Muffin top. FUPA. Pooch. Menopause middle. These are just a few of the disparaging terms women use to describe their midsections. As a fitness instructor and trainer, one of the questions I get asked most often is, “what can I do about THIS,” usually accompanied by grabbing a fistful of skin around the waist or gesturing wildly around the belly area. Trust me; I get it. We live in a society where young celebrities seem to return to their pre-baby bodies hours after giving birth, while the “older” generation (looking at you, J-Aff, and Halle Berry) show off their rock-hard abs on Instagram.
And speaking of social media, when was the last time you opened your feed that you weren’t immediately bombarded with the latest perky “influencer” promising that you, too, can get a tight, taut tummy with this supplement or that workout? It’s enough to make you throw in the sweaty towel and dive headfirst into a bag of Cheetos! But before you do that, let’s take a look at what’s really going on and how you can feel ABsolutely fabulous regardless of age or stage of life.
Your Core Is More…
…than just your abs. Your core encompasses all of the muscles that attach to the spine and pelvis, including your glutes, back, and chest. And while a toned tummy is a bonus, core work is about so much more than aesthetics. If you think of your body as a wheel, the core is the hub that allows everything else to function smoothly. All your daily activities, from walking to picking up your children, carrying your groceries, exercising, or even sitting behind a desk all day, rely on a strong, solid core. Without it, lower back pain, shaky balance, and other issues may occur. Plus, a strong core improves your posture, and when you stand up straight, you look leaner—you’re welcome!
Retrain Your Brain…
…to understand that the six-packs you see on women at the gym or in bodybuilding competitions are not the “norm,” and they are certainly not the result of endless crunches. They are usually heavily reliant on (sometimes drastic) calorie deficits and cuts, increased protein intake, and consistent and highly-focused training. You can still achieve definition and loss of inches and weight without going to these extremes.
What You See…
… isn’t always what you get. Before you lose yourself in the comparison game that is social media, remember that posture, lighting, clothing, and more can all work together to create an aesthetically beautiful photograph. Rarely will a woman post a bikini or crop top photo that she isn’t “feeling herself” in or that may have been filtered, Face Tuned, or otherwise altered. That’s not to say she doesn’t work hard and have a toned body, but let’s face it, even the most toned among us get “belly sag” when we slouch. Remember that for every beautiful, perfect photo, there are a few dozen or more that didn’t make the cut.
You Are What You Eat…
….so choose wisely! There is an expression that says abs are made in the kitchen and revealed in the gym. Truer words were never spoken! If you are filling your body with processed foods, indulging your sweet tooth daily, or hitting happy hour on the reg, your body will pay the price. This is especially true as women age, and those pesky hormones like estrogen begin to decline, metabolism slows, and fat storage shifts to (yep, you guessed it) the belly. Opt for clean, whole foods, up your protein, watch those carbs, and keep sugar to a minimum.
You might also think about your consumption of things other than food. Are you surrounding yourself with like-minded people who want you to succeed or “negative nellies” who are bringing you down and stressing you out? Are you getting enough sleep or staying up too late watching the news or surfing the web? Stress and fatigue can activate cortisol, the hormone responsible for the fight or flight response and a contributor to weight gain.
Move Your Body…
…your whole body. If you want a strong core, make sure you are doing more than daily sit-ups. Remember that part about the gym revealing the abs? That is the result of fat loss and an increase in muscle mass which comes from a balance of cardio and strength training. No, you don’t have to run a marathon or bench press 150 pounds. The benefits of walking 45 minutes a day are impressive when it comes to fat loss. Combine that with strength training 2-3x per week and get ready for results.
Whether you choose to exercise at a gym or at home, the following 8-minute ab circuit is a strong finish to your workout and hits all the core muscles from obliques to the lower back and glutes. Perform each move for 45 seconds, resting for 15 seconds before moving on to the next move. Repeat two times through.
8-minute Ab Circuit
Mastering the basic sit-up is a great place to start for working your upper and lower abs. Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head, elbows wide, fingertips resting behind your ears. Take a deep breath and curl your upper body off the floor while keeping your feet flat, exhaling as you lift. Hold for a moment and, inhaling, lower body to starting position.
*Tip: Do not clasp hands behind the neck and pull on the head to lift. Instead, modify by placing hands across the chest, opposite hand on the opposite shoulder.
Bicycle crunches are one of the best exercises you can do for your midsection because they hit upper and lower abs, along with obliques, for maximum results. From the basic sit-up position, keep your back flat on the floor and extend both legs out. Raise your shoulders off the floor, keeping your hands behind your head. Bring your right knee in as you twist through your core to angle your left elbow to meet it. Return to start and repeat on the opposite side.
*Tip: Don’t focus on getting your elbow to your knee, as you may end up pulling on your neck instead. Focus on angling your shoulder toward your knee to hit the obliques.
Balance is the key to life—and abs! The superman works the back side of the core, including the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings, while also throwing in a little bonus upper back and shoulder work. Start on your belly, arms and legs extended, with your neck in a neutral position. Raise your arms and legs off the floor, keeping them straight but not locked, and create an arch in your lower back. Hold for a count of two and return to start.
*Tip: Keep your gaze down and look at the floor a few feet in front of you—not at your navel. This will keep your head and neck in a neutral alignment.
Experts agree—the plank is gold when it comes to core strength, as long as you perform it properly. To start, get in a push-up position on your toes. Lower your forearms to the floor, keeping your shoulders in line with your elbows. Tighten your glutes, quads, and abs, and hold your body in a straight line, hips low, keeping your head and neck in a neutral position.
*Tip: If you are new to planking, modify by starting from a knee-pushup position, building up to holding the position.
Tools For Great Abs: