Getting a washboard stomach isn't just a case of performing the odd set of situps -- you can't crunch your way to killer abs. You need a potent combo of resistance training, a calorie-controlled diet and cardio. Cardio burns calories, making your body shed its fat stores and reveal your sexy six pack. Although there is no "best" type of cardio for your abs, there are a few factors to take into consideration when planning your cardio routine.
The more intense an activity, the more calories you'll burn and the quicker you'll lose stomach fat. The best gym activities are high-impact step aerobics, the ski machine and vigorous stationary cycling -- while running, rock climbing and front crawl swimming win in the general activity stakes. According to Harvard Medical School these activities burn between 285 and 295 calories in half an hour for a 125-lb. person.
Interval training involves short bursts of maximal effort, followed by longer periods of slower, steady state work. Interval training increases your metabolic rate more than steady state cardio, meaning you carry on burning calories after the session has finished, according to Rachel Cosgrove, trainer and co-founder of Results Fitness in California. Try swapping your regular gym cardio for intervals. You can do this with any form of cardio such as running, swimming or using gym machines -- go for 30 seconds at maximum effort, then reduce your intensity for 90 seconds and repeat for 20 to 30 minutes.
Mixing weights and cardio might sound like a recipe for straining your body, but metabolic circuits effectively combine these two forms of exercise. As the name implies, they rev up your metabolic rate and burn calories. Metabolic circuits involve grouping five or six exercises that hit your whole body and performing each back to back with no rest in between. A typical circuit might include kettlebell swings, pushups, burpees, jump lunges, sprints and medicine ball slams. You can perform the exercises for a set number of reps or for time, advises strength coach Jen Comas Keck. Rest between circuits and complete three to four rounds per session.
Don't get fooled into thinking that endless hours of abdominal work is what you need to see your abs. The notion that you can spot reduce fat from certain areas through exercise is a myth. Instead, focus on performing these types of high intensity cardio, combined with a reduced-calorie diet. Aim for four half-hour cardio sessions each week, switching between the different methods -- and add in one to two full body strength training sessions each week too.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.