By Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie
Most people wouldn't complain if their abs were a little firmer, flatter and had more definition. Heck, some of us would be happy if they just didn't spill over the tops of our jeans! But the thought of doing hours of crunches a day to achieve the washboard look is enough to make most people embrace their muffin tops.
The truth is, getting a rock-hard core doesn't require oodles of sit-ups. In fact, the secret to a toned tummy starts far away from your gym mat. Check out these 3 sure-fire steps to flat, fab abs!
Surprise! The first step to getting the waistline you always wanted has nothing to do with crunching your way to six-pack abs, and it doesn't require heavy sweating — or even donning workout apparel! Deep below the abdominal muscles you can see (or wish you could see) is your transversus abdominis, or TVA muscle, which acts as a stabilizing influence on your spine and also helps to “draw in” (kind of like an old-fashioned corset on women) the abdominal wall. Because of its location deep in your belly, this muscle can be tricky to train, but the winning moves can be done sitting at your desk, in your car at a stoplight, or even lying in bed. Here are three TVA-cinching moves to try.
Sitting in a chair, in the car, or lying on your bed, place your hand just in front of your belly, just barely touching. Take a deep breath and let your stomach expand to fill your hand. Then exhale, and draw it in and away from your hand. Repeat 10 times.
Lie on your back on a mat, carpeted space, or on your bed, arms at your sides and knees bent to 90 degrees. Lift your head, upper back and arms a couple inches and pull your belly in slightly. Inhale and pulse your arms up and down a couple inches, then exhale. Repeat 10 inhale/exhale cycles.
Get onto your hands and knees, and make sure your wrists below your shoulders and your knees are under your hips. Pull your belly up toward your spine, and reach your right arm forward and left leg back. Take five deep breaths, keeping your core strong as you balance. Switch sides and repeat.
It's a tough pill to swallow, but all the crunches in the world won't give you rock hard abs if the muscles are covered in a layer of belly fat. Luckily, battling that bulge doesn't have to be time consuming. It may, however, require a healthy dose of sweat equity. Research shows that intervals, or short bouts of high-intensity exercise (think sprinting) alternated with easy catch-your-breath cardio (slow jogging or walking, for example) may be more effective in fat reduction than other forms of exercise. Here are a few fat-melting interval exercises to try.
This workout is short, sweet — and sweaty! After warming up with at least five minutes (better yet, make it 10) of your choice of activity (like walking, running, biking or elliptical) set your stopwatch and go as fast as you can go for 10 seconds. Stop, and continue slowly for 10 seconds as you try to catch your breath. Aim for at least 15 sprint/slow cycles to start (five minutes of high intensity) and work up to 60 cycles (20 minutes of high intensity). Finish with a few minutes of easy cardio.