Not only can you do crunches everyday for years without seeing any dramatic results, but you can also cause neck and back strain, fitness experts say. So what should you do to get a flaunt-worthy stomach? "People ask me this question all the time and are surprised when I tell them to stop spending countless hours doing crunches," says ACE Certified Personal Trainer, Jess Horton. "Instead, I recommend focusing on diet and guide them through calorie-torching exercises that hit all the major muscle groups—not just the abs."
Here we share Horton's three essential six-pack exercises and some of the greatest flat-tummy diet and lifestyle strategies of all time. Follow our tried and true advice to lose weight, strip away flab and keep you on the fast track to the stomach you've always wanted.
Eat More Fat
While some sources of fat like hydrogenated oils and lard can lead to weight gain, other sources like extra virgin olive oil and walnut oil can have the opposite effect, making them excellent tools in any flat-belly arsenal. While EVOO increases blood levels of serotonin, a hormone associated with satiety, walnut oil's high polyunsaturated fatty acid content is to thank for its fat-incinerating powers. The fatty acid has shown to increase diet-induced calorie burn and resting metabolic rate, the calories we burn to keep our body running.
Sip On Green Tea
In addition to its great taste and laundry list of health benefits, sipping green tea can make the time you log at the gym more worthwhile, research suggests. A recent three-month study found that those who sip up to five cups of the brew daily and log 25 minutes at the gym lose more abdominal fat than their non-tea-drinking counterparts who also broke a sweat. What makes the drink is such a powerful flab incinerator? It's filled with an antioxidant called catechin that hinders the storage of belly fat.
Focus on Lean Proteins
While dairy, fresh fruits, veggies and whole grains are important elements of a healthy diet, no other food group has as big an effect on weight loss as lean proteins. Low-fat meats like flank steak, white meat turkey, chicken and pork chops have been shown to boost satiety, which can reduce your daily caloric intake, fueling weight loss. Lean meats also have a high thermogenic effect, meaning your body actually burns off some of the meat's calories as it digests. For the best flab-frying results, consume 0.8 to one gram of lean proteins per kilogram of bodyweight each day.
Get More Sleep
Believe it or not, sleeping, dieting and training are equally important when it comes to sculpting a sick set of abs. No matter how many calories you cut or miles you log, it won't get you anywhere near your goal unless you're also getting enough sleep. In fact, losing a mere hour of shut-eye over the course of three days has been shown to negatively impact the body's hunger hormone, ghrelin, increasing the number of calories you're bound to consume each day. Researchers also say that skimping on sleep increases the odds you'll wind up munching on junk food, especially at night, which can make it difficult to get chiseled abs. Conversely, quality sleep fuels the production of fat-burning hormones that can help you get you that washboard stomach you've been working for.
And if you find yourself counting sheep more often than not, let us teach you how to get better sleep with our simple, one-day plan.
Ditch the Booze
Unfortunately for beer lovers, a six-pack of cold ones and six-pack abs are mutually exclusive. "My clients repeatedly hear my reminders that I can't help them out-train their poor nutritional and lifestyle choices, and this includes drinking alcohol," says Horton. When you down a drink, be it beer, wine or liquor, your body has to break down the alcohol before it can process all the other food in your system. This slows down the metabolic process, and can make it difficult to strip away the layer of fat that's covering your abs. What's more, research suggests that consuming just half a drink (a 6-ounce beer, a 2.5-ounce glass of wine or half a shot of liquor) can significantly increase appetite and the number of calories you subsequently consume—even if you still feel stone-cold sober. The bottom line: Ditch the booze if you really want to see your abs shine through.
Everyone has abs. Yes, you, too—even if you can't see them because they're hidden under a layer of flab. The best way to burn off the blubber and carve out abs is to add high intensity interval training (HIIT) sprints to your weekly fitness routine. If you're looking to drop some pounds and lean out, combining high calorie burning HIIT workouts with a balanced diet comprised of complex carbs, healthy fats and lean protein is a must, says Horton. Dan Roberts, one of the UK's top trainers concurs. "Sprinting builds muscle, which helps burn fat quickly. Also, the action of driving the legs initiates the abs and core. The faster you go and the shorter your recovery, the more your abs will develop," he explains. Add Robert's high intensity interval training to your weekly routine and watch that excess belly fat melt away.
If you thought juggling multiple projects at the office was challenging, wait until you try multitasking at the gym—while it's not easy, it's an important aspect of the flat ab equation. "I'm a huge fan of exercises that work multiple body parts because they allow you to cut down on the time spent working out, torch loads of calories (which accelerates fat loss) and are more challenging than working one body part at a time," explains Horton. If you want to give some double duty exercises a try, Horton suggests holding a wide sumo squat while rotating a weighted kettlebell or dumbbell from side to side. "This move works the lower body while engaging the core." Or if your gym has a TRX, use it to perform tucks (as shown above) or pikes. "This exercise challenges the shoulders and the core simultaneously," she explains.
Despite what you may have heard, lifting heavy, challenging weights won't make you bulky. It will, however, challenge your muscles, increase metabolism, and help you stay lean for life," explains Horton. Other fitness experts agree that lifting heavy can help you get great abs. "If you're doing more than ten reps with ease, your weight probably isn't heavy enough, so vary your reps and consistently increase the amount you're lifting," says Dustin Hassard, NCSF, Head Coach, Modern Athletics.