All the situp variations in the world are useless if you can't show off your flat stomach. Getting a perfect core involves a combination of building up the muscles in your midsection and losing the weight that covers them up. To achieve this, your workout routine should include activities that raise your heart rate to burn fat and work your core to build muscle.
Elevating your heart rate through exercise is essential for blasting fat. As a bonus, you will also prolong your lifespan, according to a study published in "Archives of Internal Medicine." Your body burns fat when your heart rate is between 60 and 80 percent of its maximum. To determine your heart rate maximum, subtract your age from 220. Pick up a heart rate monitor to wear while you work out to ensure that you are in the fat-burning zone. Any favorite activity of yours, including hiking, rowing, swimming or bicycling, can help you lose weight if you keep your heart rate elevated.
Do the Math
The Mayo Clinic recommends that you get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate activity just to stay healthy, but you need more work to aggressively lose weight. Different activities burn varying amounts of calories over the course of a workout. Burn approximately 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound. For example, if you want to lose 1 pound a week by running, run at 8 mph -- which burns about 861 calories per hour -- for approximately 90 minutes three times a week.
Build Your Muscles
Ideally, you should work out five to six days a week. Once you section off three days for cardio, that leaves two or three days for strength-training exercises. An effective workout system includes both, and you should alternate days. To strengthen your core, you need to exercise four major muscle groups. Your abdomen on the front of your stomach is targeted by situps and crunches. Your obliques -- along the sides of your ribs -- are worked by oblique crunches and side planks. To do either of these exercises, roll onto one side and then prop yourself up on one elbow. Raise your hips off the floor to start a side plank. Perform oblique crunches by lying on your side and lifting your upper body using your side muscles. The pelvis gets pumped when you do exercises for your lower stomach, such as lying on your back, lifting your legs and doing reverse crunches by lifting your butt off the floor using only your abs. Exercise your lower back with superman lifts, where you lie on your stomach and lift your chest off the floor.
Aim to do at least one exercise for each of the four muscle groups during your strength-training days, for approximately 15 reps. Don't race through an exercises; practice good form. You'll be more effective doing 15 slow, painful situps than 100 quick, small crunches. For smaller movements -- such as crunches and reverse crunches -- do three sets instead of one. Always give yourself at least one day off a week to recover. Muscles need recovery time to grow.
Unfortunately, all your hard work will go down the drain without a proper diet as part of your workout system. Use a healthy diet and cut unwanted calories from sugary foods to help you reach your preferred caloric deficit. If you eliminate 500 calories a day, that's a pound a week. Don't overdo the exercise and dieting, however. It can be unhealthy to regularly lose more than 2 pounds a week.
- JAMA Internal Medicine: Physical Activity at Midlife in Relation to Successful Survival in Women at Age 70 Years or Older
- National Public Radio: How Revving Up Your Heart Rate, Even a Bit, Pays Off
- MayoClinic.com: Exercise for Weight Loss: Calories Burned in 1 Hour
- MayoClinic.com: Core Exercises: Why You Should Strengthen Your Core Muscles
- NBC News: Diet, Not Exercise, Plays Key Role in Weight Loss
- MayoClinic.com: Fast Weight Loss: What's Wrong With It?
- MayoClinic.com: Slide Show: Exercises to Improve Your Core Strength
Meredith Berg received her B.F.A. in directing from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. Now living in Los Angeles, she works as a film and television writer, comic-book editor and director of plays and films. In addition, she loves tackling paleo recipes, workout routines and DIY projects.