Flat Stomach Philosophy – Focus on Core not Abs

A lot of people learn about an exercise with certain benefits and believe focusing on that will get them to their goal. When you look at a flat stomach the first thing you notice (if it’s defined) are the abs. “So,” many people think, “I just need to work my abs like this guy/gal has done.” And off crunching they go. This won’t get you far – in fact when you notice the minimal results (visually – crunches are still ‘good’ for you as all exercise is, they’re just not efficient) you’ll often bounce into a ‘why bother’ mindset that really damages your health drive’.

Abdominal exercises (particularly crunches) are not the fastest way to a flat belly. In truth, in order to get a strong, defined midsection you’ll need to go way beyond crunches. You’ve got to engage the core muscles. To work the core muscles, you need exercises that work on the many, many muscles between the pelvis and the shoulders. That’s your core. It’s a rather large area and you can’t work each muscle set in isolation easily (that’s what crunches are – isolation exercises).

For best results when working on these core abdominal muscles (including your abs) perform specific core exercises that work all the abdominal muscles. The good thing about these exercises is that most don’t require a gym or expensive equipment. Most are balancing and suspending your own bodyweight. When you walk, run, move in any way (particularly with power) you engage the core muscles. You move from the core.

The most you’ll need is a few weights (but any heavy objects will do) and perhaps an exercise ball. For example, using the ball (lying on top of it) when doing crunches means you stabilize your torso with lots of little micro-movements while balancing. In this way you hit lots of muscles – far more than floor crunches.

Your core is made up of the abdominals, lower back and hips. From the core all movements originate. Walking? How does your leg get pulled up to start moving forward? Standing bicep curl? Why don’t you topple to the side with the increased weight?  Your core – that’s why.  It creates a foundation for all other movement. The muscles here stabilize your spine and create a strong centre around which your body moves.

Let’s take a look at one, just one (but incredibly powerful) exercise that engages practically your entire core. It’s such a central exercise when considering your core that it can be used to measure your overall ‘core fitness’: The plank.

  1. Lie face down on a mat resting on the forearms, palms flat on the floor (or clasped – whatever is comfortable).
  2. Raise your body off the floor. Points of contact are the toes and the forearms and elbows.
  3. Keep your back flat, in a straight line from head to heels.
  4. Tilt your pelvis and contract your abdominals to prevent your rear end from sticking up in the air or sagging in the middle (this is incredibly important).
  5. Hold for 20 to 60 seconds, lower and repeat for 3-5 reps. Ideally the last rep will result in failure (you can’t hold the full duration). Push yourself! Hold it as long as you can.

Of course, single exercises won’t make you strong to the core. You need to combine good nutrition, aerobic exercise and other core specific strengthening exercises. But if you do these three things you’ll be on the way to those strong, flat and functional abs.


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