Tight abdominal muscles might look good on the beach and in the gym changing room, but they're also essential for a good strong core and a supported back. While abdominal workouts will strengthen your muscles, you won’t see a toned six-pack if it’s buried underneath a layer of fat. Bloating can also affect how flat your tummy is, so while abdominal workouts can help develop and define your stomach, diet and cardiovascular exercise play a much bigger role.
Lose the Fat First
While abdominal workouts will develop your muscles, they won’t give you a flat stomach if you have fat covering your midsection. Abdominal workouts won’t spot-reduce fat from around your belly. The only way to ensure a flatter stomach is to burn more calories than you consume so that your body burns excess fat for energy. This is achieved through exercise and a reduction in the amount of calories you consume every day.
Visceral Fat and Exercise
Abdominal fat is also known as visceral fat, and it’s the most dangerous type of fat because it sits between your abdominal cavity, pressing against your vital organs. Visceral fat can lead to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer. A reduction in calories, a healthy and balanced diet and at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise every week, such as walking, swimming or bike riding, will help you to shift the visceral fat, improving your health while contributing to a flatter stomach at the same time.
Avoid That Bloating Feeling
Bloating can make your stomach look bigger than it is, and this can be caused by a number of things. For example, chewing gum can lead to trapped air swelling your belly, while salty snacks can lead to water retention and the appearance of extra weight around your tummy. High carbohydrate foods like bread and pasta can be stockpiled by your body for fuel, so as well as cutting out gum and salty snacks, add more protein and low-carb foods into your diet, like lean meats and fresh vegetables.
Targeting Your Core
Abdominal exercises target the core muscles of your body. A strong core will give you balance, stability and good posture while also helping you to avoid back problems. You will need to target the lower and upper rectus abdominal muscles and the external oblique muscles. Note that, unlike most muscle groups, abdominal muscles can be worked daily. Exercises to tighten abdominal muscles include the body-weight squat, bent-knee hip extensions, bent-knee situps and crunches, the side plank and the glute bridge.
- Harvard Health Publications: Abdominal Fat and What to Do About it
- Health.gov: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: Chapter Four: Active Adults
- Medline Plus: Abdominal Bloating
- American Heart Association: The Effects of Excess Sodium on Your Health and Appearance
- National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse: Gas in the Digestive Tract
- Harvard Health Publications: Build Your Core Muscles for a Healthier, More Active Future
- United States Department of Veterans Affairs: Rehabilitation Research Development: Abdominal PDF
- AceFitness.org: Exercise Library: Ab Exercises
- Photo Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images