3 Major Tips to Achieve a Toned Stomach

Planks can help you meet your stomach-toning goals.
Image Credit: fizkes/iStock/GettyImages

"How can I tone my stomach fast?" It may be the appeal trainers hear most often — especially just before swimsuit season. But whether you're concerned about the health implications of extra belly fat or just want to look better, there are effective ways to improve muscle definition and get those toned abs.

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It takes dedication, but if you stick to a targeted diet and workout routine, you will notice a difference in your stomach's firmness within several weeks.

Mark Your Calendar

The good news is that even with moderate workouts, it only takes a season or so to see significant muscle definition. And if you really overhaul your diet, cardio and resistance routines, you'll have more toned abs in as little as four to eight weeks.

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Why the variation? Part of it has to do with your current level of abdominal fat. Losing fat needs to happen before muscle definition efforts can make a difference. If you only need to tighten a reasonably flat stomach, however, you can start to see real muscle definition in as little as a month.

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Tweak Your Diet

You probably already know that sugary starches and saturated fat translate to belly flab. If you haven't already, cut these foods out of your diet as soon as possible. Replace them with healthy fats like olive oil, nuts and avocados. In addition, eat complex carbs such as sweet potatoes, whole-wheat bread and brown rice.

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You'll probably need to boost the amount of protein you're currently eating. The minimum amount of protein you should take in for general health is about 0.36 gram for every pound of your current body weight. If you weigh 125 pounds, for example, that would equal 45 grams of protein a day.

But to really build muscle for toned abs, your protein count should increase. If you're not seeing results with your current diet and workout, boost your protein intake to about 1 gram per pound of body weight, or about 125 grams protein if you weigh 125 pounds.

That means that each of your main meals, as well as your snacks, should revolve around high-protein foods like fish, lean beef, chicken, tofu, beans, whole eggs or egg whites, cottage cheese, yogurt, part-skim cheeses, nuts and seeds.

Read more: 10 Surprising Flat-Belly Foods

Build That Definition

With your diet helping to blast the overlying fat, resistance training can put the finishing touches on the newly revealed muscles underneath. For best results, build in moves that target your lower abs, upper abs and "love handles."

Rotating the kinds of crunches you do tones different parts of your stomach. The classic situp and its variations, in which you raise and lower your torso, engages the upper part of your stomach. Doing crunches in which both your torso and legs are raised and lowered will yield toned abs in your lower section.

To work on your obliques — the sides of your waist — add a "twist" to your ab routine by doing the type of crunch in which your right elbow touches your left knee, followed by your left elbow to your right knee.

If you need to switch things up, add other core-based and ab-specific moves to your resistance training. These include squats, lunges, planks and yoga poses like the "bird dog" and the "cobra."

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Don't waste time on moves that are described as "spot reduction" when it comes to toning your stomach. Instead of chasing that myth, reduce your caloric intake and burn more calories through exercise. In addition, set up a resistance-training routine that works more than one muscle group.

Read more: The 41 Hardest Ab Exercises

Belly-Blast Your Cardio

Adding cardio to your fitness routine helps you support the gains made by improving your diet and adding resistance training. Aerobic exercise helps to burn more calories, which is important when you're working on muscle tone.

Because of cardio's fat-burning ability, the fat that overlays your stomach muscles can often be diminished more quickly if cardio is added to your diet changes and resistance training.

You may be able to speed up that toning by making at least some of your cardio high-intensity interval training workouts. These HIIT workouts, as they're known, alternate shorter bursts of energy output with slightly longer periods of moderate activity. (For example, sprint for one minute, jog lightly for three minutes and repeat this pattern for the length of your cardio.)

Doing a "HIIT job" on your fitness routine will raise your metabolism, which turns on your body's fat-burning, muscle-building mechanisms.

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