The hundreds of exercises and complicated pieces of equipment that claim to ‘iron out’ your stomach can get confusing-as can doing millions of exercises and not seeing any results. Read on to find out the tummy-flatteners that really work.
Firstly, abdominal exercises-the ones that tone your tummy and create the elusive ‘six-pack’- do not remove flab. You can exercise your abs to the hilt and have rock-hard muscles, but if you’ve got a layer of fat covering them, they’ll never be seen. And, conversely if you have a flat abdomen but don’t exercise, your tummy will lack tone and definition.
This doesn’t mean, however, that abdominal exercises are not worthwhile unless you’ve got a supermodel-flat stomach. On the contrary, they help to strengthen your central ‘core’ and in doing so, encourage good posture; plus, if you’re on a weight-loss program, reducing fatty tissue and strengthening muscle will boost your metabolism, and this will mean that when your tummy is flatter, it will have better tone and definition.
Build Up Your Abs
The abdomen consists of one long segmented muscle, but has three parts: the upper abdominal, the lower abdominal and the side abdominal. Each one has two corresponding ‘sides’ and this makes the ‘six-pack’ definition we’ve come to recognize. The deepest abdominal muscle, the one that holds the whole six-pack together, is the transverses abdominis.
Another question concerns whether or not you really want one: it’s possible to have a toned, flat stomach without a six-pack and it’s also possible to look overly muscular with one. The best plan is to exercise your abs until you like what you see, then switch to a ‘maintenance’ regime: when you’re building up your abs you should, as with any major muscle group, exercise them only every other day; for a maintenance program, switch to three times a week.
If you do want to spot-treat your abs, remember not to do it to the exclusion of the rest of your body. Tightening the abdominal muscles without increasing muscle mass elsewhere (particularly on the back) can cause shoulders to roll forward and round your upper back, leading to back pain and posture problems. The key to avoiding these-and to getting the most from your workout-is making sure that your abs are engaged (i.e. contracted, by pulling your tummy in) during your workout.
Breathing properly is important, too- you should exhale when you’re doing the work (the part where your abs are being squeezed). Also, don’t arch or flatten you back during mat work (lying down exercises)-there should be a gap of at least a figure’s width between the small of your back and the floor. You should do your abdominal exercises towards the end of your workout when you’ve already targeted other muscle groups-otherwise they will be too tired to do their job properly supporting the rest of the body.
Trim Your Waistline
It’s not all about abs, though. Some of us just want our waistlines to look a bit trimmer, and if that’s you, consider stretches (on top of a general aerobic-i.e.-burning- workout), Pilates is a good system for waist-toning because it concentrates on the ‘core’, and also often involves stability balls-those large, inflatable grown-up beach balls that you often find in gyms. Good gym exercises include sitting on the ball with one foot on the floor and the other stretched out in front, holding for a count of ten and then swapping over. A good Pilates move involves lying on the floor with the ball tucked up to your bottom and your legs curled round the top, then concentrating on your breathing, engaging your abdominal muscles as you do so.
Hula hoops can appeal to the child in you and also provide waist-whipping exercise and aerobics in one. The hoops you find in gyms are bigger and heavier than the ‘toy’ ones, though, so buy a sports version if you plan to use one on your own. They can be tricky to get the hang of, but advocates say you should have cracked the technique by the end of your first session-and add tantalizingly that ‘hooping’ for ten minutes a day can trim 5cm (2inches) off your waist in the first month, you’ll also impress everyone with your newfound skill!