Having a flat stomach or more commonly, "washboard abs," is not just accomplished by working out daily, it has to become an all-encompassing lifestyle. The key components are healthy diet, cardiovascular training and abdominal exercises. If a movie-star stomach is your goal, you must realize that to achieve your goal, you have to concentrate first on what you eat, not how many sit-ups you do in a day. Of course, as with any fitness and health goal -- nutrition and exercise are always the main ingredient.
1. Healthy diet
The most important factor in acquiring washboard abs is eating a healthy diet. Here is a list of recommended healthy ways to help you lose a few inches:
-- Drink at least three liters of water per day (100 ounces)
-- Eat five servings of vegetables and fruits per day
-- Eliminate fried foods and cheese
-- Eliminate processed sugar (for example: sodas, cookies, candy)
-- Eliminate fatty red meat; only consume lean red meats (1-2 times weekly)
It is recommended to lower calories to a range of 1,500-2,000 calories a day, but you must exercise rigorously, both with abdominal exercises and cardio work.
2. Cardiovascular exercise
Washboard abs, getting lean and losing weight are tied into a consistent cardiovascular workout program. You should do 30-45 minutes of activities like walking, running, biking or swimming daily 4-5 times per week. It takes about four weeks before you start to see the physical benefits or your diet and exercise program. You will see almost immediate results in your energy level and overall mental alertness when exercising daily. Start off slowly if you have not trained with much intensity in the past several years. A good way to get started is to walk or run with the following six-week program:
Week #1: Walk/run one mile a day for five days a week
Week #2: Walk/run two miles a day for five days a week
Week #3: Non-impact week; bike or swim for 20-30 minutes a day
Week #4: Walk/run two miles a day for five days a week
Week #5: Walk/run three miles a day for 4-5 days a week
Week #6: Walk/run four miles a day for 4-5 days a week
Note: Week #3 is non-impact due to the high number of injuries that occur to legs (knees, shins, feet, hips) during the third week of beginning a walking or running program.
3. The one simple exercise
The 10-second crunch is probably one of the best beginning exercises for firming up the belly. Simply lie on your back and lift your shoulder blades off the floor and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat this at least for 10 repetitions. Try repeating the 10-second crunch for 10 repetitions morning and night for starters. Also, stretch and flex your lower back for a few minutes after each set in order to balance the muscles that support your torso.
However, a variety of abdominal exercises will help build the muscles under the fat. Now lose the fat by watching your diet and cardiovascular exercise, and you soon will see the muscles!
Below are some beginning, intermediate and advanced abdominal exercises. Sample ab exercises are the following:
Bring your knees as high as you can as shown.
Advanced crunch (legs up)
Lie on your back with your feet straight in the air. Keep your legs straight in the air for the advanced crunches. Cross your hands over your chest and bring your elbows to your knees by flexing your stomach. (Do not do if you have a previous lower-back injury; place your feet on the floor)
In the same position as the regular crunch, lift your knees and butt toward your elbows. Leave your head and upper body flat on the ground. Only move your legs and butt. (Do not do if you have a previous lower-back injury.)
Add the regular and reverse crunch together in one motion. You will feel this one twice as fast.
Right elbow to left knee
Cross your left leg over your right leg. Flex your stomach and twist to bring your right elbow to your left knee.
Left elbow to right knee
Same as above; just switch sides. Cross your right leg over your left leg. Flex your stomach and twist to bring your left elbow to your right knee.
This exercise will help you build your abs, back and hips to help with long ocean swims and balance out the exercises for hip flexors. Twist to both sides, keeping your shoulders on the floor and stay in the bent knee position when rotating left and right.
Note: Any time you work your abs, you also should exercise your lower back to build balance in your torso.
Lie on your stomach with your arms extended over your head. Lift your right arm and your left leg off the ground at the same time and repeat for specified number of repetitions. Switch arms/legs and repeat.
Lower-back exercise (swimmers)
Lie on your stomach and lift your feet and knees off the floor by flutter kicking repeatedly as if you were swimming freestyle.
Advanced abdominal exercises: Do not do if you are a beginner. These exercises are not healthy for weak or injured backs. If you cannot do the above swimmer exercises for one minute, do not attempt these exercises.
Lie on your back with your arms crossed over your chest, keeping your knees slightly bent. Raise your upper body off the floor by contracting your abdominal muscles. Touch your elbows to your thighs and repeat.
With your hands on your hips, lift your torso off the ground higher than a crunch but not as high as a full sit-up. Your middle/lower back will be on the floor still at the up position.
Place your hands under your hips. Lift your legs six inches off the floor and begin walking, raising each leg approximately 36 inches off the ground. Keep your legs straight and moving. This is a four-count exercise.
Lift your feet six inches off the floor. Raising both legs approximately 36 inches off the ground, keep your legs straight and off the floor until the specified number of repetitions are complete.
Lie on your back. Lift your feet six inches off the floor. Open and close both legs approximately 36 inches apart. Keep your legs straight and off the floor until the specified number of repetitions are complete.
Lift your feet six inches off the floor as if you were doing a leg lever. Pull your knees toward your chest while simultaneously lifting your upper body off the floor. This is a mix between the sit-up and the leg lever.
Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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