The flat stomach. The sexy 6-pack. The washboard abs. The cover model midsection. Abs are one of the most obsessed over body-parts amongst both men and women. Whether it’s just getting them toned enough to see a hint of definition, or being so lean that you can see every striation and extreme vascularity, “transform” can mean anything from...
- Decreasing your bodyfat, so that you can see the definition of your abs; to....
- Increasing the muscular development of your midsection, so that your abs are more defined when you are lean; or...
- Making your stomach flatter and appearing leaner, regardless of your body composition.
This article will discuss eight essential tips that will help you in the pursuit of the abs and midsection you desire, and transform your stomach from average into something that you can be proud to show off at the beach.
8 Tips to Transform Your Tummy
Tip #1 - Decrease your bodyfat levels using optimal nutritional practices.
For most individuals to see the abdominal definition that they desire, they need to lower their body composition by decreasing their bodyfat levels - for men, this can be anywhere from 8-10% bodyfat or lower; for women, definition can start appearing anywhere from 12-15% bodyfat.
Nutrition is the most important component of fat loss. Many people get too caught up in counting calories or trying for specific macronutrient ratios, when essentially, for fat loss to occur, the only thing that really matters is that overall daily caloric intake should average out at less than maintenance over the weekly period.
Since everyone responds differently to different nutritional practices, each individual needs to find their own ‘sweet spot’ as far as macronutrients are concerned, making sure that they get in enough protein to maintain their current muscle mass (at least 1.2g per kilogram of body mass), with excessively lowering or eliminating carbohydrates not required for successful fat loss (at least 50-100g daily is required for the body to effectively burn fat).
For more information and comprehensive tips on nutrition for fat loss, please review the article, 3 Key Factors For Effective Fat Loss. A Unique Combination of Science & Experience Based Pre-Contest Advice and The Diet Solution: A Concise Diet To Lose Fat & Gain Muscle are two more articles that provide excellent insight and advice on nutrition for fat loss.
Tip #2 - Decrease your bodyfat levels by performing the most effective training exercises.
Resistance training or weight bearing exercise is more important and far superior than cardio for fat loss, and should be an essential part of your training program. Exercises that are best utilized for fat loss are the core, compound, multi-joint exercises: squat, deadlift, power clean, bench press, reverse bent over row, pull-ups, military press, and dips. By activating more motor units and muscle fibers (i.e. more muscle mass), and recruiting more of your body to perform the exercise, these exercises work more than one body-part simultaneously for more effective and efficient training. For more information on these eight exercises, please review the article The Essential 8: Exercises That Will Get You Ripped!
If you ARE going to do cardio, consider doing high intensity cardio instead of long, steady-state, low intensity cardio, as substantially more fat is oxidized at higher exercise intensities, revving up your metabolism and making fat burning a lot more efficient and fun.
Tip #3 - Build up the muscle in your midsection.
There is no point being lean as lean if you have not developed the muscles in your midsection. Men like to see bricks; women tend to prefer the more sleek and streamlined look. Both looks require muscular definition to a different degree. For definition to occur, the muscles of the core must be built up enough so that there is something to see.
Building up your core does NOT mean doing excessive crunches or performing endless ab exercises; your abdominals are like any other body-part and therefore should be trained like any other body-part for muscle accretion (please note that nutrition plays an important role in gaining muscle mass, so adjusting your diet for this will yield better results if more muscle is desired). For those that want deep grooves in their abs, weighted exercises - such as weighted crunches (using either dumbbells or a rope and cable), weighted side bends, etc. - will help achieve this.
For those that want a sleeker midsection, avoid doing a lot of oblique work so that you do not build a thick waist. Concentrate instead on exercises such as hanging leg raises, etc. Regardless of how you wish your abs to look, you should not neglect exercises for the transverse abdominus - the stronger this is, the more you will be able to ‘pull’ your tummy in for that flat and tight look.
Tip #4 - Decrease or eliminate the stress from your life.
Fluctuations in the steroid hormones can affect the appearance of your midsection. One of these hormones is cortisol. While cortisol is needed in the body to mobilize fats for energy metabolism, increased cortisol levels are a factor involved in the accumulation of bodyfat around your midsection, as well as the catabolism of muscle mass - neither which are conducive to a flat and sexy stomach. Cortisol can be increased any number of ways, the majority of which include stress, either through training or events and occurrences in our lives.
