How to Get Awesome Abs

I have a confession: I do not have flat abs. I know how to get flat abs, and I’ve certainly had them in the past – but my latest nightly indulgence of red wine and cheese dip coupled with a knee injury has made the whole process difficult. But they will be back. Soon. Notice I didn’t mention crunches. Hmmmmm….

That’s because CRUNCHES ALONE WILL NOT GIVE YOU FLAT ABS. I apologize for shouting, but it is unbelievable how many people think this is true. Unless you are seventeen or blessed with extremely low body fat, you need to spend less time overall on abdominal exercises and focus more on lowering total body fat through aerobic exercise and diet.

Consistent cardio exercise

Consistency is key. Going for a leisurely stroll once or twice a week is better than doing nothing, but it probably won’t help you lose weight. You have to make cardio exercise a habit, and that means 4 or more days per week, for at least 30 minutes per session. Any activity that gets your heart pumping in your target heart weight zone is acceptable. If you love the outdoors, try running, cycling, speed-walking or hiking. If you like to workout at the gym, most machines are great – try the elliptical, stationary bike, rowing machine, or treadmill on an incline. You can even exercise at home with fitness DVDs – Collage Video has a great selection.

Tips to get through tough cardio sessions

Start small – it can be hard to get started if you’re primarily inactive, or have taken a long hiatus from working out. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re at this point! Try about 10-20 minutes per cardio session, and work your way up to 30 minutes. It won’t be long before you’re completing 40- to 60-minute cardio sessions most days of the week.

Switch it up – some days I will do 30 minutes on the stationary bike, and 30 minutes speed walking on an incline, while other days I will do 45 steady minutes on the elliptical.

Alternate high intensity exercise (either high speed or heavy resistance) with recovery periods – this is one of the best tips and has been proven to burn the most fat.

Make a good play list on your mp3 player – I’ve said this many times and it never gets old. Certain songs just pump me up, and I’m sure you have your list as well, whether they are shake-your-booty dance numbers, or angry metal jams, they get you moving!

Take a class – there is something to be said about communal exercise. Friends keep you motivated and can even boost your confidence!

Healthy, Nutritional Meals

Did you ever think you could flatten your abs by eating more? The best flat belly diet is to eat five to six mini-meals throughout the day. These smaller meals, eaten every three hours, boost metabolism and help keep you satiated longer. Always plan your meals ahead of time and include a fiber-rich carb and lean protein with every mini-meal. Also, make sure to plan and pack all of your meals the night before, so you’re not tempted to visit the vending machine or convenience store for something sugary and fattening!

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Oatmeal (with or without additional protein power)
Cold cereal with skim or soy milk
Protein shakes or smoothies (pre-made or make your own)
Scrambled egg whites or egg substitute on whole-wheat toast
Hummus with whole-grain crackers
Granola or protein bar
Tuna made with low-fat mayonnaise on whole-grain crackers or whole-grain bread
Lean deli meats (turkey, chicken, ham) on whole-grain bread with mustard
Peanut butter and jelly on reduced-sodium rice cake
Light cheese on whole-grain crackers (try Laughing Cow spreadable cheese)
Salad with black beans and salsa vinaigrette (mix salsa and red wine vinegar)
Half avocado and half cucumber, tossed with lemon juice and 1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
Yogurt or cottage cheese
Apple or banana with peanut butter
BLT made with Morningstar Bacon substitute, lettuce, tomato, and light mayonnaise
Morningstar Recipe Grillers (ground beef substitute) sautéed with diced tomatoes
6-piece sushi meal with miso soup
2 soft tacos made with whole-wheat or corn tortillas, shredded chicken or black beans, lettuce, tomatoes, salsa and fat-free shredded cheese
Lentil, minestrone, or homemade cabbage soup with whole-grain toast
Grilled/baked chicken breast or fish with steamed vegetables or salad

Finally, the crunches

Abdominals are mostly endurance muscles, so you shouldn’t train to increase in size as you would a bicep or quadriceps muscle. Perform only 15-20 repetitions of each exercise – and don’t worry if you don’t see results right away. It takes a consistent program of cardio, healthy eating, and ab exercises to get a flat midsection!

