As a fitness coach, I know firsthand that stubborn belly fat is one of the biggest body issues facing women. The magazine covers promise a rock-hard, six-pack in days. Really, days? However, if it were that simple, I wouldn’t be writing this truth: Many of us are misguided and going about this ab thing all wrong.
I’m giving you the good, the bad, and the not-so-pretty answers that most trainers may not share with you. Let’s start on the low end.
You may not ever get a six-pack, and here’s why.
Pure genetics. Some women are genetically predisposed to having unforgiving skin. They have an unusual degree of premature collagen breakdown. Collagen is the primary structural protein that determines how well our skin retracts back. I call it our recoil protein. Find it in hair, skin, and nails. Not much can be done to correct the affects of premature collagen breakdown. However, stay tuned and follow me to the end of this article. There’s still hope!
Blame it on the baby. If you’ve given birth, the amount of weight gained during your pregnancy also will affect the amount of loose skin you are left with. Obviously, the more weight you gain, the more loose skin you will risk having. The more the skin is compromised, the less elasticity. Some women are gifted with the ability to genetically bounce back after pregnancy. However, the unfortunate thing about pregnancy is that there is no way to determine how your body will adjust until it happens.
Then there’s this…Diastasis recti, a condition that causes abdominal muscles to separate after pregnancy, is quite common. The uterus grows and interrupts the abdominal tissue pushing it apart. That part doesn’t surprise me. The muscle tissue goes through a lot of manipulation during the child birth. What does take me by surprise is the amount of women who actually have the condition and are not aware of it. During my research, I learned that 1 out of every 3 moms is affected by it. Whoa! So, if you have this condition and are working your butt off at the gym trying burn off that last bit of belly fat, you may find yourself getting frustrated by your lack of results. This condition is usually one that requires surgery to correct. In minor cases, exercises can be done to strengthen the muscles and bring them back to functionality. But it’s rare. And unfortunately there are abdominal exercises that can make the condition worse. Diastasis recti has distinctive traits. Usually women with this condition have a very prominent pouch. There is a self test. Try it, but also plan to visit your doctor to ensure a proper diagnosis.
If these factors don’t apply to you, then your abs are getable. But be ready to put down the Ho Hos and work!
Abs Are Made in the Kitchen. It’s True!
Eating clean is a sure-fire way to get rid of unwanted abdominal fat. You may never see your abs if you don’t. It is essential that you eliminate saturated fats and replace them with healthy fats. I always say, “Eat clean and train dirty!” True story: Before I ever became a trainer, I had been doing core exercises for a few years. The best I ever achieved from doing hundreds of crunches and sit-ups without the healthy eating was a semi-jiggly tummy. I still had a little pudge that wouldn’t budge. It wasn’t until I trained and competed for a figure show that I saw my full six-pack! I did it in 7 weeks, which typically isn’t enough time to prepare. I learned A LOT. I also made a lot of mistakes, but I followed my clean-eating regimen to a tee. I never deviated. I dropped from 140 lbs to 122 lbs in that short time, and realized just how much diet really mattered. In addition to diet…
You Also Need Cardio
Cardio is the most effective exercise that will burn your belly fat. Hate it if you like, but cardio is your fat-burning friend. In fact, if you are faced with the option of going for a run versus doing crunches, you better lace up your sneakers.
Doing cardio first thing in the morning before you have eaten has major benefits as well. Though it isn’t the only way to burn fat, it is highly effective at burning stored fat. The idea behind this method of training is that glycogen (the body’s stored carbs that get used during exercise) has been used up and is gone by the time you wake up in the morning. This leaves your body free to burn stored fat instead of glycogen. As long as there is no glycogen left in your liver, you are free to burn-baby-burn! Either way you slice it, cardio is the key to targeting fat.
Working Abs Everyday is Overkill
It’s easy to think that you’ll get faster results by doing crunches 7 days a week. But as I’ve mentioned before, ab growth boils down to what you eat. Think about it; you are trying to build your abdominal muscles beneath the skin. This is done by doing an ab workout, which breaks down muscle tissue by creating small micro tears in the muscle fibers. Once this is done, your abdominal tissues must go through a repair process so that the muscles become stronger and grow larger. This only happens with proper rest. If you are working your abdominal muscles directly each day you are not giving them the proper rest for recovery and repair. Also, you must consider the indirect work that your abdominal muscles must do every day. You need them to complete other exercises. Therefore, 3-4 times per week is more than enough. The appropriate amount of cardio, core exercises, and clean eating is the number one cocktail for six-pack abs. (Ready? Try these 5 Moves for Fab Abs)
Forget the Abs, What About a Flat Tummy?
Despite all of the above, there is still hope. Even with the loose skin, and yes, diastasis recti condition, we can get to a happy place.
A flatter tummy gives us that hourglass appearance we love so much. We can still get that by burning as much abdominal fat as we can through diet and exercise. For loose skin especially, try to build your abdominal muscles by doing weighted, core exercises and eating the proper amount of protein to build your abdominal muscle fibers like you would any other muscles. The protrusion of your strong abs against the skin will help smooth the look of the tummy area. The next step would be to target your upper and lower body by strength training to put on some lean muscle. Focus on exercises that will build your lats and shoulders, and the quads in your lower half. Building wide lats, shapely shoulders and quads gives the illusion of a smaller waist. Try these exercises to help you:
Lat pull-down: 4×12 reps
Vertical leg press: 4×10 reps
Pull-ups (assisted or free-pull): 4×8 reps
Leg extensions: 4×10 reps
Weighted Speed Lunges: 4×8 reps
Weighted V-ups: 4×15 reps
The number one key to getting your flat tummy or a six pack is knowledge. Know what you are working with and devise a plan. Then, with the proper diet and exercise you will be better equipped to sculpt your body. Being a woman has its challenges. However, we are rock stars. We gain weight and then lose it again. We are constantly changing while learning how to conquer different battles with each part of this journey. Remember that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Working diligently with what we have is the best way to sculpt a body that we can be proud of.
Kudos to the women who work hard at this fitness journey on a daily basis. It takes dedication, commitment, and perseverance to get up and stay the course. I salute you! Cheers to hard work, beautiful tummies, and bodies we love!
Shero, also known as Kesha Newton, is a Certified Personal Trainer and Wellness Coach in Sterling, Va. Her company, Fit Chics LLC, is a women’s boot camp that not only focuses on the physical health and transformation of women, but the emotional growth and healing as well. Follow Shero on Instagram @Fit_Chic_Shero and Facebook at SHe Ro.