The one exercise that automatically gives you a tight, flat stomach is the holy grail of weightlifting. Unfortunately, such an exercise is also a training unicorn -- it's a myth. No matter how hard you try or how many crunches you do, you can't get a firm, toned midsection through one specific exercise. This is known as spot reduction and it just isn't going to happen. Don't rip up your gym membership card and resign yourself to a life of saggy skin and wobbly bits just yet though. There are certain types of exercise that when combined in an intense workout regimen and paired with a strict diet can give you a stomach tighter than a banker's wallet.
To get a tight stomach you need to burn fat, and the best fat-loss exercises are multijoint compound ones. These types of exercises hit more muscle groups, burn more calories and provide a huge metabolism boost, writes Rachel Cosgrove, trainer and co-founder of Results Fitness in California. This means you can tighten your stomach while working your chest, back and arms. Forget curls, kickbacks and lateral raises though -- base your routine around bench presses, dumbbell presses, dumbbell or barbell rows, pushups, dips, chinups and pull-downs instead. For an added core training boost, keep your stomach muscles held firm when performing all of these exercises.
Hit the free weights on leg day to torch body fat and tighten up your midsection. Exercises like barbell squats and deadlifts, lunges and split squats all require loads of balance, which automatically activates your core muscles and tightens your abs. Stay away from the weight machines such as the leg extension and leg curl, or the inner and outer thigh machines, as any activity done sitting down won't recruit your stomach muscles and will burn fewer calories.
Specific core exercises won't necessarily give you a lean stomach. They'll certainly strengthen the muscles, but to reveal a set of lean, toned abs you've got to get rid of the fat on top, which has more to do with your program as a whole than one particular exercise. You're better off training your abs as you would any other muscle group -- with heavy, challenging weights. Don't get hung up on performing 500 situps every day or spending 90 percent of your gym time doing ab work. Make friends with kettlebells, dumbbells and medicine balls instead. One or two ab exercises for three sets of 10 to 15 reps at the end of each session will more than suffice. Make exercises like Russian twists, side bends, hanging leg raises, medicine ball slams and weighted crunches your go-to core moves.
To get tight abs, you've got to work hard and break a sweat. Each workout needs to be an all-out maximum effort as an assault on stubborn stomach fat. Train your whole body each session -- this further boosts your metabolism, claims Cosgrove. Pick two to three lower-body and two to three upper-body compound free-weight exercises for three sets of eight to 12 reps each and add in a couple for your core at the end. Keep trying to get better -- if you lifted a weight for three sets of eight last time, do three sets of nine this time, or go from 10-pound dumbbells to 15-pound dumbbells if your last session was too easy. Make sure you nail your diet too -- that's just as crucial in your quest for a super stomach.
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.