If you're dedicated to getting toned abs, a larger stomach is probably the very last thing you want. But, if you're only doing ab exercises, your stomach may actually get larger. Instead, you need to focus on a full-body fitness routine that includes fat-burning cardio and cutting calories from your diet.
If your stomach sticks out, abdominal exercises probably aren't the reason. Burning fat will help your stomach flatten as you build your abdominal muscles.
Burn Fat or Build Muscle
To get toned abs, you have to achieve two goals. First, you need to burn fat, which is often the culprit if your stomach sticks out. While ab exercises, such as crunches, do burn some calories, they won't burn enough fat to help you lose weight on your stomach.
Building muscle through ab exercises will only result in a difference if you're also losing fat. Otherwise, building muscle underneath a layer of fat can actually make your stomach look slightly larger.
Read more: How to Lose Body Fat Naturally
When you exercise, your heart rapidly pumps blood to your muscles and organs, and this can cause your stomach muscles to temporarily puff up and look larger. Exercise also causes microscopic tears in your muscles.
The process of healing these tears is what causes bigger muscles. But these tears also cause temporary inflammation. If you're not burning fat, the temporary swelling in your ab muscles can make you look heavier.
Too Many Calories
You can do thousands of crunches and run 10 miles every day and still not see a change in your waistline. To achieve your fitness goals, you have to strike a balance between removing calories from your diet and burning them through exercise.
You have to get rid of 3,500 calories for every pound you want to lose, and if you're overeating, this goal will be impossible. You may gain weight in your midsection, causing your efforts to go to waste.
Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Fat Loss
Ab Toning the Right Way
If you want to tone your abs, focus on working your whole body, because spot reduction is impossible. Get plenty of cardiovascular exercise such as swimming, running or cycling. At 185 pounds, for example, you'll burn 355 calories by running 5 mph for 30 minutes, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Abdominal exercises can help strengthen your core and make your muscles more visible as you shed fat. Routines that include ab exercises such as the captain's chair, bicycle crunch and exercise ball crunch are most effective for toning the ab muscles, according to the American Council on Exercise.
Consider Your Posture
Poor posture can make your stomach look bigger than it actually is. When you maintain proper posture, your spine is in alignment. In this position, you should have a small arch in your lower back. However, too much arch causes a condition called hyperlordosis. This can be due to tight muscles in the front of your hips or weak ab muscles. It can also occur with excess belly fat.
Strengthening your ab muscles and paying attention to the way you sit and stand can help improve your posture, keeping your stomach from sticking out.
- American Council on Exercise: New Study Puts the Crunch on Ineffective Ab Exercises
- Harvard Health Publishing: Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights
- Midwest Public Risk: Abdominal Exercises
- Blackstone Valley Vocational Regional School District: Bad Posture and Office Ergonomics
- Posture Direct: How to Fix Your Hyperlordosis (Arched Back)