First of all, I have to tell you the title of this post is only to get your attention. I have distanced myself from the term “stomach exercises” for 35 years. It’s anatomically and scientifically wrong. Yet, sadly, we’re so out of tune with our bodies we don’t know better. It’s time you know.
Your stomach digests. Your abdominal muscles are what you exercise. It’s time you got in tune with your body and what you can and can’t do and how you refer to it. You’ve got this vehicle to live in, love in, and support your expression of your skills, talents, and gifts. Let’s get to know it.
I’ll meet you where you are. I know you want stomach exercises that help you reduce belly fat, create a flatter belly, or both.
The so-called stomach exercises you want (or abdominal exercises you may need) are a muscle weakness solution. They won’t fix a gut health problem. So before you go seeking the best stomach or core exercises you need to identify the root cause of your problem.
If the problem is bloat, distention, or belly fat, core exercises are not going to help. That would be like trying to hammer a nail with a screwdriver.
Bloat or distention can occur from eating the wrong kinds of foods for your body, eating under stress, or changes in hormones. You need to do some investigating.
When it comes to foods, it’s not just the obvious processed foods. You may have become intolerant to some of the foods you’ve been defining as “healthy” for decades. As your hormones and stress change, your gut health does, too.
Therefore “eating healthy” has to be redefined unique to you and it may evolve as you age. There are instances where removing foods for a while will support you, and others where removing them permanently will support you best. As you do either, you want to carefully account for micronutrients that you’ll be removing too.
While exercise won’t fix the root of bloat, it may help temporarily relieve symptoms when it happens. While you’re seeking a long-term solution with dietary changes and increased water and or fiber consumption, incorporate regular exercise.
What about that belly fat?
For the more than 150,000 women I’ve helped flip 50, the average 10-pound gain during menopause often shows up most in the middle. Belly fat is most often due to hormones when you can’t point to changes in your eating and exercise.
Women’s health expert Dr. Shawn Tassone refers to this as evolution. Weight gain is in part the body’s way of protecting your bones when estrogen levels—which once protected bone—plummet. As a modern woman lifts weights to muscular fatigue, she doesn’t need this evolution anymore. But Mother Nature hasn’t got the message yet. (Have you? Are you lifting for bone density?)
Regardless of why it’s there, most of us want it gone. Yesterday.
You’ve been duped to believe you’re a calories-in, calories-out equation. If you respond to that conditioning by eating less and exercising more, you have one foot on the accelerator and one on the brake. You’re confusing your body and wreaking havoc with your hormones. Confused, your body slows your metabolism.
What do you do instead? Accept the reason why belly fat is common (but not mandatory) in midlife.
It’s your hormones. They determine your fat burning and fat storage. At midlife during menopause you’re primed (if you don’t do anything about it) to store fat in the middle.
Liquid appetizers metabolize as sugar. No matter how you justify that cocktail as low in calories it doesn’t matter if it tells your body to store fat and increases the likelihood of storing what you eat after it as fat.
If you’re open to hormone replacement (HRT), it too can help. However, like any medication, it isn’t meant to be magic. Your lifestyle habits should get you the majority of the way. Let’s put HRT aside for now and look at what you can do naturally either instead, or in addition.
First, retire once and for all the idea “stomach exercises” will do anything for your hormone balance, therefore belly fat.
What I’ve seen occur most is that obsession with core exercise wastes precious time women should be focused on short, effective strength training and high intensity interval training (HIIT). These exercises do have a high positive correlation with reducing belly fat. You need at most 3-5 minutes of core exercise regularly. No one needs a 20-minute “core class.” You’ll do more for visceral belly fat with HIIT than you will with core exercise. Prime Women’s new 5-Minute Barre Workout series has core exercises you can do in about 5 minutes. Subscribe to us on YouTube for a new workout every week.
You can’t find stomach exercises no matter how many times you search the internet that reduce fat-loss. My advice? If you find an “exercise pro” who is using the term “stomach exercises”… run. In fact, run (or walk) fast. Somewhere in their education they missed the anatomy lesson.
It’s true HIIT should be a staple in your week if you need to target belly fat. For post menopause women it’s the most effective – and time efficient way to target belly fat. More women stick with it than they do other forms of exercise, because in 20-30 minutes you’re done. One to three times a week is optimal.
Strength training to muscular fatigue will also increase your lean muscle. In turn, you can elevate a metabolism slowing because of a dip in your estrogen levels. Levels of testosterone and growth hormone benefit from strength training and HIIT. Overall fat loss will only occur from these hormone changes that allow an increase in lean tissue. Core exercise on the other hand will have zero effect on your hormones.
For optimizing your cortisol — the key to winning the belly fat war — “intense early” is a tenant of Flipping 50. If you can only exercise late, and if you’re exhausted constantly, light exercise is better.
You will default. You will think, but I have to get the HIIT in to burn more calories and lose weight. You, in fact, do not. If your belly fat is a result of a high stress level (therefore cortisol) you need to do less and love it more. Try a walk, yoga, Pilates, a spin around the neighborhood or a round of golf instead. Try a soak in the tub and a good night’s sleep.
When you eat less you message your body to burn less. Diets that you think worked for you in the past backfired. It’s catching up. You lost weight. A good share of it was muscle because you weren’t tracking muscle and you weren’t lifting weight to counter muscle loss that occurs with weight loss.
When and if you regained? It was 100% fat.
That cycle has to stop.
Want a big surprise?
More women I’ve worked with at Flipping 50 eat too little than eat too much. They eat far too little protein, too few vegetables, and too little healthy fat. Your car doesn’t function without fuel. Neither can your body.
While eating within a shorter window may be effective, most intermittent fasting plans don’t restrict calories or nutrients. For women in menopause, intermittent fasting may not be appropriate due to stress and fatigue. Don’t jump on a trend without a custom plan.
You can’t fix a bloated or distended tummy or belly fat with “stomach exercises.”
Stomach exercises, or better said – core exercises – are not the answer unless the question is weak muscles.