Having a baby or losing a significant amount of weight is cause for celebration for many people. But if your recent reduction around your midsection has left you with loose abdominal skin, you might be wondering if there is anything you can do to tighten and tone this part of your body.
Why You Have Loose Skin
Gaining a significant amount of weight causes your skin to stretch. And if you remain this way for a long period of time before losing weight, your loose skin may be less likely to retract.
In a small January 2015 study published in the Open Access Journal of Plastic Surgery, researchers discovered that the skin of 30 morbidly obese patients who experienced massive weight loss was weak due to lower density and thickness of collagen fibers and damage to its elastic fibers. In other words, the longer you remain overweight, the harder it is for your skin to retract after a significant weight loss.
Where this gets tricky, is defining what a significant amount of weight is. Because contrary to what you may believe, there is no magic number of pounds to lose before you will end up with loose skin. Instead, board-certified plastic surgeon Jennifer Greer, MD, tells LIVESTRONG.com that it depends more on your age and skin quality.
The older you are, the less collagen you have, which means you're more likely to have looser skin following weight loss. Plus, things like sun exposure and smoking cause damage to the quality of your skin. So if you fall into either of those categories, you may find it more difficult to rebound after weight loss.
Surgery to Tighten Abdominal Skin
If the amount of loose skin is minimal, it will likely retract on its own. However, if you have loose abdominal skin from multiple pregnancies or years of weight loss and weight gain, lifestyle factors may not be enough to tighten everything up.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, an abdominoplasty or tummy tuck, which is a procedure that removes extra fat and skin and tightens the muscles in your abdominal wall, should be the last resort in your quest to get rid of loose abdominal skin.
In fact, Greer recommends waiting at least six months after a significant weight loss before even considering surgery. But once you've hit this mark, and often waited even longer, she says the most effective way to tighten loose abdominal skin is surgery.
"Skin removal over the abdomen takes the form of either a full tummy tuck (abdominoplasty) or a mini-tummy tuck," explains Greer. In a mini-tummy tuck, Greer says the excess skin over the lower abdomen is removed. "This is good for people with just a little loose skin, whose abdominal muscles are still tight," she explains.
But if you've had kids or lost 50 pounds or more, Greer says you probably have loose skin above your belly button as well, and your abdominal rectus muscles (the six-pack muscles) are likely stretched apart. In this case, a full tummy tuck is needed. "The difference is that the abdominal muscles are tightened and loose skin is removed both above and below the belly button," she adds.
Lifestyle Modifications to Tighten Skin
A combination of resistance training, aerobic exercise and a healthy diet can help you lose body fat, which will firm up your abdominal area. "Nutrition and exercise have a huge influence on skin elasticity," Geoff Tripp, CSCS, ACSM EP-C, CPT, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and head of fitness at Trainiac, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Once you've maintained your weight loss, Tripp says sticking to a healthy diet is key to keeping the weight off, especially since poor choices in your diet can lead to weight gain and an increase in fat mass, which has the potential to stretch out your skin again.
When it comes to specific exercises to strengthen your abdominal area, Tripp says exercise needs to be stressful enough to train your muscles to increase tone, so adding weights, bands, cables and other resistance tools instead of just working with your body weight can help. His go-to exercises for core muscle activation include:
- Prone planks
- Side planks
- Plate crunches
- Hanging leg lifts
- Cable core presses
"There are numerous variations for these exercises, but the important thing to remember when training your core muscles is to hit all muscle groups, by doing flexion, extension and rotational movements," explains Tripp.