20 Tips for Stronger, More Visible Abs
Engage Your Pelvic Floor
You've probably heard of Kegels before, right? (And maybe even kegel balls? Yep, that's a thing!) By engaging your pelvic floor—act as though you're trying to stop your urine midstream—before and during any abs exercise you perform, you better engage your transverse abdominals, which act as a girdle for your entire core. This helps give you a tighter midsection (and, eventually, a more toned stomach) all the way around. (Here are some other pelvic floor exercises all women should do.)
Focus on the Burn
Zoning out while working out? Been there, done that. Whether it's watching TV, thinking of a to-do list, or dreaming about what's for dinner, it can be tough to pay attention to the task at hand. By focusing on the exercise, you're not only less prone to injury (being distraction-free allows you to listen to your body), but you also engage the mind-body connection. Research has proven that putting your brain to work focusing on core activation actually increases muscle activity, and as a result, increases strength over time. (Related: Curious how to get abs fast? Real results take time, but this 4-Week core challenge can help.)
Close Your Rib Cage
In your average sit-up, you probably come up and down and don't think much more about the movement, right? To use this exercise to tone your stomach and better engage your core, when you lower down, pay close attention and keep your rib cage closed. This helps to "crunch" your abs more, engage your transverse abdominals, and keep your back safely supported. (Hate crunches? Stop doing 'em and start incorporating these 4 plank variations instead.)
Don't Hold Your Breath
Your core muscles need oxygen to work at full capacity, so be sure that you keep breathing. As a general rule, you want to inhale on the easiest part of the move and exhale when you have to exert the most force. (Way more important than how to get abs fast: Exercising safely and effectively. Learn how to breathe your way to a better workout.)
Work in All Dimensions
Your body doesn't just work in one plane of movement, so why should your abs? Instead of always doing crunches, include functional abs exercises that rotate, twist, and turn your body like you do in real life.
Just like you wouldn't jump in the deep end of the pool before you know how to swim, you shouldn't tackle a complicated or advanced core move on your first try. Start by working in a smaller range of motion (holding a plank for 15-20 seconds), and then as your core strength improves and you master proper form, make the move to larger and more difficult exercises. Here are 9 of the best ab exercises for beginners.
Add a Weight
Dumbbells aren't just for bicep curls! Like any other muscle, abs need to be challenged to get stronger. So if regular sit-ups aren't doing it anymore (or if you have to do more than 20 to feel the burn), add some resistance into the mix and watch your results multiply. This core-carving medicine ball workout is a smart place to start.
Always Warm Up Properly
A warmed-up core is a happy core. Because your abs are connected to your lower back, it's extremely important to start any workout with a proper warm-up to prevent injury. Prep those muscles for the challenge to come with some light marching in place and gentle standing rotation of your midsection. Try this quick full-body warm-up before any fitness class or at-home routine.
Walk the Plank
Again, training your abs is not all about sit-ups and crunches—especially if you're searching for how to get abs fast. For the best results, you need a multi-muscle group approach. The plank is one of the most complete core moves that works several different parts of your abs and your upper-body all at once. Take our 30-day plank challenge for your strongest core ever.
Picture a Grapefruit
One of the biggest mistakes people make when doing mat work for their abs is that they keep their head down, crunched toward their chest. This puts unnecessary strain on your neck and takes the focus off of your abs to perform the move. Every time you're doing abs exercises on the floor, imagine a grapefruit is lodged between your chin and your chest and don't let your chin lower to your chest. (Related: 7 Reasons You Might Not Be Losing Belly Fat)
As exercise physiologists study and better understand the core, more and more are recommending that we think of our core not just as the stomach and lower-back area, but also as our entire pillar (meaning everything except our legs, arms, and head). To really strengthen your core, fitness professionals recommend bolstering the muscles that tie-in to your pillar, like your glutes. One of the best ways to fire those glutes? Squats, so sign on for our 30-day squat challenge that will totally transform your butt—and body. (Don't be afraid to go heavy—lifting heavy weights helps you build a strong core, too.)
Train Your Lower Back
True muscle strength is all about balance. If how to get abs fast is the goal, many of us focus on toning our abs (the muscles we can see) and totally neglect our lower backs. This strength imbalance can lead to lower-back injury and pain. Here's a good rule to remember: For every core exercise you do that only targets your abs (read: isn't twisting, a plank, or involves standing—which all involve the back), pair it with a specific low-back exercise. Consider this 10-minute lower-back workout to balance things out and avoid injuries.
Try Balance Work
To see more definition quicker, incorporate balance work into your routine. Whether it's with a Bosu, a stability ball, a balance board, or simply just standing (or squatting!) on one leg, exercises that offer a balance challenge cause your deep core muscles to sign on for stabilization duty. Voila: a more effective ab workout. (Take the test: How Good Is Your Balance?)
Think speeding through your ab workout will speed up your results? Think again. To really feel the burn, try slowing down. By changing the speed of your abs exercises, you'll work your abs in a more targeted way that boosts strength and will get you a toned stomach faster. (Related: 7 Ab Exercises You Can Do Before Every Workout to Score a Stronger Core)
Tweak Your Diet
PSA: It doesn’t matter how many hours you spend in the gym each week. The only way to truly get a toned stomach is to lose some of the fat that's above your abdominal muscles. That means it will likely take longer than a couple of days or weeks to get the toned abs you're after.
If you're eating a not-so-healthy diet, it's going to be tough to see definition. Aim to consume a diet with plenty of lean protein, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. (Consider trying our Clean-ish Eating Challenge for more guidance.)
Give Yourself Adequate Rest
Just like other muscles, your abs need rest. While you can incorporate exercises that utilize your core in other ways, try to take a recovery day between days you directly work your abs. Rest helps give you muscles time to repair and get stronger! (Also read: Why Sleep Is the Most Important Thing for Weight Loss)
Change It Up
Are you guilty of doing the same ab workout day after day? If so, it's time to switch it up. In fact, for best results, you should change up your entire workout—including abs!—every four to six weeks. Not sure where to start? Start working your way through these toned ab workout routines.
Maintain Constant Tension
If you're short on time, here's an easy trick to get more for your ab-workout buck: Flex your abs and keep them that way throughout your entire core workout. Whether you're doing crunches, planks, or balance work, squeeze those abs as if you’re preparing for someone to punch you in the gut to get even more out of your usual moves. (Here's more on how exactly to engage your abs.)
Work Your Upper Abs Last
Many traditional ab workout moves target the top of your abs. Problem is, they neglect your lower abs and obliques. Try starting your workout with lower-ab moves like the Double-Leg Lower Lift and Bicycles, which both work multiple areas of your abs. Then, if you have time, end your training session with upper-ab work. (See more: Does It Matter What Order You Perform Exercises In a Workout?)
Take Yoga or Pilates
Many yoga and Pilates exercises are extremely good for building core strength. If you're tired of tacking traditional ab workouts on to the end of your cardio or strength session, trade your usual moves in for a yoga or Pilates class. Besides building core strength, these mind-body exercises can also increase your flexibility and reduce stress. Bonus! (P.S. These are the best yoga poses for stronger arms and flatter abs.)