The 3-Step Strategy to a Flat Stomach

PHOTO: Womans toned belly
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If you're like most women, you've been struggling to flatten your stomach for about two decades now. Why? Because you think achieving enviable abs is complicated. Don't be fooled! If you're smart with your strategy, scoring a flat belly is actually incredibly simple. Follow these three steps and you'll have a flat belly in no time.

Step 1: Exercise

But not so fast with the crunches! It takes 250,000 crunches to burn one pound of fat. And working those muscles underneath won't matter if you still have a layer of fat covering them. Plus, crunches are one of the main culprits of back injuries, according to recent research. You won't look so good on the beach if you're bent over with an achy back. Instead, try these core-stabilization exercises to build the strong, sleek, sexy stomach you're after:

Pushup: Get down on all fours and place your hands on the floor so that they're slightly wider than your shoulders. Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor. Pause at the bottom, and then push yourself back to the starting position as quickly as possible. If your hips sag at any point during the exercise, your form has broken down. Consider that your last repetition and end the set.

Plank: Start to get into a pushup position, but bend your elbows and rest your weight on your forearms instead of on your hands. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Brace your core by contracting your abs as if you were about to be punched in the gut. Hold this position while breathing deeply.

Hip raises: Lie face up on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Raise your hips so your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold for up to 5 seconds in the up position, then lower your body back to the starting position.

Also use combo exercises, which target more than one muscle group, to get your heart pumping and ramp up your metabolism for up to 48 hours after your workout.

Try This: 15-Minute Belly-Blasting Workout

Step 2: De-Stress

When stress is high, a hormone called cortisol shoots up. And high cortisol levels equal high belly fat. Take at least 10 to 15 minutes a day to decompress and reduce your cortisol levels, and a flat stomach will be one less thing to worry about. Some ideas for de-stressing:

Slip into a hot bubble bath with lavender

Stretch or do yoga poses in silence

Write each day in a dedicated journal

Laugh (even if you don't feel like laughing!)

Try These Flat Belly Meal Plans

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More from Women's Health:

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7 Ways to Get Your Body Swimsuit Ready, Starting Now Step 3: Eat Right

Fuel your body with belly-fat burning foods that stabilize your blood sugar. These includes lots of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and good fats. Some rules to follow:

Eat one to two servings of vegetables at every meal. If you eat four to five low-cal meals a day like you should, you'll rack up four to 10 servings of vegetables a day!

Drink lots of water. Good'ol' H2O curbs dehydration, which is easily confused with hunger. Aim for at least 64 ounces (that's eight 8-ounce glasses) of water a day.

Consume high-quality protein at each meal. High-protein foods take more work to digest, metabolize, and use, which means you burn more calories processing them. They also take longer to leave your stomach, so you feel full sooner—and longer.

Don't be afraid of fats. Eat lots of omega-3-rich foods such as olive oil, avocado, fish and nuts, which increase fat oxidation to help keep you slim (fat oxidation is the body's way of breaking down large fat molecules into smaller ones that can be used for energy).

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More from Women's Health:

10 Exercises Machines to Avoid

14 Shape-up Shortcuts

Weight Loss Tricks That Really Work

7 Ways to Get Your Body Swimsuit Ready, Starting Now

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