Time to face facts: All those crunches and as-seen-on-TV devices won't give you a six-pack. What will? Losing the belly fat that covers up your abs, as strong as they may be. Exercise, especially the right kind of cardio, is your ticket to a core you can bounce quarters off.

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Burn The Fat

The best way to slim down in the middle is to do plenty of cardiovascular exercise. Some good examples of this are:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Swimming
  • Aerobics
  • Bicycling

But no matter which activity you choose, the best cardio to burn fat is strategic. Either do high-intensity interval training (HIIT), very low-intensity cardio like walking, or ideally, a mix of both.

As the fat within your muscles decreases, you will appear more toned and less flabby.

Serious About Getting a Six-Pack?
Serious About Getting a Six-Pack?
Check out our complete guide to getting a ripped midsection!

Build Muscle to Burn More Fat

Toning along with cardiovascular work will speed up and improve the process, but don't think that you only need to work on your abs. This is another misconception. The truth is that when you work all the larger muscle groups, adding more mass to your muscles, you rev up your metabolism to heights it has never before reached.

Large Muscle Groups To Concentrate On:

  • Front and back of thighs
  • Buttocks
  • Back
  • Chest
  • Triceps and biceps
  • Calves
  • Hips
  • Forearms
  • Shoulders

Your muscles need extra calories to maintain themselves, so more of the food you eat will be feeding your muscles instead of your trouble spots. Your conditioned heart (from the cardiovascular stuff) is more effective at burning calories as well, so you have the golden combination there.

As the fat comes off your body, it will come off your belly. Your body fat is like one organ, located throughout your body, and you can't take it off just one spot unless you have liposuction done.

Always work your abs at the end of your workout. There's a good reason for this. You are indirectly using them for all the other exercises you do.

The abs are important stabilizer muscles that keep your form in check. If you do abs first, you will tire them out, and your whole workout will be less than optimal. Work down from the largest to the smallest muscles.

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Strengthen Your Core

Doing core exercises is still important, though. Crunches and Janda sit-ups primarily work the largest abdominal muscle, the rectus abdominis, which flexes the spine. This muscle compresses the abdomen to a point, but there are other muscles you need to pay attention to, as well.

The internal and external obliques, which I like to call "nature's girdle," are located at the sides of the rectus abdominis. They are the muscles you use when you bend sideways at the spine or twist at the waist. They also contract to compress the abdomen, so you should work them just as hard as you work the rectus abdominis. Adding a twist to crunches works, as well as dumbbell side bends, but be careful not to use any jerky motions, especially if you've had back problems.

The transversus abdominal muscles are located at your sides, below the obliques. Often called "lower abs," these are the muscles that women who are trying to lose their belly after pregnancy should concentrate on. Exercises that call for raising the legs instead of the upper body are effective at strengthening the transversus.

Training Tips for a Tight Tummy

Walking

Walking puts all of the abdominal muscles to work. Make sure you swing your arms and contract your midsection while you walk, and maintain a brisk pace. Once you get your body accustomed to a daily walk, you'll hate to go a day without it. Walk for at least thirty minutes each time to achieve the aerobic effect, and be sure to drink plenty of water.

Weight Training

Weight training not only helps the metabolism, but it also strengthens the bones. Adding muscle also does wonders for your energy level and self-esteem as you age.

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Yoga

Yoga is equally effective at strengthening your body, especially your abs and back. It improves the posture tremendously to create a taller, leaner appearance. Pilates and many mat-based exercises are also great alternatives. The important thing is that you find an activity you like to do. This will greatly improve your odds of sticking with it.

Do Ab Belts Work?

Many television ads are now pitching devices that supposedly stimulate muscles to contract repeatedly without exercise. I even saw an infomercial for an "ab belt" that claimed it does the work of 700 sit-ups in 10 minutes! The ad shows people doing various abdominal exercises the wrong way, hating every second of it, versus smiling men and women going about their days with "Ab-whatevers" strapped around them. How enticing!

Several people in these ads claim to have lost inches around their waist as a result of using these products. Men with six-pack abs credit the device. This is feeding the viewership's disillusionment about how to lose belly fat. Strengthening your abs alone (and these machines couldn't possibly do much of that) just won't do it.

Why is this? Because of the fat! If a heavy woman does hundreds of crunches a day, she may develop strong abs, and they might tighten up a bit, but they'll still be hidden by fat, and she won't look any thinner.

About 50 percent of your body fat is located directly beneath the skin. Do you know where most of the rest of it is? Inside the muscles. Doing crunches will not get rid of this fat, and neither will the vibrating belt in the television ads.

The Mindset

The most important thing you need to do is to program yourself mentally. Don't use a scale to measure your progress. If you work out with weights, you may gain a few pounds while losing inches around the waist. Instead, use that pair of jeans that you want to fit into again, or a pair that fits you now. You'll see a slight change every few weeks, and that should give you confidence.

Walk as tall as you can. Do back and leg stretches daily to improve your posture. When you're driving to work, sit up nice and straight and adjust the rear-view mirror so that you'll know when you're slouching. Don't let your shoulders fall forward when you're at your desk. You can look a size smaller just by doing these things.

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Genes

I hate to say it. We've all seen people with "good genes" and wondered if they had any idea how lucky they are. They probably don't, but that's okay. Consider it a character-building experience. If you blame your ancestors for excess flesh in the middle, don't feel helpless. You just have to work a little harder than some others.

You can still sculpt out a slimmer silhouette with cardiovascular exercise, a healthy, balanced, low fat diet and whatever bonus activities you throw in. This may not be a novel approach, but it really works.

I'm not telling you that it's easy, but it really is pretty simple. In an age where people don't even have to go outside to grill a steak, it's tempting to spend a few dollars on a quick fix. Human anatomy hasn't changed much throughout history, however. If you adopt your grandparents' work ethic and apply it to your every day life, you will achieve your greatest results.

About the Author

Maia Appleby

Maia Appleby

Time to face facts: All those crunches and as...

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