For a sleek and slender midsection, you need an exercise program that focuses on three concepts: cardiovascular fitness, strength training and body-conscious breathing techniques. Together, these will put you on the road to a streamlined physique and a healthier lifestyle. Yes, your favorite skinny jeans will fit better, but reducing abdominal fat has significant benefits beyond the obvious. Your entire system will feel revitalized and your overall health will improve.
High Intensity Interval Training: Fast-Paced Cardio
High intensity interval training (HIIT) revs up the heart rate and delivers a heart-healthy aerobic boost via rapid, intense bursts of cardio followed by a series of rest and recovery periods. HIIT jump starts the metabolism and burns serious calories while sculpting muscles. Keep in mind that "spot reducing" abdominal exercises (think: crunches) will not burn fat -- you need a solid dose of cardio to achieve a lean and gorgeous waistline. Without cardio, the fat won't budge, even if the muscles underneath become stronger and more defined.
Additional Cardio Options
Cycling (on an indoor stationary bike or outdoors as weather permits), running, swimming, rowing or jogging -- all are proven fat-burning workouts. If you are new to exercise or coming back after a break, start conservatively with even-paced, brisk walking until your fitness level permits a more strenuous workout. A great way to transition into a running program, for example, is to alternate walking and jogging and, over time, increase the jogging portion. Aim to exercise four to five days per week for an average of 30 to 45 minutes. According to the website bellyexercises.org, fat-burning begins after approximately 30 minutes; this is when the body switches from using carbohydrates as fuel to the desired fat-melting mode.
Strength and Toning
Building muscle leads to a faster metabolism and, in turn, increased ability to burn fat, so do weight-bearing exercises at least two to three times per week. Building core strength through movements that target the abdominals is an important adjunct to cardio training, but the most thorough option is a full-body workout that addresses large muscle groups such as the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, pecs and deltoids. Squats, for example, can shape and tone not only the legs but also the entire abdominal region, and core-centric exercise programs such as Pilates will improve the entire abdominal region, resulting in a narrower waistline.
Diaphragmatic Breathing: Take a Deep Breath
Diaphragmatic breathing sounds like a fancy term, but it's actually pretty simple: You're consciously acting to fill the upper and lower lobes of the lungs with rejuvenating oxygen. As you become comfortable with this technique you will experience a strengthening of your rib cage muscles (intercostals, diaphragm) and the internal and external obliques, two key abdominal muscles. To start, place your palms lightly on your ribs and expand your rib cage as you inhale. Actively pull in and narrow your waistline as you exhale, keeping your hands on your ribs. Start with 10 repetitions while seated in a relaxed, upright position. Work up to several sets of 10. Diaphragmatic breathing builds well-functioning abdominals that will improve your posture and the stability of your spine. While diaphragmatic breathing in itself won't burn fat, it will benefit you during your cardio routine by improving your ability to get oxygen to those hardworking muscles.
Michelle Kodis has been a writer and editor for more than two decades. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University, is the author of nine books and has contributed articles to various magazines, newspapers and blogs. She is also a certified Pilates instructor and studies canine therapeutic massage/acupressure.