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Crunches aren't a sure-fire tummy trimmer.
Don't fall for the infomercial messages that promise to shrink your tummy and get you a six-pack when you use their exercise system. Spot reduction is simply not possible. Ab workouts help strengthen the muscles at the front of the trunk, but they do not lead to fat loss around your midsection that covers these muscles and gives you a pooch. Overall weight loss can help shrink your middle, but how effectively depends on your genetics, gender and age.
Exercise and a Flat Stomach
To lose belly fat, which leads to a flat stomach, you need to increase your calorie burn, decrease your calorie intake and focus on high-quality, nutritious foods. Ab workouts burn a small number of calories when compared to high-intensity cardio training. A paper published in the "Journal of Obesity" in 2011 reviewed multiple studies on exercise and midsection fat loss and concluded that high-intensity exercise is more effective for reducing stomach fat than other types of exercise. Instead of crunching your way to a flat tummy, try a 20- to 30-minute cardio session that involves intervals of two to four minutes at an all-out pace followed by an equal amount of time working at an easy pace.
All of the crunches, planks and situps in the world won't make up for a poor diet. Consuming too many refined flours, added sugar and solid fats can cause your body to store fat at your abdomen. To get a flat stomach, you need to lose weight all over -- which means consuming fewer calories than you burn daily. Make the calories you eat come from lean proteins, such as tofu, skinless chicken or white fish, whole grains and leafy greens. Include a few servings of healthy, unsaturated fats in your daily meal plan too. These fats, found in nuts, fatty fish and olive oil, offer important nutrients and are less likely to be stored as belly fat. Also pay attention to how the foods you eat affect your system. Some people experience bloating after consuming dairy, wheat and soy, for example, which can give you the appearance of a pooch.
Stress and Sleep
If you are stressed about losing weight and lose sleep to fit in your abs workout, you are not doing your quest for flat abs much good. Stress may also result from work, family, social or self-imposed obligations and expectations. Lack of sleep and stress increase the body's production of the stress hormone cortisol, which leads to storage of fat in the midsection. It also increases your hunger signals, so keeping your food intake below your calorie burn becomes a struggle. Get seven to nine hours of sleep per night and take action, such as yoga or meditation, to reduce everyday stress. These steps will do more to get you a flat belly than a few crunches per week.
Your ab workout may not guarantee you a flat middle, but it does offer numerous other benefits. By training your abs, you build core strength, which assists you in everyday activities, from lifting up a laundry basket to taking out the trash. Core strength is also essential in preventing back pain and improving your posture. Choose exercises that target all the muscles of your abs and back, not just crunches. Include exercises such as a cable rotation, which involves the obliques at the sides of the waist, and plank holds, which target the deep transverse abdominis, when working your abs.