3 Steps to Stronger Abs

Have you lost your abs recently? Maybe you're noticing a "muffin top" or "beer belly" that needs to disappear? Or perhaps you just need that extra bit of definition to compete with Ryan Gosling's impressive physique. Good news: You can get a flat stomach, in three steps.

Step #1: Know Your Stomach

Your "abs" are not just one lump of muscle on your front side. In fact, your stomach muscles are made up of four basic groups:

  1. The rectus abdominis: One big sheet of muscle tissue that runs from your breastbone down to your pelvis.
  2. The external obliques: Run from your ribs to your hips in a forward direction (like you're putting your hands in your pockets).
  3. The internal obliques: Run from your ribs to your hips in a backwards direction (like your pants are on backwards, and you're putting your hands in your pockets).
  4. The transverses abdominis: Located deep in your abs, underneath the obliques, and is the one that may contract if you "squeeze" when you need to stop yourself while urinating.

To get a flat stomach, you need to work all of these muscles, and not just one of them.

Step #2: Divide and Conquer

Now that you know your stomach muscles, you need to focus on specific exercises for each of them, while also toning your lower back, which is actually very important in helping you get a flat stomach. Here are some exercises for each of the muscles:

  • Rectus abdominis: Choose flexing motions like crunches and crunch variations, V-ups, sit-ups and sit-up variations, hanging leg raises or knee-ups. Planking motions, such as any shown in these videos, are also quite good for this muscle group.
  • External and internal obliques: Choose twisting and rotating motions. If you rotate to your left, your left external oblique and your right internal oblique are doing the work, and vice versa. Twisting motions, as shown in these videos, include Russian Twists, Cable Torso Twists and the Wood Chopper.
  • Transverses abdominis: The transverses abdominis is really a support muscle, which means you can work this muscle anywhere, such as sucking in your stomach while you're driving in your car, sitting on an airplane or standing in line at the grocery store. You can also work this muscle group by doing front planks.
  • Low back muscles: Choose extending motions like deadlifts, bridges, low back extensions, back extensions on a stability ball or lying on your stomach and lifting all four limbs off the ground, Superman-style.

So, for a flat stomach workout (which you should do two to three times a week) you will need to include several sets of flexing, twisting, planking and extending exercises. Here's an effective flat stomach exercise routine.

Step #3: Lose the Fat

To get a flat stomach, you need to discover your abs, which means you need to get rid of layers of stomach fat that can accumulate on top of them. I know this is easier said than done, so here are some tips for burning stomach fat:

  • Vary your exercise routine. Weight training alone or cardio alone is often not enough to erase storage fat. Instead use a combination of weights, long cardio, intense cardio and cross-training activities to keep your body and metabolism guessing.
  • Control stress and get adequate sleep. Fluid retention and inflammation can be related to too much stress and not enough sleep, and can contribute to a puffy stomach, or a little extra padding on the waistline. Use stress-reduction techniques like yoga, don't spread yourself too thin and try to sleep seven to eight hours each night whenever possible.
  • Limit high-sugar, starchy foods, processed/packaged foods and alcohol to once per week. C'mon you can do it. Just try it for two to four weeks. You will be amazed at the flat stomach results you see when you combine this strategy with the others that I've outlined in this article.

Now that you know your stomach, how to divide and conquer and how to lose the fat, it's time to quit reading and start making your flat stomach plan. The summer is only a few short months away!

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Ben Greenfield is a fitness and triathlon expert and host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast on the Quick and Dirty Tips network. His book, "Get-Fit Guy's Guide to Achieving Your Ideal Body - A Workout Plan for Your Unique Shape," will be published by St. Martin's Press in May 2012.