Movement

The Key to Sculpted Abs

Perfectly toned midsections are something most people crave, but six packs aren’t just made through sit-ups and planks. You also need to focus on nutrition. That’s because the foods you eat are super important in determining whether or not you have a sculpted stomach. And that’s something a lot of people forget about.

To understand the connection, you first need to know the kind of fat that could be covering up your abs. It’s called visceral fat, and it’s determined by more than just calories in and calories out. Total body fat matters, but so do things like hormones, blood sugar levels, and gastrointestinal health. And all of these factors are directly impacted by your diet. Here’s how:

Keeping hormone levels steady

The fluctuations of your hormones can lead to more or less visceral fat—and what you eat impacts how much they fluctuate. For example, eating foods with healthy fats in them, like avocado, nuts, salmon, and olive oil, helps stabilize your hormones and keep them balanced. The omega-3 fatty acids in some of these foods also help reduce inflammation, which can be beneficial.

Making sure you eat regularly

Steady blood sugar levels keeps cortisol, insulin, and cholesterol production at a nice, stable pace throughout the day (something that can help visceral fat levels stay down). That’s why you need to eat throughout the day and make sure you are getting a mix of carbohydrates, fat, and protein at each meal and snack.

Keeping your gut healthy and happy

Your gastrointestinal system isn’t just used to digest food, it also is connected to things like cognition, mood, and metabolism. The healthier your gastrointestinal system is, the less visceral fat you’ll have. Eating plenty of foods containing prebiotics and probiotics and staying hydrated can all help.

Once you get the diet part down, you do still need to strengthen your ab muscles. Keep in mind that there’s no such thing as spot reduction—you can’t focus on one area of your body at the gym and hope to get rid of fat there. In other words, doing a million sit-ups won’t reduce abdominal fat (even if it does give you strong ab muscles under the layer of fat). What does help? Training your entire body and doing a mix of cardio and strength training.

But that doesn’t mean you should forget about moves that target your abs! Having a strong core is crucial for improving performance—whether you’re in a kickboxing class or playing a pick-up game of soccer—and helps prevent back pain. There’s no need to do a 20-minute ab routine every day. Instead, add in a few of these moves to your regular gym regimen.

Plank variations

A typical plank has you in a push-up position, with core engaged and your body making a straight line from your ankles to your shoulders. If that starts to feel easy, add in alternating arm or leg lifts. This forces your body to stabilize and work harder. You can also try side planks. Start on your side with your legs stacked and your shoulder right over your elbow. Lift up so that only your forearm and feet are supporting you. Hold that pose for 30 to 40 seconds. Repeat for the opposite side.

Pillar Bridge variations

This is similar to a plank, but you’re on your forearms instead of your hands. Do the same variations as above: traditional pillar bridge, alternating arm or leg lifts, and side pillar bridge. For that one, with forearm on the ground and your body in a straight line, press your hips up and hold this position. To make harder, lift your top leg up and down in a nice controlled motion.