No matter what your man says, that muffin top gracing the top of your jeans is not hot. If you're looking for ways to flatten your abdominals and obliques, also known as the muscles at the sides of your "six pack," you're not going to go wrong by adding some abdominal exercises to your daily routine. However, you're going to have to do more than just a few measly situps to fix the problem.
Get serious about cardio. Sure, that easy walk to the store does count as exercise, but you have to get more methodical than that if you want to cut some fat. Since there's no such thing as "spot reduction," to flatten your abs you have to work on burning overall body fat. To lose a pound of fat, you have to cut 3,500 calories through diet and exercise. Doing 30 to 60 minutes of cardio five days a week will help you burn between 200 and 800 calories, depending on your weight and the duration and intensity of the exercise. For example, a 160-pound person will burn 204 calories walking 2 mph, or about 861 calories running at 8 mph for one hour. A 200-pound person will burn 255 calories on that same walk, or about 1,074 calories on the same run, according to MayoClinic.com. Aim to burn about 300 to 400 calories, five days a week for a total of 1,500 to 2,000 calories burned each week.
Stop eating junk. You're not going to get very far in burning fat if you're just consuming more calories to make up for it. Keeping that 3,500-calorie deficit in mind, try to trim about 250 calories from your daily intake, for a total of about 1,750 calories reduced in a week. Add that to the 1,500 to 2,000 calories you're burning through exercise and you're within a range that will see you losing about 1 pound each week -- a healthy amount of weight to lose per week, according to MayoClinic.com. Cut out sugary snacks and drinks, booze, midnight snacks and fast food, replacing those items with more vegetables, fruits, complex carbohydrates and lean protein that will leave you nourished.
Go beyond just situps and crunches. These exercises are good to help you build abdominal muscle, but the fact is that a strength-training program that incorporates all of your major muscles is going to help you lose weight faster. Muscle burns calories more efficiently than fat, reminds MayoClinic.com. Add weight training or resistance training using exercise bands into your routine two days a week, working your arms, legs, abdominals, back and shoulders. Do each exercise to fatigue, meaning your muscles feel exhausted near the end of the set.
Track your progress on a calendar. Keeping a log of the foods you eat and the exercises you do can help you stay motivated. Another idea: measure your waist at the beginning of your training program, and then once a week after that. Write down the measurements on your calendar so you'll be inspired by your progress -- keeping in mind that your waist might get a little bigger at first, on account of the strength training you're doing.
- ExRx: Fat Loss & Weight Training Myths
- MayoClinic.com: Exercise for Weight Loss: Calories Burned in 1 Hour
- MayoClinic.com: Metabolism and Weight Loss: How You Burn Calories
- American Council on Exercise: American Council on Exercise (ACE)-sponsored Study Reveals Best and Worst Abdominal Exercises
- Forbes: 6 Ways to Burn Your Belly Fat Fast
- Stress, age and lack of sleep are also contributors to belly fat. Make sure you're getting a good night's sleep, and if you're stressed out, find a stress-reliever such as yoga or meditation practice. Vitamin C can also balance your levels of cortisol -- a hormone that is secreted when you're stressed out, advises trainer Jennifer Cohen in an article in "Forbes."
- Always check with your doctor before you start a totally new fitness routine -- especially if you've been sick or injured recently, or if you're a perennial couch potato.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.