A research study commissioned by American Council on Exercise found the following ab exercises to be most effective:

Bicycle Maneuver
Lie on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground and place your hands behind your head. Bring your knees to a 45-degree angle and slowly “pedal” your legs in a bicycle motion, bringing your left elbow to your right knee, then your right elbow to your left knee.

Bicycle Maneuver

Captain’s Chair
Grip the hand holds and place your elbows on the padded arm rest. Hold your body up, with legs dangling below. Slowly lift your knees in toward your chest with a controlled motion:

Captain's Chair

Stability Ball Crunch
Sit on a stability ball with your feet flat on the fall. Walk your legs out until they are parallel to the floor, and the small of your back is resting firmly against the ball. Cross your arms over your chest, contract your abdominals and raise your torso no more than 45 degrees. To challenge your obliques, make the exercise less stable by moving your feet closer together.

Stability Ball Crunch

Reverse Crunch
Lie on the floor with your lower back pressed on the ground and place your hands behind your head or extended at your sides – whichever feels most comfortable. Cross your feet at the ankles and lift your legs off the ground, forming a 90-degree angle. Press your lower back into the floor as you contract your abdominals and tilt your hips upward, as if you’re trying to place your feet flat on the ceiling.

Reverse Crunch

Photos courtesy of American Council on Exercise

Finally, it’s important to remember that one crunch does not fit all. If you find something you like, and stick with it, you’re bound to see the results you want!

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27 Responses to “How to Get Awesome Abs”
  1. Gretchen says:

    Good article! I see people at the gym all the time doing SO many crunches and it seems insane.

  2. Becki says:

    I know…crunches are good, but you need cardio as well, or you’ll never see those nice muscles underneath!

  3. beanbomb says:

    Bows and toes and the plank are good too! After you do some crunches get down on your elbows and toes almost like a push up and just sit there as long as you can, the plank is the same idea except you’re on your side! those really put it on you and don’t forget the Bat wings!

  4. Becki says:

    The side plank is one of my favorite exercises for the obliques. Stack your ankles/toes, hold yourself up by your left arm — it should be directly under your shoulder — and your right arm goes straight up in the sky, forming a straight line. Make sure your hips aren’t sagging! You will feel the burn. Try holding for 30-60 seconds and then switch sides.

    The bat wings remind me a lot of the Captain’s Chair. Great for lower abs (although technically you can’t isolate — I feel the burn more in the lower portion).

  5. Sarah says:

    The tacos sound easy and healthy! Do you have any tips for making shredded chicken?

  6. Becki says:

    Yes I do! I don’t eat meat anymore, but when I did, one of my favorite things to make was shredded chicken. I made it in a crockpot. I added 4 chicken breasts with some lemon juice and diced garlic and let it cook all day. When it was done it was very soft and shreddable. I would make this on sundays and then keep it in the fridge for quick salads/wraps/tacos all week long!

  7. BunnyGirlG says:

    Great pointers!! Crunches alone do not work for me….believe me I’ve tried!

  8. Nadine says:

    It totally makes sense that you have to burn off the fat FIRST before you can even see the stomach muscles. It is funny how people don’t know that. KICK UP THE CARDIO people!
    I really do find that the right iPod music play list does help. When I listen to mine, it is funny how time flies by sooooooo fast!

  9. mlm guru2 says:

    Oh eye c, good knowledge.

  10. Michael says:

    Nice set of exercises there.

    I agree, abs are made in the kitchen not the gym, but you still need to choose the correct exercises. I wrote about the secret to sexy abs recently, hope you don’t mind shameless self promotion :-)


  11. MizFit says:

    AMEN AMEN on the not-by-crunches-alone.


    is that clip art or you?
    if it’s you I need you to come to TX and show me the light/way.


