Want to shed belly fat and sculpt your abs at home without exercise equipment? Stop cranking out endless crunches. It's not an effective way to train your core and won't land you any closer to your weight-loss goals (or six-pack abs).
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But with the right approach, you can boost your core workouts and set the stage to achieve amazing abs from your living room. Here, Geoff Tripp, CSCS, certified personal trainer and head of fitness at Trainiac, shares five simple strategies to help you whittle down your middle by burning more calories during your at-home ab workouts.
1. Incorporate Compound Movements
Skip the smaller isolation movements (think: crunches and sit-ups), as they don't burn as many calories as larger compound movements will, Tripp says.
In fact, multi-joint body-weight exercises like squats and deadlifts train your abs way more efficiently, according to a June 2013 paper in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. That's because compound movements require you to recruit several muscle groups simultaneously, including your core.
"In most cases, when we incorporate more movement and muscles, we increase our heart rate to a working level (50 to 90 percent) of one's exercise capacity, and the higher we push that level, the more energy is needed to work," Tripp says. In other words, the more energy you expend, the more calories you torch.
For example, instead of doing an isometric plank hold for 30 seconds, try a more challenging compound exercise like a plank with an alternating shoulder tap.
2. Reduce Your Resting Time
If you're doing high-intensity exercise or a series of moves that target the same muscle group, you need rest intervals for proper recovery. But unless you're lifting near maximal weights, you can shorten your rest periods for calorie-burning benefits, Tripp says.
Reducing breaks between movements and sets allows you to "get more work done in less time and keeps your heart rate up to increase your energy needs and burn more calories," he says.
Tripp suggests performing a circuit of three to four ab-based exercises with opposing movement patterns. For example, doing plank holds, then V-ups, side plank holds and finally, mountain climbers targets your abs but also changes your movement patterns enough that you can almost eliminate rest periods in between exercises, he says.
3. Perform Supersets
Similar to shortening or removing rest periods, supersets — a pair of exercises performed back-to-back, with little or no break in between — are a time-efficient, effective way to challenge your core and crush calories.
"If you're at home and lack a way to increase external resistance [with weight machines, for instance], then a higher rep volume is your friend," Tripp says. Essentially, the more reps you crank out, the more calories you burn.
"An example of a superset for your abs would be a bicycle crunch into an in-and-out crunch," Tripp says.
4. Ramp Up Resistance
"Probably the easiest way to increase that [ab] burn is to add resistance," Tripp says. Think about it: You'll automatically work harder to perform a Russian twist if you're holding a 10-pound dumbbell.
When you add load, you combine strength and conditioning to maintain your work volume, which leads to calorie burn, Tripp says. And you don't need heavy weights to see results. Tripp says light to moderate resistance plus high reps will light your core on fire and scorch those calories.
No dumbbells? No sweat. Common household objects like canned goods, water bottles or books can substitute for handheld weights.
5. Mix It Up
Another strategy to optimize calorie burn during your ab training is incorporating core work into your other strength days, Tripp says. Try doing a few ab-focused moves at the beginning, middle or end of your lower-body or upper-body routines. And vary the order to keep your body guessing.
In addition, "a combination of core and some cardio intervals goes a long way too since you've already increased your heart rate," Tripp says. It'll also break up the monotony of running workouts.