Having flat, toned abs is a goal for almost any woman and, unfortunately, body fat on the abdomen is usually the last to go. There are so many factors that influence abdominal fat and muscle, and it's a combination of those factors that results in a flat tummy. Doing repetitive crunches and ab exercises will help develop the abdominal muscles, but if you have belly fat, those muscles will stay hidden. You have to burn off the fat, and even doing hundreds of crunches won't accomplish that.
Jade Teta, CSCS and registered dietician, has done extensive research about belly fat, its role and the best ways to lose it. There are two major types of belly fat. The first is visceral fat, which appears under the abdominal muscle and gives the stomach a hard, rounded “beer belly” appearance. This is the most dangerous type of fat because it lies within the organs, possibly inhibiting critical bodily functions. The second and more common form is subcutaneous fat, which is softer, lies right below the surface of the skin and hangs out on the lower abdomen. Subcutaneous fat is rich in alpha adrenergic receptors, which block fat release, making this area the most stubborn place to lose fat. Visceral fat responds better to exercise, while subcutaneous fat responds better to diet.
Performing exercises to develop your abdominal muscles will allow the muscles to shine through once you lose the fat. The American Council on Exercise conducted a study that examined the most effective exercises, and found that leg lifts in a hanging position, bicycle crunches and stability ball crunches were the best for building abdominal muscles. These exercises not only target the rectus abdominis, or the six-pack muscles, but also the transverse abdominis and deep abs muscles that act as a girdle on the entire midsection. When these muscles are toned, your waist appears smaller and your posture is better.
The phrase “abs are made in the kitchen” is pretty accurate. Jade Teta has conducted research that suggests that diets lower in simple carbohydrates, but high in protein and fiber, reduce the activity of the alpha adrenergic receptors, speeding up fat loss. Enjoy a diet rich in lean, healthy proteins such as white fish, extra lean ground turkey and chicken, as well as fibrous foods like leafy green veggies, broccoli, green beans, kale, spinach and Brussels sprouts
Gone are the days of long, slow cardio because it targets the so-called “fat burning zone.” They key to losing excess body fat is to burn calories. High-intensity cardio consists of short bursts of maximal-effort exercise, followed by a brief active recovery. According to Top End Sports, high-intensity exercise boosts your resting metabolism for up to 24 hours post exercise because it takes the body a long time to return to normal after a strenuous exercise session. Try treadmill, stationary cycle or elliptical sprints for 30-second intervals, then 30-second rests for 10 minutes.
Riana Rohmann has been working for the Marine Corps doing physical training and writing fitness articles since 2008. She holds personal trainer and advanced health and fitness specialist certifications from the American Council on Exercise and a Bachelor of Science in kinesiology and exercise physiology from California State University-San Marcos.