Mind over Muscle

A female body-trainer’s words of wisdom on flat abs

By Tara Leyden

Over 80% of the people that come to me in the gym for advice want a flat tummy. Let’s point out first that we women tend to have a naturally slightly rounded tummy. This is because our muscles bend out to give space for a baby.

Also let's get realistic... many of the fitness models with amazing abs have dieted down for a photo shoot, they don't all necessarily have those flat abs all year round. Even as a competitive bodybuilder I certainly don't...in fact if I tried to maintain my bodybuilding cut up look all year I wouldn't be healthy, I wouldn't be able to pack on any decent muscle and finally I wouldn’t be happy... food is a major part of my life... I love to eat!  

 Now let’s get to the crunch of the matter and I'm not talking ab crunches here... if you're carrying a lot of body fat then no amount of ab toning exercise is going to give you those trim, toned, flat abs. Sorry but it is just not going to happen. In fact if you're holding a lot of fat around your midsection and then you add in a load of ab crunches in an effort to tone and build muscle, chances are that you will make your tummy appear bigger!

 Exercise is important but I would say diet is the most crucial factor to achieving the abs you want. Many of us don't realise the amount of calories we are consuming each day. When I'm cutting for a show even I get surprised at how little a recommended portion weighs. My porridge oats are a good example... yes, they are a healthy form of slow release complex carbohydrates with many health benefits, but too many in a serving means packing in extra calories that I may not need. Off season I pour them in my bowl without too much concern of quantity, add in some milk, nuts, dried fruit, drizzle with honey and before I know it I can be up to almost half of my daily intake of calories!

When I actually start weighing them out while cutting I'm shocked at how little a 40 gram portion is... are my eyes too big for my belly? Maybe! But the truth is we can all be guilty of adding in the extra bit of something we enjoy on our plate bumping up those extra calories, which can keep those pounds of fat stuck firmly in place. So my advice is to track what you're eating for a week or two, this will give you a starting point to working out which foods you need to cut back on. 

Now you may not be carrying much body fat but still don’t have the flat toned abs you want. Note that sugary foods and too much salt can cause excess water under the skin which may make you feel and look bloated so again look at your diet first. Also, if you've had a baby or lost a considerable amount of weight then you may not be carrying extra fat but you may have loose skin on your abs. This loose skin won't go away with any amount of dieting but by building a certain amount of muscle underneath may help tighten the skin up.

Core exercises will obviously help to tighten and tone the abdominal area but you don't need to do hundreds and hundreds of sit ups each day. When training your abdominal muscles, as with any other muscle in your body, make sure your mind is in tune with the area you are working. I say it over and over to people when training them, ‘mind to muscle, mind to muscle’.  So do exactly that - engage your mind to the muscle. Don't rush the moves, don't stick with a certain number of reps. Instead focus on getting each move right. Experiment and find out what works for you and what you feel comfortable doing. If you're carrying a lot of excess fat around the tummy area then stick with exercises like the plank which will help strengthen and tone your whole core area without making you appear thicker around the midsection. 

Also, focus on your posture. Slouching makes your belly pop forward. Walk tall with your shoulders back and when you think about it pull those abs in. You may not feel comfortable with your body yet but by walking tall you will look better, appear slimmer which in turn will bring you compliments and thus increase your confidence. 

 My main tip which applies to your whole body not just your abs is to get to a place where you feel comfortable about yourself and get perfection out of your mind. What is perfection anyway?  We all perceive it as something different, and if we actually knew what it was for sure and could get there, then we would all be the same and have nothing left to strive for... how boring that would be! Just be realistic with your goal and finally be happy with who you are right now... being happy in your own skin puts you in a positive mind set which will motivate you to make the changes you would most like to see in yourself. 

 Coming up soon from Tara! Don’t miss her 3 favourite ab exercises followed by 3 favourite exercises to tone those glutes.

 For more on Tara find her on Facebook.

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