Abs of steel & sex appeal

Whether you’re just starting an exercise program, or you’ve been at it for years, there is one thing on everyone’s wish list: a toned stomach.

When it comes to training abs of steel, here’s what you need to know:

Burn fat. Most people already have strong, defined abs…they just happen to be covered by a layer of fat. Fat that all the crunches in the world won’t burn off. To reduce tummy fat, you need a combination of regular cardio (aerobic) exercise, strength training and a healthy diet to create a caloric deficit necessary to start dropping the kg’s.

Be realistic. For visible abdominal definition, your body fat percentage has to be pretty low somewhere around 8-12% for women and 8-10% for men. Which are extremely difficult to reach, let alone maintain. For some people this may be impossible or downright dangerous to your health. But it’s important to know that “healthy” ranges of body fat are 14%-17% for men and 21%-24% for women. Women are also genetically predisposed to store more fat around the belly and need minimum levels of body fat to be healthy. You’ll have to decide if washboard abs are worth going to extremes or not. For most people, simply flattening the stomach and losing a few extra pounds is a realistic, attainable goal.

Train the abs like you would any other muscle. There is no need to do 100’s of crunches. In fact, if you are doing your exercises correctly, 8-15 repetitions are all that you need to feel the muscles working and get results. The key is to focus on form, by deeply engaging your abs throughout each movement.

Vary your program. Every exerciser should add variety to their exercises to continue seeing results. Try to change up your exercises (both cardio and strength) every 8 weeks, This will help to prevent plateaus and allow you to progress from easier to more advanced exercises as you become stronger.

Don’t crash diet. Some people will swear that a key to flat abs is what they eat—or don’t eat. But you don’t have to drastically change your diet to lose your belly. Simple, healthy eating habits (not deprivation) will help drop excess weight from all over including your stomach.

Here are some of my favourite ab exercises. Be sure to read the instructions for each to ensure proper form and effectiveness.

Fitball Roll Out-  Start by kneeling on floor. Bring ball close to your hips. Put hands on the middle of ball.  Lift your toes just off the floor. Roll the ball forward, keeping your tummy tense & tight. When elbows touch draw your body back without bending through body. Body should make an up L shape throughout movement.

Focus on keeping the tummy tight and performing the movement as controlled as possible especially on the roll back in.

To make this harder, start with hands closer on the ball and the ball slightly further out from the hips. This enables the roll out to travel further.

You can also start with ball close in touching the hips for an increased difficulty. Using a smaller ball is also another option to make it more difficult.

For the advanced version, start from standing, bend to put your hands on the ball. Roll out slowly until you are in a plank position. Keep the tummy tight as your draw up back to standing.

I have to admit I am certainly not the best person to demonstrate this one as I find it challenging myself! But hopefully the pictures give you an idea.

Medicine Ball Twist–  Start by sitting on the end of a bench with the upper legs supported. Holding a medicine ball squeeze the abs to keep the feet up and legs straight. Brace the tummy and lean slightly back so you can hold the ball at the front of your hip. Twist the torso and move with the ball hip to hip keeping the ball nice and close to the body.

Unlike the example in the second picture where I was obviously getting lazy, the aim is to keep the legs lifted throughout the entire exercise.

This movement can also be performed on the floor for extra difficulty, continuing to keep the feet lifted.

Movement throughout this exercise meant I was unable to capture on camera the full twist to the left side. Make sure you are twisting the torso all the way until the ball touches the front of each hip side to side.

For the harder version, use the decline bench on it’s lowest setting, and hold the torso at a 45deg angle while twisting the ball hip to hip.

You can also choose to hold a heavier weight to make this more challenging.

Double Crunch-  Start lying on a mat with your knees at 90 deg. Prop the hands behind the head to support the neck and simultaneously squeeze the shoulders off the floor as you squeeze your lower abs to lift the hips just off the floor.

My hips aren’t as lifted as what they could be in the second picture, the aim is to get the bottom just off the floor before controlling back down to the floor. Avoid letting the elbows coming forward to the knees.

To make harder, separate the knees slightly (to avoid kneeing yourself) and squeeze the abs to lift the legs toward your chest. Then slowly uncurl the body and lower the legs further towards the floor keeping a slight bend in the knees. Only lower down until the spine starts to lift from the floor otherwise you risk straining the lower back.

Its important to not let the elbows touch your legs, try and keep them out to the side as much as possible.

Use the Bosu to engage more core stabilisers. Sit in the middle and perform exactly the same as in the medium version but use slower and more controlled movements to keep your balance.

Keep movement as slow and controlled as possible. Use up as much time as possible lowering your torso and legs down.

The Plank– Start lying facedown on a mat. Place your elbows under you in line with your shoulders, feet hip width apart. Now keep your tummy tight, bottom squeezed and prop up on your elbows. Work towards holding this for 1 minute. To make it more challenging, try lifting an arm or leg.

My baggy clothing makes it a little difficult to see the exact alignment of my body, but the idea is to keep a straight line from head to toe, with no bottoms sticking up in the air.

The arm and leg lifts I have demonstrated here are too high for starting out but necessary for the demonstration purposes. The leg and arm lifts should only be slightly off the ground and in complete alignment with the hips and shoulders. You are also aiming to keep the hips and shoulders as parallel to the ground as possible.

For the difficult version start on your side with feet, hips, and shoulders in alignment sideways. Then lift the hips up and top arm up with your  eye line toward the roof.

You can add in a leg lift of the top leg if you find this variation too easy. This increases the pressure on the core to remain stabilised so the hips stay lifted.

So now the hard works all done 6 packs all round??