Dara Duff-Bergeron: Sweaty Mummy


10 Flat-Ab Tips

A Six-Pack Is So Much More than Just Crunches

Whenever I have a smaller Belly Bootcamp class - when mommies are away sick or on vacation - I'll often give the mommies attending the chance to request which areas of the body they'd like to work.

When I begin working with a personal training client who is focused on fat loss and firming up, I'll ask for details on which areas of the body she would most like to change.

The most requested body part: abs.

I'd say "ass" comes second - if you're looking for a great glute and thigh workout, try this Olympic-inspired lower-body routine.

Third is probably upper arms... try this Michelle Obama-inspired arm routine if you're looking to tone up for tank top season.

But if you want flat abs... and who doesn't?... there is so much more involved than just crunches and sit ups.  I believe the reason flat abs are so coveted is precisely because they are so elusive - it takes great discipline to attain and maintain a flat, toned midsection because so many factors are involved.  There are many methods to lose fat and many sports that provide core training benefits which will whittle your waist, but it takes a well-rounded lifestyle (or freakish genetics) to maintain flat abs.

Here are my top 10 tips for scoring that flat tummy you've been hoping for:

1. Eat clean.  Diet cannot be overstated when in pursuit of a flat tummy.  You don't have to shun carbs or stock up on protein powder to fuel your body. Aim for about 35% protein, 45% carbohydrate and 20% fat, according to the Canada Food Guide.  Stick to natural, unprocessed foods and don't overeat. 

2. De-bloat.  No matter how fit you are, if your gastrointestinal system is unhappy, bloating can obscure those efforts in the gym.  Skip soft drinks, artificial sweeteners, sodium, and alcohol as all are known to cause bloating. 

3. Do the plank.  It's one of my favourite moves for strengthening the midsection!  The plank trains your transversus abdominis to do its job as a girdle on the other abdominal muscles, pulling your midsection in tighter.

4. Hydrate.  Funny thing about water - if we don't get enough of it, we retain what we have and (return to item #2) we may appear bloated.  Water is also important to the metabolism of fat and keeps your muscles and joints happy, among other things.

5. Train your whole body.  A few bench presses and crunches does not a workout make.  Select exercises for all the major muscle groups: back, legs, hips (glutes), chest, shoulders and core.  Choose about 8-10 exercises and perform 2-3 sets of each (8-15 reps, depending on difficulty), 3-4 times per week with a day of rest in between.  Check out these dynamic moves you can do at home or in your gym.

6. Add intervals to your cardio. In addition to strength training, complete cardio (before or after your strengh or on other days) 2-4 times per week for 15-45 minutes.  To maximize fat burning, add intense intervals (sprinting, cycling fast, jumping rope, etc.) throughout your cardio routine.  These intense intervals should be about an 8-9 on an exertion scale of 1-10.  Try to include 5-10 intervals of 30-120 seconds in each cardio workout.

7. Ease up.  Stress is normal and healthy... exercise itself is a source of stress on the body, but it's a positive type of stress, like pulling off a great dinner party or a presentation at work.  Stress that eats at you mentally and emotionally, day after day, causes an excess of the stress hormone, cortisol, which is known to be linked to abdominal fat.  Find at least 10 minutes each day for a bubble bath, meditation, quiet stretching or silent rest and learn to say "no" when you are feeling overwhelmed.

8. Try pilates.  Pilates is a form of mind-body exercise which not only helps alleviate stress but focuses on the deep muscles of the abdomen, back and hips.  Enrol in a few classes or pick up a book/DVD to incorporate some pilates into your regular routine.  Not into pilates?  Yoga is slightly less intense on the core but has even bigger de-stressing benefits.

9. Detoxify.  Toxins from alcohol, medications, tobacco and junk food are stored in your abdominal fat and there is evidence that detoxifying can help with abdominal fat loss.  Cut down on your vices and increase your consumption of fibre (especially from fruits and vegetables, which are natural detoxicants) to clean out the bowel as well.

10. Posture, posture, posture.  You can take a couple of inches off the appearance of your midsection merely by standing properly.  Tuck your bum under and draw in your abs when you stand, as if you are about to be punched in the gut.  Keep your shoulderblades back and down, toward the spine, and your ears aligned over your shoulders.  Practise this posture until it becomes second nature.  A stronger core and proper posture go hand-in-hand.

Now you know!  These are my top tips from years of training clients and according to the latest research! 

There are, of course, other methods, exercises and tips that can all contribute to that perfect midsection (though these are the ones I consider most important). 

Do you have any flat-belly tips that have worked for you?