You Can Get a Toned Tummy Without Hating Your Life—This Is How

Emily Ratajkowski walking along the beach in a crop top

According to Google, thousands of people type “how to get abs” into the search engine every month, especially from January through to August (after that it’s all knitted layers and joyful carb-loading). The thing is, if you’re not genetically predisposed to having a lean midsection, it can be tricky to find your abs (mine have been missing since birth). “Having abs all year round, unless genetically gifted, can be tough, so don't put yourself under too much pressure,” says personal trainer, Linda Adamson.

While hipster jeans and belly bars of the days of Britney Spears may not be du jour, flaunting a toned tum on Instagram à la Emily Ratajkowski appears to be today’s goal. But how can we locate our abs while not becoming a miserable shell of the person we once were? Apparently it is possible.

Now, look: Let’s get real for a moment. You will need to make some sacrifices. You can’t do a few sit-ups while still mainlining doughnuts and expect a six pack to show up beneath the fallen pastry crumbs, but it doesn’t have to be all doom, gloom and lettuce for lunch.

We called on three trainers to share their top tips on how to get abs once and for all.

1: Start With Your Diet

Young woman drinking healthy green juice
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Don’t Crash-Diet

The route to success is to plan your diet. There is a saying in the fitness industry that “abs are made in the kitchen,” and it’s true. If you know what you’re eating each day, you’re less likely to mindlessly eat that biscuit in the cookie jar at work. To get abs, the key is to make smarter choices and eat the healthy foods you really do love, so you don’t feel like you’re denying yourself too much. In other words, “no crash dieting,” emphasies Adamson, “or cutting out food groups. Cutting out carbs, for instance, will just cause you to bloat when you do eat them! Instead, try cutting out refined carbs like sugar, pasta and bread, and having rice and potatoes instead.”

Rows of glazed donuts
Tim Boyle / Getty Images

Limit Your Sugar and Fat Intake

Joe Spraggan, head trainer at F45 Farringdon, recommends you avoid “processed or refined sugars, as these can cause an insulin spike in your body, which can stop you burning body fat.” 

“There will have to be some level of initial sacrifice if you want to achieve what others don’t have,” says Leo Savage, PT at Third Space. “So the extra cookie or the weekly takeaway will have to be forgotten about on the quest to your goal.”

You also need to watch your fat intake. “Steer clear of trans fats, and even too much of the healthy fats. You can have the most healthy food in the world, but having too much of it can make it unhealthy,” adds Savage.

A dish of healthy, colorful food
Claudia Totir / Getty Images 

Focus on What You Can Eat

Spraggan suggests you focus on what you can eat rather than what you can’t. “Increase natural real foods; eat meals made from simple ingredients. If it doesn’t grow in a field, walk, swim or fly, don’t eat it. Eat lots of green vegetables, and include protein with every meal. A study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that eating protein can keep you fuller for longer, reducing the need to snack.”

Egg over salmon and avocado toast
Alexander Patari / Getty Images

Load up on Protein

In fact, all three trainers said that protein is your ally in the quest to find your abs. Adamson suggests front-loading your day with protein. “Load up on foods rich in protein, especially at breakfast, not only will they keep you fuller for longer and stop snack attacks later on in the day, but protein also has a thermogenic effect in the body as it burns more calories to digest,” she adds.

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Drink With Caution

“I always say my weekends live on my waist,” says Adamson. “Fizzy drinks and alcohol will put a lovely little layer of fat over those abs every time.”

Savage recommends you sacrifice alcohol altogether, but if you do want a drink, “make smarter choices.” “Stay clear of sugary drinks, which silently add up and creep up on you. Clearer spirits hold fewer calories,” he says.

Wine should probably be off the menu, just while you’re focusing on your abs, “A large glass of wine can contain 228 calories, which can take up to 30 minutes in the gym to burn!” Spraggan tells us. As for nonalcoholic drinks, Savage says water is key. “Stay hydrated. Water is a powerful tool when it comes to weight loss,” Spraggan adds.

To rev up fat loss, there is no “special pill,” says Adamson, but she does recommend green tea, which can help.

