Getting a flat and defined belly is one of the most widespread goals among women -especially when summer approaches- but sometimes due to lack of time, or simply laziness, this goal is left pending.
In addition to the aesthetic benefit of showing off a toned abdomen, you have to keep in mind that this is a vital part of our body, as it balances the entire middle area and supports the weight of the body. One of the direct consequences of a toned abdomen is that it reduces back and lumbar pain: throughout the day we perform many tasks that do not favor keeping our back in the best posture -we bend our body, we spend hours sitting at the computer, we carry weight, ... - so, with a worked abdomen we can maintain the body verticality without discomfort and relaxing the lumbar area. It also helps to keep the internal organs in a proper position and in a state of relaxation, which helps them to develop their functions more effectively. Working our abdomen will improve intestinal health, decreasing inflammation and improving circulation; and it will also improve the way we breathe, since working the abdomen makes the rib cage more relaxed, and consequently more air enters our lungs and our blood has a greater amount of oxygen.
What parts of the abdomen are there?
As in other parts of the body, the muscles that make up the abdomen can be classified according to the region in which they are located; thus, the abdomen is divided into three groups: anterior muscles, lateral muscles and posterior muscle.
The anterior abdominal muscles - the rectus abdominis and the pyramidalis - are located in the anterior part, that is, in the region of the belly: between the ribs and the pelvis. The rectus abdominis (commonly known as the "six pack") is a thin muscle that descends - vertically - in the posterior part of the abdominal wall - from the ribs to the pubis - and is further divided into eight parts, separated into two groups of four by a tendinous band, the linea alba. This muscle inserts into the cartilages of some ribs and allows flexion of the trunk. The pyramidal muscle, on the other hand, is small and is located in the lower part of the abdomen -between the pubis and the navel-; this is a curious muscle since only 80% of people have it and its function is not very clear.
The lateral muscles - internal oblique, external oblique and transverse - are found on the sides of the ribs at different depths. The internal oblique is a paired muscle that runs along the sides of the body from the last three ribs to the hip, its function is -together with the external oblique- to allow trunk flexion, especially during spinal rotation, and to hold the abdominal viscera in their correct position. For its part, the external oblique is also an even muscle and is associated with the internal oblique, in fact, it also covers the last ribs up to the external part of the iliac crest and its fibers are arranged in the opposite direction to those of the internal oblique; allowing flexion and rotation of the body, and supporting the viscera of the abdomen by means of its compression. The transversus transversus is a broad muscle located around the lumbar region, running along the lateral part of the side; it is the main compressor of the viscera.
Within the posterior region of the abdomen, on the sides of the spine there is only one muscle: the quadratus lumborum. Its function is to stabilize the spine and allow lateral flexion to the same side.
Is it possible to get a flat abdomen and burn that fat?
We know that burning that localized fat is usually quite complicated, and that, to do so, we will need to be constant and change certain habits. Keep in mind that having a little abdominal fat is not harmful, but an excess of fat in the intra-abdominal area can lead to health problems: such as diabetes, cholesterol or hypertension. But getting a defined abdomen is possible by changing certain habits.
Tips to define the abdomen
To achieve your goal you have to keep in mind that, working the abdomen is not the only habit you should take, but that your diet and lifestyle should be adjusted as well.
First of all, you have to keep in mind that rest is very important when it comes to losing abdominal fat. When you don't rest properly -either because of discomfort or stress- your appetite increases and your body destabilizes, causing metabolic changes. Therefore, it is vital that you have a correct routine of sleeping hours and food intake.
Reduce your stress levels
In addition, try to reduce your stress, as it causes an alteration in the whole organism -even in the accumulation of fat-. In fact, studies show that people with too much stress are less likely to lose abdominal fat.
Maintain a calorie deficit
It is not necessary to obsess about the calories ingested, but keep in mind that, to achieve fat loss, you must consume fewer calories than you manage to burn daily. When you have been in a calorie deficit for some time, the body begins to compensate for this deficit through energy from carbohydrate and fat reserves, thus causing a slow but steady weight loss.
Don't just do cardio, do strength training too.
There are many people who have two preconceived ideas in mind: to reduce body fat you should only practice workouts focused on cardio, and another widespread belief is that, to eliminate abdominal fat is enough to exercise only that area. But nothing could be further from the truth, since fat is reduced gradually.
As we saw in our post on the benefits of strength training, this type of training is especially appropriate for fat loss. Since weight training stimulates muscle growth, burning an additional amount of calories.
Table of the 4 best exercises
To encourage you to start your training focused on the abdomen, here are some very beneficial exercises to work this part:
Dead bug (commonly known as "dead bug ").
It is an exercise with which, in addition to working your abdomen, you will work your coordination, and get to strengthen your hips and improve the strength in your lower back as well. To perform this exercise you must lie on your back, with your legs straight and your hands on your hips; then, without separating your back from the mat, lift one of your legs until it points to the ceiling, while, you must stretch the opposite arm above your head -forming an angle of 90 degrees-. In this way, you should alter both legs and arm, and complete a minimum of 8 to 12 repetitions per side.
Image: Dynamic Chiropractic Canada
This exercise doesn't require repetitions, but you must pay full attention to correct body posture, and it's an exercise you can challenge yourself by trying to hold the plank longer! To perform this exercise, you should lie down with your legs and hands (or elbows) supported. Make sure your hands (or elbows) are at the same height as your shoulders, and your feet are the same width as your hips. The goal of this exercise is to hold this position by squeezing your abs tightly. You can start with 30 seconds, and keep challenging yourself!
With this exercise you will get to work your obliques. To do this, you must sit down, lying your trunk until you feel tension in the abdomen, and then separate your legs off the floor. You can perform this exercise with an additional weight, and you should swing your upper trunk from one side to the other. You should complete at least 8 to 12 repetitions and do 2 or 3 sets.
This exercise will strengthen your obliques and lower abs. Lie on your back with your palms extended along your body, tighten your abs and raise your legs above your hips at a 90-degree angle. During the exercise remember not to bend or separate your legs, and contract your lower abs to get your hips off the ground. Hold this position for 1 or 2 seconds and then, in a controlled manner, return to the starting position. You should perform at least 8 to 12 repetitions.
And now that you know how to get an abdominal workout, you have no excuse not to start training!