The secret to a sculpted midsection is that there is no secret. It takes a combination of hard work in the gym, excellent dedication to a good nutrition plan, and adequate rest and recovery.
The basics are always important, but sometimes we need a little more detail so we can create the best plan for ourselves. That's where I come in. Follow these six steps and you'll have all the tools you need to burn body fat and build strong, good-looking abs.
Nutrition, Nutrition, Nutrition
Let's get it out of the way right off the bat: You can't talk about abs, a sculpted midsection, or a great six-pack without putting an emphasis on your nutrition. A good diet is absolutely critical to burning off that layer of body fat hiding your abs from the world. If you don't have a good grasp on nutrition, then you sure as heck won't see your abs.
The simplest way to handle your nutrition is to stick to all-natural food sources. Avoid overly processed foods, high-calorie beverages, and excess sugar. Eat meals which include a lot of lean protein, like chicken; complex carbs, like asparagus; and healthy fats, like avocado. If you eat enough to feel satisfied, but not overly full, you'll stay satiated longer and be less likely to overeat. Once you understand how a healthy diet works, then you can start to figure out your limitations and the ratio of carbohydrates, fat, and protein which works best for you.
If you're already on a healthy meal plan but need to tweak your calorie intake to finally uncover your abs, try this. Calculate your estimated total daily energy expenditure (TEE) by multiplying your weight in pounds by 10, and then multiplying that number by your activity factor.
TEE Activity Factors
|Office work; no vigorous activities
|Moderately active; some planned activity
|Active; 1-2 hours of daily exercise
|Planned vigorous activites; physical labor; full-time athletes
The total you get should be the number calories you need to maintain your current weight and body composition. To lose weight: remove somewhere between 200 and 500 calories from your TEE. The number of calories you remove depends on your goals, body type, and timeframe. Be strategic about how many calories you remove. If you've never been in a calorie deficit, then start by removing 100-200 calories from your daily total. You can always decrease the calories you consume as you move forward.
Reach Beyond The Crunch
Instead of doing endless crunches and other spinal-flexion (bending the spine forward) movements to work your abs, we're going the opposite direction! Although the sheer amount of crunches you see on a daily basis will tell you differently, the main function of your abdominal wall is anti-flexion, anti-extension, and anti-rotation. In other words, your abs keep you upright and balanced against force.
If you need a visual for your abdominal "anti" properties, think of yourself doing a front squat. Without your abs, you would just crumple forward. Your abs keep your torso upright, preventing the weight from crushing you. If you have a weak front squat because the weight causes you to fall forward, then guess what? You need some abdominal work.
Another great way to train your abs is to focus on the negative portion of flexion exercises like crunches. Instead of doing regular crunches, do negative crunches. Start from the top and slowly lower yourself down. Try this same method when you do reverse crunches and cable crunches. Resist the force of gravity or weight and move slowly through the exercises in reverse.
Exercises For Abdominal Wall Functions
|Anti-flexion (lateral) exercises
|Plank and plank variations, Push-up, TRX fallout
|Pallof press variations
|Squat, Front squat, Loaded carry, Deadlift
|Single-arm loaded carry, Suitcase deadlift, Single-arm waiter walk
Hydration Helps You Burn Fat
Oh, I know. You've seen bodybuilding shows and you've read things about being "dry" and "cutting" water. But, you're not trying to step on the Olympia stage any time soon, so there's no reason you need to worry about seeing striations in your ass. Water is vital to your health. There's just no reason to stop drinking it.
Further, water is an essential part of the fat-burning process. Your liver, which processes fat, needs water to function optimally. If you're dehydrated, you actually put the brakes on fat burning. Water also aids in distributing nutrients and regulates body temperature. Bottom line: If you want to increase your performance and obtain results, stay hydrated!
Don't think for a minute that your Diet Coke is a sufficient alternative for water. Sugar-sweetened beverages—even if the sweetener is artificial and calorie-free—could still potentially add size to your waistline. If you need a break from water, stick to tea or coffee. Diet beverages and energy drinks should be used rarely.
But water's boring, you say? I like to put BCAAs in mine. Not only do they taste delicious, but they also help me build and maintain my muscle mass!
The amount of water you should drink depends entirely on your body and activity level. You can go by the 8-glasses-per-day rule, but most of us need more than that.
Let Your Abs Recover
Treat your abdominals like you would any other muscle group—don't train them every day! We don't do a 20-minute leg circuit after every workout, so why would we do an abs circuit?
Make a training plan for your abs that incorporates a rest and recovery phase. Then stick to it! Remember that your abs are engaged in many, so many of the exercises you already do. Chances are you already train them every day.
Supplements Can Help
Supplements can't build your abs, do the work in the gym, or create your nutrition plan for you! But, products like L-carnitine, raspberry ketones, green tea, green coffee bean, chromium, CLA, and caffeine may aid in body fat reduction.
Get your training, diet, and recovery right before you worry about supplements. Once you feel ready to try the afore-mentioned supps, do some research so you can find the perfect product for your goals.
Be Transparent About Your Goals
The more people you make aware of your intentions, the more support you can gather. If you're surrounded by a positive group of supporters—family, friends, coaches, trainers—your chance of success increases dramatically. So aim to build a robust support system.
I'm an avid user of BodySpace for this exact reason! I tell people what my goals are and my plans to get there. In return, I get a huge amount of support and a way to hold myself accountable. I don't want to disappoint any of my followers.