2: Mix Up Your Training

To gets abs, you should do ab exercises, right? Well, sort of. Targeting your abs will sculpt shape and create definition, but you need to look at the bigger picture. “To lose the layer of fat concealing your abs, cardio is best for creating a calorie deficit,” says Adamson. “I suggest a light fasted cardio in the morning; not a heavy class or bootcamp, but a 20-minute uphill walk, light jog or cycle before breakfast will do the trick.” Adds Savage, “Focus on full-body movements like squats and deadlifts. Exercises that require your big muscle groups to work to fire up your metabolism.”

3: Don’t Stress

Woman walking in park with a coffee cup
 adamkaz / Getty Images

You don’t need to go hard or go home at the gym. Stress can cause a spike in cortisol, which is known to cause the storage of fat around the belly, so balance is key. If you’ve had a stressful day at the office, a walk outside or a yoga class will probably do you more good than thrashing it out in a boxing class.

"The best way to find a balance and help to keep cortisol levels in check is to make sure you mix up the types of exercise you are doing each week,” says Spraggan. At F45, we deliver cardio-based HIIT sessions on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and strength sessions on Tuesday and Thursday with an additional combination session on Saturday. This gives your body the chance to recover one energy system before we train it again. "Plenty of rest and recovery time are also important to keep you healthy. A yoga or Pilates class or a walk in the park can help to lower both mental and physical stress levels."

Ensure you're getting a nice mix of HIIT, LISS (low-intensity steady state) cardio, weights and yoga each week and a couple of rest days too.

4: Do These Moves

Woman working out with medicine ball
 Artem Varnistin / EyeEm / Getty Images

Now that you’re targeting fat loss, as you start to lean out your middle, you can use focused ab exercises to enhance ab definition. For this, Spraggan recommends these three moves:

Crunch and Reach: Lay on your back with legs extended and arms raised above your head. Simultaneously lift your legs to 90 degrees from the hip, and reach your arms towards your toes, lifting your upper back away from the floor squeezing the upper abdominals. Lower your arms and legs, and shoulders and repeat.

“This exercise is great because it uses a large range of movement and targets both upper and lower abdominal muscles. It can be used as a dynamic exercise and therefore can increase your calorie burn during a workout.”

Medicine Ball Twist: Sit with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the floor. Lean back slightly, keeping your chest lifted and shoulders back. Hold the medicine ball with extended arms and move the ball from the floor on one side to the floor on the other side. Repeat this exercise in both directions. Lifting the feet can add a greater challenge.

“This exercise targets the obliques and lower abs while strengthening your lower back. It's a great movement to tone the stomach as it uses a twisting motion and also helps improve your balance.”

Swiss Ball Jackknife: In press-up position, place a Swiss ball under your shins. Draw the knees towards your chest, and lift your hips high to roll the ball towards the ankles. Extend the legs and lower the hips and repeat.

“The instability provided by the Swiss ball stimulates more muscle fibres in your abdominals and will give you a better workout for your entire core. It will improve coordination, and it uses your whole body, which will help to increase your calorie burn and reduce stomach fat while toning.”

5: Tackle Water Retention

Woman in workout gear smiling with a water bottle in her hand
 The Good Brigade / Getty Images

Water retention is the enemy to a lean, toned stomach. To counteract this, Adamson recommends “dandelion tea or capsules and apple cider vinegar shots, as they can help with water retention stored around the middle.” And drink plenty of water (it really is key!). “You can fight water retention by drinking even more water, as crazy as it sounds!” Adamson adds.

And Remember…

“Revealing your abs isn’t always easy, but it shouldn’t be a battle,” says Spraggan. “Consistency is key, so make sure you stick to the diet plan and exercise routine you choose. Writing down the rules you have chosen can help to make sure that you hold yourself accountable and will drastically improve your success. Make sure you are tracking your progress and results so that you don’t lose sight of your goals. You need to love and respect your body to see the benefits.”

Next up, 10 ab exercises you totally have to try.

Opening Image: Hunza G.

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