If there's one part of a woman's body that receives more attention than any other, it's the abs. While guys with ripped six-packs may be all the rage in men's fitness magazines, just as many women want a lean, toned midsection. It's not all about the abs though. You can make your abs look even better by working other major muscle groups to build lean muscle and definition over your whole body.
If you're training five days a week, the last thing you want is to be tired and fatigued at every session. According to the American Council on Exercise, it takes up to 72 hours for your muscles to recover fully after each session, so a full-body training scheme is out of the question. Try a split routine instead. These are better for building and sculpting your muscles, according to strength coach Marc Perry of Built Lean. Train your legs on Monday, chest on Tuesday, back on Wednesday, shoulders on Friday and arms and calves on Saturday.
As plausible as it might sound, you can't crunch your way to a six-pack. Spot-reduction of fat from certain areas is impossible -- you need a solid diet and an intensive all-round exercise regime to lose stomach fat. Train your abs to get bigger and stronger, making them look more defined when you do get lean. Instead of the traditional situps and crunches, focus on stabilization and rotation movements, such as planks, side planks, ab wheel rollouts and Russian twists, advises trainer Cassandra Forsythe in "The New Rules of Lifting for Women."
Dedicating a whole session purely to ab training is overkill. You'll find that 10 minutes or so of intense ab training is more than enough. Rather than setting aside specific sessions every week for abs, add two exercises to the end of a few of your legs, back and shoulder sessions every week. Pick one stabilization exercise and one rotation for each workout. As with other muscles, they'll need time to recover, so don't work them two days in a row. If you're lifting free weights too and performing compound movements such as squats and deadlifts, your abs will get a workout from these as well.
Lift heavy. Too many women are scared to challenge themselves with weights and don't get the best results. Pick a weight that's challenging and lift it for eight to 10 reps with good form. Choose three to five exercises each workout and opt for free-weight moves where possible. The saying "abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym" certainly holds weight too. You need to lower your calorie intake slightly to lose fat, and aim to lose 1 to 2 pounds each week.
- ACE Fitness: What Causes Muscle Soreness and How Is It Best Relieved?
- Built Lean: Full Body Workout vs. Split Routine: Which Is Best
- ACE Fitness: Why Is the Concept of Spot Reduction Considered a Myth
- The New Rules of Lifting for Women; Cassandra Forsythe and Lou Schuler
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.