“Carolyn, can we leave some time at the end to work on abs?”
“Nina, we’ve been working on abs the entire session.”
I’ve encountered this scenario many times over the years and the biggest reason comes from the misperception about how abs actually “get worked.” You might think that you have to do crunches or sit ups as a way to proactively chase the 6-pack, a somewhat empowering, if not misguided approach. If you want to actually work your abs, girls, then we first need to learn what they do.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
What do the abs do?
If we loosely define the core as the muscles in the middle of the body, from hips to shoulders, then you’d be right to assume that the abs do a lot! They help us breathe, bend, lift, rotate, hold positions for extended periods, keep the trunk still while moving the limbs, and help us transfer energy from feet to hands and vice versa. They allow us to bend sideways, forwards and backwards, and twist from one side to another. So, a better question would be, “What don’t the abs do?” In fact, it’s pretty difficult to think of an activity that doesn’t involve some activation in that area.
The key for tightening the tummy is going to be lifting heavy weights. Yes, ladies, I want you to forgo the 3 and 5-lb dumbbells and aim for the 15-20lb free weights. This will benefit you in numerous ways, including burning more calories (your body works harder when it has to generate more force), increasing your metabolism (calorie-burning at rest) because you have more muscle on your frame, and builds bone-density (a lack of which plagues many of my 50+ female clients).
Try the following moves bodyweight first, until you achieve good form, and then start loading up the weight. Aim for 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps for each exercise. Maintain strict form throughout (the key to working the abs and entire core).
The following are bodyweight exercises. Start with 30 seconds and work up to 1 minute.
Let’s talk cardio for a minute. You’ve probably heard that you have to grind away on the elliptical, treadmill, or bike for miles each workout to lose fat. I can see the tedium of aerobic workouts plastered on the faces of many determined women.
However, I’ve got news: ditch the 40-60 minute sessions in favor of shorter, more intense ones. The basic premise of the benefits of higher-intensity cardio training are similar to those I mentioned earlier about lifting heavier weights. Shoot for 20-30 minutes of grueling 1 minute intervals followed by 1-2 minutes of a moderate recovery pace. Ideally, this cardio session should follow your weight training, or can be performed on a different day altogether. Do this 2x a week for one month and you’ll see the fat melt away.
Note: No serious discussion about a rippled stomach can be complete without mentioning your diet. Regardless of how hard or how often you work out losing belly fat mostly comes down to food. There is a stress-management component to the equation (stress preferentially packs on pounds onto your stomach) but diet is the elephant in the room. Stay away from processed foods and alcohol and stick to a primarily plant-based diet with lean proteins.
Final Thought: There isn’t any difference between ab training for men and women. Humans have the same fundamental anatomy and everyone can perform the movement patterns I’ve suggested. The difference is that we might wear brighter colors in our workout attire.
Keep on Movin’