We spoke to Howard VanEs, Author of Abs, 50 of the best core exercises to strengthen, tone and flatten your belly, to find out some of the best ways to keep your tummy trim. Here he gives you his five top tips to getting strong and sexy abs.
Exercise regularly: It is regular, consistent exercise over time that is going to produce results. Yes there are some days you don’t feel like it, but you can do something on those days even if it isn’t your full routine. And some days you feel strong and full of energy – on those days you can kick it up and exercise harder.
In fact it is really helpful to change up your routines during the week having some that are very demanding and some at varying levels of intensity. This keeps you from getting bored, challenges your muscles to increase growth and strength and pushes your body while giving you time to dial your activity level back a little.
Increase intensity: Intensity builds muscle and strength. Here are a few good ways to increase intensity when doing ab exercises:
- Shorten rest time between sets.
- Combine exercises that target different abdominal muscle groups – do one right after the other. You can combine 2-5 exercises.
- Pre-stress your muscles by doing an easier exercise first then a more challenging one or vice-versa.
Get aerobic and anaerobic exercise: For your abs to be really ripped you need to combine abdominal exercises with a well-balanced program of aerobic exercise and strength training. Aerobic exercise is going to help you burn calories and fat while exercising and strength training is going to help you build muscle which helps your metabolism run more efficiently overall, even after you have exercised.
Remember though, none of this is going to make any difference if you aren’t eating a healthy diet! Focus on fresh veggies and fruits, whole grains, lean sources of protein and healthy fats like olive oil and those found in fish. If you are struggling with your diet consider a visit or two with a nutritionist that works with athletes.
Work all four groups of abdominal muscles: Many people focus solely on flexion type movements, think crunches! But there are four groups of abdominal muscles and the more you can exercise all four groups the better function and balance you will have in your core. The four muscle groups are:
1. Rectus abdomini - The outermost layer of the abdominal muscles. When this muscle shows it is commonly referred to as a 6 pack. It runs from the pubic bone to the breast bone and middle ribs. The primary function of the rectus abdominis is flexion of the torso and also assists other muscles in compressing the abdomen.
2 and 3. Internal and external obliques - These two layers of muscles run diagonally on the sides of the torso from the top of the hips to the middle ribs. Their primary function is twisting, side bending and rotation of the trunk. They also assist in flexion of the trunk.
4. The transversus abdominis – This is the deepest layer of abdominal muscle. This muscle goes around the midsection - front to back with fibers running side to side. The lower portion attaches to hip area (front and back) and the upper portion attaches to the lower ribs. Contraction of the transverse muscles pulls the belly in. These muscles are more associated with autonomic nervous system functions such as coughing, bearing down, elimination and childbirth.
Stay strong and flexible: Healthy muscles are both strong and flexible. Make sure you are working your muscles from various angle AND taking a couple minutes at the end of your routine to stretch them out. You can do this simply by laying on your back, bringing your arms overhead and taking 10 -15 long deep breaths using your abdomen.
Below Howard talks us through three effective exercises from his book.
Plank with one leg off the ground
Start by coming onto your hands and knees in a table position. Make sure your arms are right under your shoulders and your fingers are pointing straight ahead. Now walk your feet backwards into plank (high push up position). You want your torso, hips and legs all in one line - don’t let your hips drop or lift too high.
Press your hands into the floor and lift up into your shoulders. Take your bellybutton towards your spine and stretch through your heels. Now lift your right leg off the ground so it is parallel to the floor. Hold for a slow count of 5 and then release your right foot to the floor. Repeat the exercise on your left side.
Lifting an arm or leg off the ground adds instability causing your core to work harder. For more intensity do this exercise lifting your left leg and right arm and then switch, lift your right leg and left arm
To begin bring your right hip on the floor and extend your right leg directly from your right hip. Place your left foot on the floor directly in front of your right knee. Next extend your right arm at a bit of an angle in front of your right shoulder. Press into your right hand and both feet and lift your hips up towards the sky.
Reach strongly through your left arm and squeeze right side oblique muscles (on the side of your torso) as you lift your hips. Work up to a slow count of five and come down. Repeat on the other side. You can make this more challenging by bringing the top foot right over the edge of the bottom foot.
In addition to working the obliques this exercise is very good for building strength in the arms and upper body.
Reverse crunch - legs spread
Begin by lying on your back. Bring your knees into your chest and extend your legs up towards the ceiling and spread them wide. Extend your arms straight up towards the sky with your palms touching. As you inhale curl your tailbone upwards. As you exhale and lift your head and chest and press your belly button towards your spine. Reach through your arms and hands. Hold for 3–5 seconds and release. Repeat 3–5 times. This exercise is great for working the lower abdomen.
Abs, 50 of the best core exercises to strengthen, tone and flatten your belly is available on Amazon UK in hard copy and Kindle format. Click here to find out more.