A PT’s Guide To Toning Your Abs

A PT’s Guide To Toning Your Abs

A toned, flat stomach is up there with some of the most common fitness goals, but the quest for better abs can often end up feeling a bit futile. From nailing the perfect cardio to strength ratio to the moves to know, here’s what four of the capital’s top trainers recommend for real results.

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 the core. “Most people that train purely for aesthetics often end up just working the rectus abdominis, otherwise known as the six-pack muscles,” explains PT Ollie Thompson. “But this muscle is just one muscle that makes up the entire core. The core has many functions and plays a hugely impactful role on how your body moves, feels and looks. For the best results you should focus on training the core as a whole rather than just the abs.” 

Work From The Inside Out

While it pays to take a rounded approach when it comes to toning the mid-section, Maria Eleftheriou, head of barre at Psycle, whose classes are renowned for sculpting the core in a matter of weeks, says you should think about training the core from the deepest layer, working your way up. “Think of your abs like a jigsaw – each part plays an important role. The deepest layers of your abs – the transverse abdominis – are the most important. They stabilise your spine and pelvis and when weak or underused, can slow down the process of building a strong overall core and abdominal wall.” Maria adds that you have two layers of oblique muscles, which are also important for supporting the spine, while the rectus abdominis, which is the six-pack muscle, flexes the torso forward. 

Don’t Limit Yourself To Sit-Ups

“The biggest mistake people make when trying to sculpt their stomach is forgetting how many parts of the abdominal wall there are and that they all need to be worked in different directions and ways,” says Maria. “There’s so much more to it than just doing sit-ups,” Ollie adds. “Working the core in different planes of movement is vital to a more toned stomach. There are four main types of movement – anti-extension, which you can target with plank variations and an overhead medicine ball slam; anti-lateral flexion, which you can strengthen with side plank variations, for example; anti-rotation, which is best targeted with the classic pallof hold, deadbugs and renegade rows; and full rotation, so think lateral ball tosses.” Maria also advocates a 360° approach. “In my classes, we start with a transverse set then use flexion exercises such as a crunch, followed by lateral flexion work and the obliques and rotational exercises for the spine. We always include a lower abdominal isometric hold or deep for the lower abs, too.”

“You don’t need to go overboard – training the abs for five to ten minutes three or four times per week is perfect.”

Don’t Forget About Cardio

When it comes to the magic formula for a stronger core, strength is important, but don’t neglect cardio, says Autumn Calabrese, super trainer at Beachbody on Demand. “Cardio strength training is the type of exercise you should aim to include more of if you’re trying to achieve a flatter, more toned stomach. This is when you use weights to tone and build lean muscle but also use moves that elevate your heart rate to bring it into a cardio zone.” Ollie recommends aiming for two strength training workouts, two low-medium intensity cardio sessions and an additional session such as yoga or Pilates each week for the best results. If hardcore cardio isn’t your thing, barre is also a fantastic way to strengthen the core, says Maria. “Barre is a low intensity form of training that is the magic secret to sculpting and chiselling muscles you didn’t even know you had. Every week, aim to do at least two barre sessions and one cardio session, which will strip the body fat that sits around the centre of the body – this is my winning formula,” she says. 

Breathe Well

While technique matters, so does how you breathe, says Kiri Louise, barre and Pilates trainer and founder of The Classical Edit. “One of the most common mistakes women make when doing abdominal work is holding the breath,” she tells SL. “While it may feel easier to hold your breath when powering through a challenging exercise, breathing well can lead to better results. When you connect your exhale to the strenuous part of your movement it will help engage your pelvic floor and deep transverse abdominals, helping draw the bellybutton in and training your abs to be flat.”

Factor In Recovery Time 

Just like training your arms or legs, working on your core also warrants recovery. “If you’ve gone heavy on oblique work or have done lots of twisting, add in a side bend to stretch things out,” says Kiri. “And for your deep, lower abdominals, let your bellybutton push all the way out as you inhale, holding for a few seconds, and then when you exhale, it will reset your transverse layer as well as stretch your diaphragm,” she recommends. Autumn is also a fan of the cobra to stretch out the abs. “Lay on your stomach, place your hands directly under your shoulders, engage the core, glutes and back muscles, and lift your chest off the ground by pressing through the hands to straighten your arms. Look upwards and keep your abs engaged to protect your lower back.” 

Stick With It

A flatter stomach won’t happen overnight – consistency is key. But if you’re willing to put the time in, you can see results within three to six months, says Maria. “The amount of time it will take you to build muscle depends on your starting point, and to physically see your abs it comes down to how much body fat you have. With a healthy, balanced diet, most people with a body fat of 20% or lower will see results after three to six months.” Autumn stresses that consistency will pay off: “Work your abs for five to ten minutes, three to four times per week and you’re off to a great start.”

If You Have 5 Minutes…

MadFit Flat Abs Workout: Short but sweet, Maddie Burner’s toning session comprises of five exercises in just five minutes.
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Bailey Brown Lower Abs Workout: If you’re looking to tone the lower part of your abs, this workout is one to try.
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If You Have 10 Minutes…

Heather Robertson 10-Minute Abs Workout: No equipment is needed for this speedy workout, which includes 20 different moves, done for 30 seconds each with no rest.

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The Body Coach 10-Minute Abs: Trust Joe Wicks to deliver this spicy workout, which is the perfect way to round off a cardio session.

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Pamela Raif Ab Workout: Inspired by Pamela’s cult six-pack workout, this shorter version uses no equipment and is free from breaks to guarantee maximum burn.

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If You Have 15 Minutes...

Caroline Girvan Firm Abs Workout: This challenging workout focuses on the upper and lower abs with just five seconds of rest between each exercise.

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MadFit Total Ab Workout: Join Maddie as she takes you through an intense abs routine – not for beginners.

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For more information visit SIX3NINE.com, Psycle.com and TheClassicalEdit.com. Autumn Calabrese is the creator of home various fitness and online nutrition programmes at BeachBodyOnDemand.com.


DISCLAIMER: 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.

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