The 6-pack! The one thing that we all want, a nice taught flat tummy with a few baby abs popping out to show off in bikini season (or all year round). But abs always seem to be the hardest body part to maintain because they are forever hidden under a layer in hibernation just waiting for the day they can pop out and be shown off to the world.
Here are my top 9 tips to help you have amazing abs to show off all the time:
1. Make them priority
If you are anything like I used to be, adding my abdominal workouts to the end of my other workouts. This isn't necessarily a bad thing at all because you are still getting some ab action into your weekly workout routine. However, when you add abs exercises onto the end of a workout you most likely don't work them as hard as if you would if you worked them on a separate day or at the beginning of a workout. So try doing just that, add your abdominal exercises on your cardio days, either separate to your cardio session or just before your workout to ensure you put maximum effort into working those muscles as hard as you can.
2. Treat them like your booty
When we think about training legs and booty, we usually think 1-2 sessions per week of resistance training and the remainder of the time is rest for those body parts. The same should apply to your abs. The abdominals are also muscle groups just like your quads, glutes and hamstrings, so they need to be worked and allowed time to rest to repair, which will allow the abdominal wall to grow. You only need 2-3 sessions per week of abs in your routine so if you are an ab junkie, tone it down and make the most out of a few sessions per week instead of adding a couple of sets in every day.
3. Kill the cortisol
Stress = higher cortisol which = more tummy fat storage, end of story. When your body is under any kind of stress, whether its physical, mental or emotional this can boost your cortisol production or simply change the rhythm and wave of your cortisol production during the day. Cortisol is your stress hormone. It's the hormone that is released to fight a stressful situation for survival. Cortisol is not all bad, and we actually do need it for our body to function optimally; it is, after all, the hormone that gets us up in the morning. However, we need to keep it at bay by keeping stress to a minimum. So ensure you add in as much Rest and Relaxation (RnR) time in your week as possible. Sleep in when you can, get 8 hours of sleep every night, add in some meditation or yoga or simply go and get a massage or a facial. Everyone needs a little extra Zen in their life.
4. Eat fat to burn fat
Fat is fantastic for keeping your hormones functioning at an optimal level and, in turn, help keep your body fat levels at bay. But one of the most important fats to consume is fish oils. Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acid, which cannot be produced by the body. It has a range of benefits such as reducing inflammation but it also helps in the reduction of body fat. This is because omega-3 aids in the breakdown of existing fat and also helps with reduction of additional body fat storage. Some great foods to include are oily fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, but because it's tough to get enough omega-3 from food alone, I would recommend supplementing with a high-quality fish oil.
5. Never skip breakfast
Did you mum ever tell you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? Well, it is! And sorry to burst your bubble but a coffee does not count as breakfast. When you wake up in the morning you have been fasting for approximately 8 hours, so your body is ready for some fuel for the day. When you skip breakfast, your body assumes it's survival time as it doesn't know when the next meal is coming. As a consequence, your metabolism can slow down and your body likes to store excess fat in order to have "reserves" of fuel to take from. It also uses fuel from your muscles. So without a good meal to kick start your day, muscle breakdown occurs and fat storage can increase, particularly in the abdominal area. So have a good high protein breakfast to start your day. Believe me, you will feel much better for it.
6. Nutrition: fuel and recovery
Now that I have you eating a healthy nutritious, high protein breakfast it's important to ensure you fuel your body adequately for your workouts too. In order to make your abs visible, you need to build up the muscle to help them "pop" through any extra padding that may be in that area. So to build muscle, you must fuel your body for your workout and give it extra fuel to recover your hard worked muscles afterwards. This will allow those muscles to repair quickly, which in turn will give you more "tone and definition" as the muscle builds. Try to get in a high protein and a carbohydrate source a few hours before your workout and within an hour after your workout.
7. Bust the bloat
It's one thing to get our abs popping, but you also want a nice flat tummy too and bloating is one thing that can in the way of our amazing flat fabulous midsections. So ensure you eat enough fiber in your diet to keep you "regular." This is anywhere between 25-35 grams per day. Pay attention to any foods that may affect your digestion such as dairy, eggs or gluten. Many women have intolerances to these foods as well as others as their bodies can simply not break them down effectively during the digestion process. So pay attention to what affects you as everyone is different. Something that can help with digestion and overall gut health is digestive enzymes and a good quality probiotic.
8. Strip the padding
So now that you know what to do to build up your abdominal muscles and keep a flat tummy we need to get to the bottom of the padding. At the end of the day, you can do endless amounts of ab exercises and workouts but unless you drop body fat to a certain percentage (usually under 15%) your abs will remain in hiding (unless you have some fabulous genetics or a great thick abdominal wall). To do that, you need to incorporate some interval training, which can help shift some excess body fat. Try my HIIT cardio workout here. HIIT workouts are fantastic because they are not only time effective, but they help you burn fat up to 24 hours after your workout!
9. Overall nutritional intake
Let's not forget overall nutrition. At the end of the day, if you are consuming too much food, or possibly not an optimal ratio of certain foods, you can struggle to lose body fat. If you need a kick-start or a guideline to help you get your nutrition under control, then check out my Meal and workout plan Body By Nina. There are so many foods options, the nutrition is very flexible, and you even get dessert and fun foods every day. Getting results does not mean you need to deprive yourself.
Live your best life!