Can women get 6 packs and if so, how can we crunch and cook our way to a set of our own?
With the popularity of high definition abs sky-rocketing over the past few years, celebrities and athletes alike have been seen taking middle management to the next level and swapping toned for ripped in the stomach stakes. From Jessica Ennis to Cameron Diaz, Vanessa Hudgens to Serena Williams, the flat stomach has been given a makeover of its own and the trend doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon.
So how do we get a six pack? We asked personal trainer Christina Howells of www.thatgirllondon.com for her weight loss tips and nutritional therapist Emma Olliff for her favourite flat stomach foods to provide a comprehensive masterclass in stomach sculpting. Beware though, it isn’t an easy journey. As Christina points out, “There is a big difference between being fit and healthy with a flat midriff and being shredded enough to see your abs.” She adds, “The bottom line is you need to hugely reduce your body fat whilst building lean muscle.”
Here are the six pack facts you need to know...
1. Clean and gene
If you’re on the quest for a six pack, a good starting point is to look backwards before looking forwards. “If a defined 6 pack or Victory V is what you want, then genetics most certainly play a role as we are simply not all made the same,” explains Christina. “Getting lean enough requires being prepared to work harder than you have before and for many, restricting your diet more than you probably thought. Other factors such as age, hormones, lifestyle demands, having children, sleep and stress all play a significant role.”
2. Man power
In the stomach sculpting stakes, it appears that our male counterparts may have the upper hand. It’s just how we’re built and it’s important to bear this in mind along with the added risks. “Men have the edge on women as they can generally take their body fat to a lower % without any effects on health,” Christina points out. “Women on the other hand can risk negative side-effects such as menstrual disturbances and infertility if their body fat reaches sub-optimal levels on a regular basis.”
3. Ab workouts that work
Contrary to popular belief, crunches alone will not guarantee a flatter stomach. A multifaceted approach is needed incorporating cardio, resistance training and most importantly, nutrition. For a fitness plan that actually delivers, follow Christina’s top stomach toning tip offs:
“Interval training 2-3 times a week, which is muscle-sparing and can help you burn fat and increase your fat burning potential for many hours after you have done the workout.
“Resistance training is essential ideally 4 times a week using free weights and bodyweight moves rather than machines and functional moves. These workouts burn calories, increase your metabolism over time and engage your core. Ending these sessions with low intensity cardio has a place in a fat burning regime but alone, it’s not my favourite route to take.
“When doing specific abdominal work diversify - planks for instance are a great way to learn abdominal stability and engage your transverse abdominals, but long holds are not really functional. Add some movement to your plank for variation. Traditional abdominal exercise can have a place in the 6 pack programme but rather than banging out 100s of reps, add some resistance to original moves such as Russian Twists. ( See how to do them here ).
4. Flat stomach food for thought
Abs are made in the kitchen and nutritional therapist Emma Olliff has provided just the recipe for bolstering our six pack diet plans and boosting our artilleries from the inside out:
a) How to eat: “Eat several smaller meals, around 5 or 6, rather than 3 large meals every day. The smaller meals will help to keep your hunger in check and keep your energy levels high. This will prevent you from overeating and eating the wrong types of foods that will add the flab rather than melting it away.”
b) Foods to include: “Your diet should be based around lean proteins, leafy greens and wholegrains with a moderate amount of healthy fats (think coconut) thrown in for good measure. The proteins and fats will keep you feeling fuller for longer and satiated. The leafy greens include loads of healthful nutrients including calcium - a study published in ‘Nutrition Journal’ in 2013 found that people who consumed extra calcium and vitamin D while consuming a low-calorie diet lost more belly fat over 12 weeks than those who did not consume the supplements while on the diet.”
c) Foods to avoid: “Foods working against you achieving your perfect 6 pack include refined carbohydrates, which encourage your body to hold onto fat – especially around the belly. Think white flour, sugar, pasta etc. My mantra to clients is: if it’s white don’t bite. A study published in a 2010 issue of the ‘American Journal of Clinical Nutrition’ found that people who consumed refined grains tended to have a larger amount of abdominal fat than those who consumed primarily wholegrains.”
d) Water, water, water: “I can’t state enough how important H2O is when it comes to shedding pounds and changing body shape. As well as hydrating you, it helps to suppress appetite, which means you are less likely to overeat. But that's not all. When you're dehydrated, your kidneys can't function properly, so the body turns to the liver for additional support. Since the liver is working so hard, more of the fat you consume is stored rather than burned off.”
e) Liquid calories: “These are calories you’ve inadvertently drunk from alcohol, smoothies, coffee with milk and sugar, sweetened juices, teas, and fizzy drinks which can really contribute to a flabby waistline. One recent study found that we Brits are getting approximately 21% of our calories from drinks. Basically when you are drinking highly calorific drinks, you don’t tend to compensate by eating less because most beverages satisfy thirst and don’t impact hunger.”
5. Six pack myths busted
Chiselled abs mean a strong core: “Paying too much attention to training your abdominals in isolation rather than in functional movements means you’re missing out on more efficient movement with a lower risk of injury. In addition, you can risk becoming too ‘tight’ in the abdominal region which can affect internal health,” says Christina.
A 6 pack means you’re healthy:“In fact being really lean can mean the opposite if you take it too far and can result in physical as well as psychological health issues.”
It just takes a bit more exercise: “It is certainly a misconception that if we exercise a bit more and change a few things in our diet we are going to get the Victory V. Sculpted abs are mostly made in the kitchen and the shopping list would be considered by many to be quite restrictive.”
Once you’ve got, then you have them: “This is simply not true for most of us and often the effort we put in is not sustainable. Small increases in body fat can quickly cover those results.”
Simply do more ab exercises: “Fat and love handles are a result of too much body fat and not a lack of abdominal muscles.”
You will have abs like the cover model: “Truth is your individual genetics will define how your abdominals look once you’re lean enough for them to become visible.”