If you’ve spent hours at the gym doing some of the best abs exercises, but you still don’t see any difference in your midsection, don’t panic! Strong abs are more than just an aesthetic goal — they can help you sit with better posture, reduce back pain, lift heavier weights, and run faster. However, if visible abs are your goal, you may be discouraged if your time at the gym hasn’t given you the results you’d hoped for.
Again, it’s worth noting that getting a six-pack or losing weight doesn’t have to be the main reason you exercise. Exercise has a number of physical and mental benefits: Staying active can improve brain health, protect you from chronic disease, help keep your heart healthy, and lower blood pressure. That said, if getting a six-pack is your goal, here’s where you could go wrong:
1. You’re not feeding properly
You’ve probably heard that abs are made in the kitchen, and there’s a lot of truth to that. For your abs to be visible, you need to have a body fat percentage of between 10 and 14 percent. To achieve a low body fat percentage, you’ll need to eat a balanced diet that’s high in protein, fiber, and good fats. You should also distribute calories between carbohydrates, fat and protein, which is why many people choose to count their macros, not calories when trying to get visible results. That’s why our resident personal trainer doesn’t recommend counting calories. You should also avoid excessively sugary and processed foods and be mindful of your alcohol consumption.
In addition to diet, you’ll need to watch your hormones, sleep, and stress — all of which contribute to the amount of body fat you store. It’s also important not to drastically cut calories from your diet. Starving won’t give you abs. It’s always worth talking to your doctor, or a registered nutritionist or dietician before making any drastic changes to your diet.
2. You are stressed
As mentioned above, stress can have an impact on the amount of body fat you store. When you’re stressed, cortisol levels in the body rise. In turn, cortisol affects the distribution of fat in the body (high cortisol levels cause fat to be stored in the abdomen), increases appetite and makes you crave sugary foods.
One study found that women who were vulnerable to stress are more likely to retain belly fat. While exercising more can be a stress reliever, if you’re feeling the effects of stress, whether it’s from your work or personal life, it’s a good idea to take a look at your fitness regimen – that’s why it could be your workout that’s stressing you out.
Maybe switch up your HIIT class or tempo run for a calmer walk, yoga class, or Pilates workout. That’s what 30 minutes of walking a day can do to your bodyplus a 15 minute core focused Pilates workout.
3. You are not training properly
Despite what you may have heard, doing endless sit-ups is not the way to get visible abs. Ab workouts are great for strengthening the muscle groups that make up your core muscles, but you could also build core strength AND target various other muscles using compound exercises. A compound movement simply refers to a multi-joint, multi-muscle exercise like a squat or push-up and can be performed with or without weights at home or at the gym.
Abs workouts should just form part of your workout routine. If you’re looking for visible results, mix your abs workouts with cardio, HIIT, and strength training workouts. You should also focus on what you are doing outside of the gym. Focus on being more active by making small changes like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking the dog, or using one of the best standing desks at work. Here’s how to burn calories by changing your daily routine: What is NEAT?
Sure, it could be that you’re working out just the right amount, but you’re expecting results too quickly. Visible abs aren’t going to pop overnight, and if you’re hoping to get a six-pack before the holidays in two weeks, that’s not going to happen. Despite what you may have heard, you cannot reduce body fat.
4. You are not resting
Another reason you may not see visible results is that you are actually overtraining. Sleep and recovery are important aspects of achieving visible goals, and if you don’t get enough rest, your body won’t release enough growth hormone to help your muscles grow. You may also be putting yourself at risk for injury as if you aren’t rested, your muscles can’t repair from the micro-tear that occurs during exercise.
Aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night, and strap on one of those best fitness trackers on your wrist to track how much you’re actually closing your eyes, as well as the quality of good REM and deep sleep, versus light.
5. Your form is deactivated
Another reason you may not get results is because your form is off when you work your abs. When practicing ab exercises, it’s important to think about engaging your core.
To engage your core, Luke Zocchi, Head Trainer at Center (read our Centr app review here), and Chris Hemsworth’s personal trainer says, “You want to lengthen your spine to straighten your back, inhale deeply into your rib cage and pull your belly button in. The best way to approach this final step is to think about what your reaction would be if someone punched you in the stomach.”
Move slowly and with control when performing ab workouts, and when in doubt, ask a personal trainer to check your form.
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