Six-pack abs are considered by many to be the epitome of health and physical appeal. Getting that muscular, defined look for your belly requires a combination of a healthy, low-calorie diet, cardio exercise and strength training, focusing on the abdominal muscles. How many calories you need to consume will depend on your basic daily needs and how much you exercise, in addition to how much weight you need to lose. Consult a doctor before beginning any exercise or weight-loss regimen.
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You need to consume a certain number of calories every day to sustain basic bodily functions, such as breathing and cell production. This number is referred to as your basal metabolic rate, or BMR. In addition to your BMR, the number of calories you need to maintain your weight will be determined by your amount of activity. For example, a 31-year-old sedentary female should consume 1,800 calories a day to maintain her weight, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If she is active, her caloric needs go up to 2,200 a day. If you need to lose weight, you will need to create a calorie deficit by expending more calories than you consume.
If you have extra fat in the abdomen, you will need to reduce it before you can start to see the muscles beneath. Abdominal exercises will tone the muscles, but they won't get rid of fat any faster. The only way to get rid of the fat is to focus on an overall weight-loss program. It takes an excess expenditure of 3,500 calories more than you take in to lose 1 lb. of fat. The best way to do that is by following a healthy, low-calorie diet and exercising. Keep track of your caloric expenditure and consumption in a journal to help keep you focused.
While watching calories is the key to weight loss, eating a healthy diet will help keep the fat off and provide you with the nutrition and energy you need to work out. According to "Newsweek," foods such as tart cherries, whole grains, monounsaturated oils -- such as olive oil -- and nuts and seeds can help lead to a flatter belly when consumed in moderation. Lean meats and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables should also be consumed. Avoid foods high in fats and trans fats, added sugar and cholesterol.
A consistent cardiovascular regimen can help you get washboard abs, according to personal trainer and health expert for Military.com, Stew Smith. Walk, run, bike or swim four to five times a week, 30 to 45 minutes a day. Work at enough intensity that you sweat and increase your heart rate. Start slowly if you are just beginning to exercise or have not exercised in a year or more. Walk for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, and then gradually work your way up to more vigorous activity.
Crunches and advanced crunches will work the majority of the abdominal muscles and should be done when just starting out. Hanging kneeups, cross-over crunches and hip rollers -- twisting to both sides keeping your shoulders on the floor and staying in the bent-knee position when rotating left and right -- should also be included and will provide variety and keep the muscles from burning out. Once you have built up some strength, add situps to your routine. Start by doing each exercise 10 repetitions at a time, and gradually work your way up to more. Do exercises for the abdomen every day, but rest for a day if your muscles are sore.
In addition to your abdominal workout, perform a workout for all the major muscle groups -- chest, triceps, biceps, hamstrings, quadriceps and back -- at least twice a week on non-consecutive days. Do one set of eight to 12 repetitions for each muscle. For example, do one set of bench presses or pushups to work the chest muscles. Working the back muscles along with the abdominal muscles keeps the body in balance and helps maintain proper posture. Building lean muscle in the rest of the body boosts the metabolism, and builds endurance and strength.