Nearly everyone wants a flat belly—just watch how many people “suck it in” for photographs—and many would love to show off six-pack abs. Yet this elusive look belongs to only a select few. Why is this? It is just due to being overweight? Or do genetics, posture, and bloating play a part? Perhaps more importantly, do you have any insight on how to flatten your stomach? Or do you need to just embrace the “pot”?
It Takes a Two-Pronged Approach
Before we move forward, let’s get this common myth out of the way. You can do side bends and sit ups, but you cannot spot reduce the abdominal section. So, since you can’t widdle down your stomach area specifically, what then does it take to finally get a flat belly?
You might think it’s either all exercise related or all diet related, but the truth is: it’s both. To enjoy a beautiful, flat midsection, it’s necessary to incorporate a plan of attack that takes advantage of the power of proper diet coupled with targeted exercises to tone and tighten your ab muscles.
Really there are two areas to focus on:
- Nutrition and Gut Health
- Exercise and Whole-Body Balance and Strengthening
How to Flatten Your Stomach with Diet
You’ve probably heard the old adage, “abs are made in the kitchen,” and this, for the most part, true. It’s all about how you eat. In fact, you probably already have some decent abs—they’re just hiding underneath a layer or two of body fat.
There’s no way you can reveal a rippling six-pack or even just enjoy a trimmer belly when you’re constantly overeating and filling your body with processed junk food, sugar, artificial sweeteners, trans fats, and other unhealthy food and drink choices. So, stick to healthy whole natural food choices and avoid foods that make your belly bloat. To help you get started, Coach Tim has covered the 7 Top Foods that Burn Belly Fat in a previous blog article.
It’s also important to monitor your caloric intake to ensure you are matching your energy expenditure or better yet, creating a deficit. That is, for weight-loss purposes on how to flatten your stomach, you want to take in less calories than you use to maintain your weight to shed unsightly body fat and reveal those abs. Check out this past blog article from Joel Marion for a simple way to lower calories without having to count them.
Better Gut Health for a Flatter Belly
You’ll also want to pay attention to your reactions to food. For a truly flat stomach, you’ll need to eliminate bloating. And, that means gut health from the inside out. Start with a good probiotic like Pro-X10 to help eliminate the gas and bloat, and monitor how you look and feel after eating foods containing common bloat triggers like lactose (found in milk products) and gluten (typically found in wheat). The better and more easily you are able to digest your food, the flatter your stomach will be. These 13 foods can also help with digestion.
How to Flatten Your Stomach with Exercise
Next up is exercise. There are many exercises that target abs specifically and others which engage your core. Let’s quickly review how to flatten your stomach by engaging these four muscle groups:
- Rectus Abdominis—this is your six-pack area and the front center of your midsection.
- External Obliques—these run diagonally from your ribs to your pelvic area. Obliques help you twist and turn at the waist.
- Internal Obliques—these muscles are underneath the external obliques and attach in the hip area and run diagonally upward toward your midsection.
- Traverse Adbominals—these muscles wrap around your ab area like a belt.
According to Michele Olson, Ph.D., a professor of Physical Education and Exercise Science at Auburn University Montgomery, Alabama, functional movement is a fantastic way to ensure all of your abdominal muscles are engaged. Functional movements are actions you routinely take during the course of your day that use your core muscles. Practicing these types of movements can help you achieve both strength and balance.
By incorporating exercises that require you to stabilize your core while performing them (e.g., compound multi-joint movements), you are forced to recruit your abdominal muscles while strengthening other muscle groups of the body at the same time.
According to an article published in ACSM’S Health & Fitness Journal, keeping your body balanced is key. In other words, it’s important to ensure your abs are not stronger than your lower back. Since these areas offset each other, a strength imbalance between the two can lead to posture problems. Working your abdominals from all angles, as well as engaging in both lower back strengthening exercises and full body movements, such as squats, bench press, and shoulder, back, arm, and additional leg exercises, will help keep your body in proper alignment and well balanced.
Exercises for a Flatter Belly
Now, it’s your turn. When it comes to the question of “how to flatten your stomach”, these three exercises are key to strengthening and engaging your core.
Plank—this exercise has been popularized by yogis, worldwide. Start by kneeling on the floor and lean forward, placing your forearms on the ground with your hands flat in front of you. Your elbows will be directly below your shoulders. Walk your feet back until your legs are completely straightened, and your legs and back form a straight line to your head. Hold this position for 30 – 60 seconds and release, coming back onto your knees. Repeat 3 times and try to hold a little longer each time you do your plank exercises.
The side plank is another great exercise, which focuses on the obliques.
Crunch—don’t confuse a crunch with a sit up. The crunch is an effective ab-strengthening exercise, yet it’s much more spine-friendly. To start, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. You can place your hands behind your ears or on your shoulders. Press your lower back into the ground and tighten your abdominals, so they slowly curl your shoulders off the floor and lift your head about six to eight inches off the ground (without pulling your head and neck forward with your hands). Hold in the top position while exhaling. Return to the starting position on the floor and repeat.
To intensify this exercise, try performing the crunch while lying on a stability ball. This will force you to use more of the abdominal muscles since you are now working in multiple planes.
Leg Raises—this exercise works most of the muscles of the abdominal region. While lying on your back with your arms straight at your sides, with your feet together and your legs straight, slowly lift your feet off the floor, and using your abdominal muscles, pull them up toward the ceiling. Take care to keep your lower back pressed into the floor. Do not let it arch as this can lead to injury.
Remember, revealing those abs is not a quick fix. It will require consistent effort and a solid nutrition and exercise program. However, once you attain a flat belly, nothing feels better, and you’ll look forward to showing them off and seeing your new slimmer reflection in the mirror.