The word “flabby” can mean somewhat different things to different people. Unfortunately, though, none of them are very flattering — particularly when the word refers to the abdominal region. According to the Concise Oxford American Dictionary, flabby can mean “soft, loose, and fleshy" or “not tightly controlled, powerful or effective.”
Each definition gets at a separate aspect of a flabby stomach. Problem one: a roll of jiggly fat — or soft, loose flesh. Problem two: a lack of muscle definition — not tightly controlled. Fortunately, there’s a remedy for this condition — diet and exercise.
Diet Paves the Way
For anyone carrying a substantial paunch, shedding pounds is non-negotiable for tightening a flabby stomach. “Even if you have a flat abdominal wall, it won’t show if you’ve got a few inches of fat on top of it,” says Los Angeles-based fitness trainer David Knox, author of Body School: A New Guide to Improved Movement in Daily Life. “There are different ways to go about losing weight, but for most people the common denominator is burning off more than you take in.”
Every pound you lose requires cutting your intake of food by 3,500 calories. Reducing your intake by 1,000 calories a day, for example, leads to weight loss of 2 pounds a week. That’s a safe rate of weight loss, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Losing gradually improves the odds of keeping it off and prevents you from losing muscle mass along with fat.
Spot reducing that stomach? Well, there’s no such thing. However, there is some evidence that what you eat may affect your shape. A study in the June 2015 Journal of Nutrition found that people who followed a diet that moderately restricted carbs lost more belly fat than people on low-fat diets. A large review of weight loss studies in the November 2013 Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism found the most effect weight loss occurred from lowering calories, reducing fat intake and boosting fiber.
Strengthening Your Core
Simply put, your core is your center of gravity. For most people, it’s just below the navel. The core muscles support posture, gait and balance, and training them means doing exercises that get the hips, trunk and shoulders moving in harmony with each other. If you’re just beginning to train, ACE recommends bird-dog, front and side plank and glute bridge.
For more advanced work, choose five to 10 different exercises when planning an abdominal workout, advises Len Kravitz, PhD, a researcher and exercise scientist at the University of New Mexico. These should be a combination of spinal flexion exercises such as crunches and pelvic tilts, trunk rotation exercises and lateral flexion exercises such as the standing reach and pulls. Kravitz recommends doing eight repetitions of each exercise before moving onto the next, and suggests that exercises be rotated every two to three weeks. Different exercises get to different sections of the abdominal muscles, so variety helps you cover all areas. Form is highly important, and to avoid injury, don’t strain the chin forward toward the chest. Kravitz also recommends visualizing that your abdominal muscles are contracting tighter with each exercise to develop awareness of the importance of the contraction.
Boosting Muscle Mass
Even if you’re primarily focused on your stomach, ab exercises alone do not Greek gods make. Boosting your body’s muscle mass with strength training two to three non-consecutive days a week will rev up the body’s fat-burning ability throughout the day. In fact, lean body mass burns 7 to 10 more calories a day per pound than fat. Another reason to have a well-rounded workout is that working major muscles can result in greater continued calorie-burning than working smaller muscle groups.
Tune Up Your Cardiovascular System
The most rippin’ abs in the world aren’t going to be much good if you find yourself winded after going up a half flight of stairs. For effectively working off fat and dropping weight, the American Council on Exercise recommends 60 minutes of moderate to high intensity physical activity four or more days a week. High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, as an effective way of tuning up your cardiovascular system. It’s a cardiorespiratory workout method that increases the intensity of your training by toggling between brief speed and recovery intervals. To get started, first choose an aerobic exercise and warm up for 5 minutes. Then, perform three or four speed and recovery intervals, pushing the intensity of the exercise for one minute and resting for two minutes. Finish with a five-minute cool down.
- Body School: A New Guide to Improved Movement in Everyday Life, by David Knox
- Journal of Nutrition: A Lower-Carbohydrate, Higher-Fat Diet Reduces Abdominal and Intermuscular Fat and Increases Insulin Sensitivity in Adults at Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
- Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism: Healthy Strategies for Successful Weight Loss and Weight Maintenance: A Systematic Review
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: Selecting a Weight Loss Program
- University of New Mexico: Superb Abs Resource Manual
- ACE Fitness: How Can I Get Rid of Belly Fat?
- ACE FITNESS: High Intensity Interval Training
- ACE Fitness: Top Exercises to Gain Thoracic Mobility.
- ACE Fitness: Rethinking Core Training