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What Are The Best Ab Exercises To Help With Getting A Flat Stomach?

over 40 fitness Apr 13, 2022

As a fitness coach one of the most common questions, I get asked is how to improve the appearance of one’s midsection. Many people have been misled into believing that if they do hundreds of crunches and sit-up’s that they’ll end up with a tight, flat stomach.

The truth is that’s not the recipe! While crunches and sit-up’s can be part of well- balanced fitness regiment, you don’t have to do a ton of them, and they’re certainly not the path for fat loss. In my professional opinion, ab isolation exercises are just one piece of the total puzzle in building a strong core and flat stomach that functions as good as it looks.

Here is a summary of my position on ab training: 

  1. Most people are far too obsessed with traditional ab exercises (sit-up’s and crunches) and fail to understand the actual role your abs play in human movement. The primary role of your abdominal muscles is to stabilize the trunk (lumbar-pelvic region) so you can do useful stuff like climb over walls or use your legs and arms to lift heavy objects
  2. Understand that trunk flexion (as displayed with the crunch pattern) is a secondary movement pattern in ab function. Therefore, you don’t need to spend a lot of time doing this movement. While it certainly has benefits, those just starting out with a fitness regiment, and haven’t established a good amount of core stability, should focus on other movements like planks and chops until strength is developed. Even then, we want to be doing crunches and sit-up’s in a way so that we don’t overly recruit the hip flexors when performing trunk flexion. For example, we could do things like elevate the feet with a Janda crunch, or crunch up more vertically with movements like a stability ball weight plate crunch. Failing to stabilize the core with integrative movements can lead to further tightness in the anterior hip region and contribute to back pain, so you definitely want to be smart about your exercise choices.
  3. Understand that the abdominal muscles work in conjunction with the muscles of the posterior chain (lumbar, pelvic, and gluteal muscles). They ALWAYS work with integration with these other muscles during basic human movement patterns. Your abdominal muscles are never isolated with most movements you’d do in everyday life. Therefore, prioritize your time with doing compound lifts and core integrative movements first, then as time permits do some ab isolation movements if you’re ready for them.

  4. A lot of physiotherapists and fitness professionals have gone overboard with trying to target out the transverse abdominus (aka– the “TVA”) and other deep core muscles with specific exercises. While this can obviously be prescribed for corrective measures with some individuals, if you’re not undergoing physical therapy, look to work your entire core area with integration and you won’t have to worry about specifically isolating any one particular ab muscle. It will all take care of itself with the good balance of a mix of core training movements.

  5. Endless crunches and sit-up’s are NOT fat burning. Read that again slowly and let it sink in. Stop wasting time thinking you’ll remove that layer of fat over your stomach doing these exercises. If you want to remove body fat from around your stomach your recipe is a clean diet, resistance training, and some periods of caloric deficit.
  6. Develop trunk stabilization by doing exercises such as:

    - goblet squats
    - wheel rollouts
    - planks
    - side planks
    - front squats
    - dead bugs
    - cable chops,
    - Pallof presses
    - kettlebell turkish get-up’s
    - hollow rocks 
  7. Develop truck flexion strength by doing exercises such as:

    - Janda sit-up’s
    - stability ball weight plate crunches
    - band resisted tuck crunches
    - dead bug crunches
  8. Develop posterior chain strength with exercises such as:

    - kettlebell swings
    - deadlifts
    - RDL’s
    - Nordic curls
    - hip thrusters
    - reverse hypers 

Bottom Line

Truth be told, getting a strong core and a flat stomach doesn’t require you to ever do a single sit-up or crunch. Sure, there are variations that can certainly be valuable, but they’re not the end-all solution you may have thought. By doing functional movements with your strength training, you’ll be working the core without even knowing it. Think of the human body as one big kinetic chain with all the muscles working together. Replicate human movement patterns by reaching, rowing, pushing, pulling, squatting, and picking heavy objects from the floor. Do this and you’ll be well on your way to a strong core and a trimmer waistline.

Not sure on what exercises are best for you to do to safely and effectively help you get a flat stomach? This is where the counsel and assistance of a fitness professional can make a big difference. Don't guess on what you should be doing. Instead let a trained professional provide you with a personalized exercise prescription. Don't hesitate to let me know if I can be of assistance.

Shane Doll CPT, CSCS is a fitness professional and expert on exercise and body transformation for middle age and mature adults. He seeks to make a difference in the lives of others by providing instruction and coaching with a servant-based attitude. Since 2004 his Charleston personal training programs have helped over 3,000 Lowcountry residents.

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