Studies have shown a negative correlation between cortisol and total testosterone, with an increase in cortisol associated with a decrease in total testosterone, a combination that can make it difficult to optimize fat loss. Therefore, to maintain optimal cortisol and testosterone levels, managing stress levels becomes essential, and decreasing stress will in turn decrease the cortisol levels in your body, allowing you to lose fat more efficiently.
Tip #5 - Ensure that you are properly hydrated.
Proper hydration to prevent water retention is important. It is a common misconception that drinking less will make the body dispel more water and give a harder, drier appearance. When you do not drink enough, the body releases anti-diuretic hormone, which causes the kidneys to HOLD ONTO water. Water retention, especially inside the body’ tissues (i.e. subcutaneous) and cells can cause puffiness of the skin and bloating, giving you the appearance of being soft and smooth, fatter than you actually are.
To avoid high anti-diuretic hormone levels in the body, ensure that you drink enough water, allowing for a higher volume of body fluids, and therefore causing the water to just pass through your system instead of being stored. You should NOT be thirsty before you drink - if you are thirsty, it means that your body is ALREADY dehydrated - and keeping a large water bottle with you at all times to sip from throughout the day can help you consume an adequate water intake.
Tip #6 - Avoid your ‘problem’ foods.
Regardless of the calorie content of food, even if you are following a diet, if you are sensitive or have allergies to certain foods, then eating them can cause food reactions, including but not limited to fluid retention and storage, cellular and tissue swelling and bloating, and gas production - all of which can give you a bloated appearance and the illusion of being a lot bigger than you actually are. Food reactions can also cause metabolic disorders and food cravings, which can lead to a vicious cycle that will keep your abs hidden and your midsection continually looking soft and puffy.
The most common foods that people have sensitivities or allergies to are: wheat, sugar, soy, peanuts, milk, eggs, and corn. Food reactions occur when the body’s immune system interprets the incoming food as allergens and launches an inflammatory immune response to them, or the body reacts to chemicals in the food. Therefore, it is a good idea to know what foods you are sensitive or have allergies to and avoid eating too much - if any - of them.
Tip #7 - Eat 5-6 smaller meals 2-3 hours apart throughout the day.
Having three square meals a day is not going to cut it. To keep your metabolism going you need to eat more often - which is why you often see figure competitors and bodybuilders spreading out the same amount of calories and food into five or six smaller meals per day, timed 2-3 hours apart. When you keep your metabolism stoked, your body has more ability to burn bodyfat and use the energy that you are supplying it. Not only does eating more frequently increase your metabolism and keep it elevated, but it also allows the body to maintain and preserve your lean body mass more efficiently.
Tip #8 - Be consistent with everything that you do.
Last, but most importantly, there is no magic pill that will transform your tummy, no magic exercise apparatus or machine that will suddenly give you the abs you desire. It is consistency with your nutrition and training that will get you to your final goal and achieve the transformation sought.
There is a small rule known as the “70/30” rule: Because life has a habit of getting in the way and disrupting even the most well-laid of plans, for whatever reason, remember that as long as you complete at least 70% of what you are supposed to, there is room to allow for the other 30% that might be disrupted. This does not advocate missing training sessions, purposely having bad nutritional days, or mean that you can make excuses for not doing what you know you should, but it gives you some leeway in improvising and adjusting your nutrition plan and training program if it is required.
Whether you’re already lean or need to become leaner, there is ALWAYS something that you can do to change the appearance of your midsection and make even the smallest of transformations to your tummy.
For most individuals, the key to transforming the appearance of their midsection lies in changing their body composition, usually by decreasing their bodyfat levels. This can be achieved through either nutrition or training, and works best with a strategic combination of both targeted at fat loss.
Those that are already lean can ensure that their midsection stays lean and flat by maintaining proper hydration, eating smaller meals more often throughout the day, and minimizing or eliminating any foods that they are sensitive or allergic to from their diet. Even those who are not already relatively lean and are attempting to lose body fat can do this, and in doing so, eliminate any excess water and food weight that is causing cellular and tissue swelling or bloating that makes them appear bigger than they really are.
Lean or not, building muscle in your core and midsection will ensure that you have abs to see when you are lean, as opposed to just looking flat and skinny.
Decreasing the stress in your life to maintain an optimal cortisol: testosterone ratio can aid in your tummy transformation, by controlling your cortisol levels to prevent extra fat storage around your midsection.
Most importantly, remember that consistency is the key to any transformation. Consistently apply these eight essential tips to your daily nutrition, training, and lifestyle, to create the lean, sexy abs and midsection that you desire.
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