficit is essential in order to lose weight, which could ultimately lead to a more visibly defined midsection. “If you are consuming more calories than your body needs to maintain its weight, you are quite simply going to gain weight.”
Don’t Discount Carbs
“Limiting your carb intake has been shown to have benefits and results for weight loss, however, I would never tell anyone to just eliminate a food group. Carbs are needed for energy, happiness and enjoyment,” Aimee says. Instead, replace refined carbs with unprocessed, whole food carbs, as some studies have suggested this can significantly improve your metabolic health and trim your waistline, she says. On the days you are exercising, understand your body needs carbs for energy and the restoration process, but if you don’t exercise them off, they can turn to fat. Stock up on sweet potatoes, brown rice, butternut squash, quinoa and oats, all of which will provide a clean source of energy for your next workout.
Sleep More & Stress Less
Proof that abs aren’t just made in the gym (or kitchen), a good night’s sleep is also crucial for a flatter tummy. “Stress and a lack of sleep can take its toll on your body, and in turn your stomach,” Aimee explains. “When people are stressed, they tend to comfort eat, consuming excess calories, which leads to weight gain. Secondly, stress also triggers cortisol levels, creating a cortisol spike that has been known to increase appetite and lead specifically to stomach fat storage.” In fact, studies have found just one sleepless night can trigger certain hormones, which make appetite soar, compelling you to eat an additional 300 calories the following day. “Ensuring you get adequate amounts of sleep will help reduce cortisol levels,” Aimee says. “But exercising and taking the time to unwind also helps. Foods that help keep cortisol levels stable include probiotics, found in foods such as yoghurt, black and green tea, bananas and dark chocolate.”
According to research, the average Brit now eats crisps, nuts or popcorn seven times a week, and in the last three years, snacking on nuts has risen by almost 25%. Moreover, we’re the largest snackers in Europe, eating four times more crisps than the French or Italians. Constant snacking may seem essential to fuel our busy lives, but nutritionist and anti-snack advocate Petronella Ravenshear believes endless grazing is wreaking havoc with our waistlines. “Healthy individuals don’t need snacks,” she stresses. “Snacking ultimately makes you fatter and tired.” Petronella also explains we should be leaving five hours between meals – five hours, she says, is the amount of time it takes for insulin, our fat-storage hormone, to be low enough to allow glucagon, our fat-burning hormone, to kick into action.
Up Your Omegas
While you should always take a ‘food-first’ approach when it comes to nutrition, the experts agree it could be worth taking an omega-3 supplement if you’re serious about your abs. Omega-3s have been shown to reduce inflammation, improve muscle soreness and boost reaction times, meaning they’ll allow you to supercharge your workout. Studies have even found omega-3s can help encourage the building of lean muscle and burn fat. “There’s no one magic pill that’ll suddenly give you amazing abs, but fatty fish is rich in essential long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and good-quality protein. Protein has been shown in many studies to help with weight loss and some studies have suggested omega-3 fatty acids may also reduce the accumulation of fat in the liver and abdominal cavity. Aim to eat oily fish around twice per week, but if you prefer to take a supplement, aim for 250-500mg combined EPA and DHA daily,” says Aimee.
When it comes to your abs, the pros agree it all comes down to consistency. “The winning combination for abs is a great strength training routine, good nutrition, consistency and patience,” Megan says. “So many people know what they should be doing but expect to see instant results. We need to be steadfast in our approach and give our bodies grace as we make changes to our diet and exercise habits. And try to avoid falling in the trap of spending every day doing endless core work – when you work the core, you are just working muscles in that area. When it comes to losing fat, we don’t get to spot reduce and diet is the most important piece of the puzzle.” Megan also reminded us that genetics can play a role in your abs: “Everyone has the same core muscles, but genetics can play a role in their shape and thickness, which can change the appearance of one person’s midsection from another. Genetics and hormones also play an important role in where you store your body fat. This can certainly make it trickier for some people to see definition – but definitely not impossible.”
Chloe Ting Shredded Abs Workout: Chloe is one of our favourite YouTube stars and her challenging workouts never disappoint – try this sweat-inducing session.
Pamela Reif 10-Minute Abs Workout: Using only your bodyweight, this equipment-free workout is ideal for travelling and when on-the-go.
Joe Wicks: The king of YouTube workouts, Joe Wick’s channel is packed with plenty of abs inspo. Try this 300-rep workout and feel the burn.
MadFit Total Core Workout: Targeting the entire core, this 15-minute workout is low-impact and suitable for beginners.
Bowflex Six-Minute HIIT & Abs: The clue’s in the name of this short-but-sweet session, which will raise your heart rate during a cardio interval and tone during a core move.
*Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.