  12. Becki says: is certaintly not me…but thanks for the vote of confidence!

  13. MizFit says:

    I think (*scratches head*) you are supposed to say:

    why yes.
    that IS me.
    thanks for noticing and I charge 1298374628764.00 per hour to get you the same abs.

    (but I mightcould be wrong :) )


  14. Ian says:

    Actually, cardio isn’t really all that useful. It’s overkill, makes you more prone to injury, and is matched in effectiveness by proper strength/resistance training.

    Useful analysis here:

  15. @ Ian
    “Actually, cardio isn’t really all that useful.”

    I have heard that in more than one place. However, In my personal experience with over 20 years of weight lifting, I did not start slimming my “beer belly” until I started doing 30 minutes on the elliptical machine. I really started slimming noticeably after I started “running” ( actually a slow jog ) up to three miles at a time resting for a tenth of a mile between each mile.

  16. Becki says:

    I agree with Ian that strength training is important and effective in raising metabolism and keeping weight off for the long haul. However, I agree that cardio is most effective when it comes to the belly, especially if you have a beer belly, or buddah belly as I like to call it :) Several personal trainers that I know have recommended running or speed walking on an incline for getting rid of the belly!

  17. beanbomb says:

    I don’t know why everyone slams cardio?? the heart is a muscle and the only way to strenghthen a muscle is to make it expand and contract, to strain it. You cant do heart curls! Raising and lowering your heart rate is the only way to really stress the heart and as far as fat burning, when I huff on the treadmill I could burn off fat in my neck! Now some people tend to overdue cardio,you don’t need 3 hours of it but I think it’s still important and should be combined with a good weight training program. Looks like this thread is getting controversial, i love it :)

  18. SEO says:

    thats great

  19. KC says:

    Well, there are 3 factors to being toned. 1)The amount of myofibril(muscular) hypertrophy(enlargement), 2)The amount of fat, 3) Your CNS(Central Nervous System)’s natural contraction of the muscle.
    Cardio is good because it pushes into your oxidative phosphorylative energy system (this is usually when you breathe heavy/feel out of breath), and will remove fat. However, there are 2 things you missed that can help a lot.
    As far as looks go, your best bet is to remove the fat (like you’ve said), but it also looks better if naturally and automatically contracted somewhat. The abs (especially upper) tend to be more of a stabilizer rather than a mover. By doing more isometrics (like the plank) and walking/sitting/standing with good posture, you’ll put a stabilizing work out on your abs, and train your CNS to naturally contract them like that more.

    Most people, though, overlook actual hypertrophy. By enlarging the muscles, you not only increase their capacity for weight/workloads, you allow them to show more. Using methods that only allow for 1-5 repetitions before you can’t do any more will lead to larger strength/hypertrophy gains. Holding barbells in your hands while doing crunches, making the workload higher is an example. Just like putting ankle weights on while doing leg lifts.

    Low fat, high protein.
    Stabilizing exercises
    Hypertrophy exercises

    This is how you’ll get even better abs than the ones you want.

  20. KC says:

    Also, metcon(Metabolic Conditioning) can get you there if you don’t like that dreadful thought of running, or perhaps you want to take it easy on your joints. Metcon is when you string different exercises together at suboptimal reps (40-60% of your maximum), do them in circuits, and give yourself very little rest time in between. It exhausts your energy pathways VERY quickly, faster than jogging will.
    Example, if you don’t understand(not perfect, just to give you an idea):
    10 pushups
    10 sit ups
    10 squats.
    Don’t wait more than 5-10 seconds in between each circuit (set of all three exercises) and do 3-5 circuits. You’ll feel drained and haven’t even left your living room floor.
    This also provides different opportunities for working different muscles than just legs (like in running)

    If any of you have any questions about this, I can explain in more detail
    AIM: Whoa KC

  21. KC says:

    I really don’t want to monopolize this article, but I have one final tip for overall well being and training.
    Quadrupedal movement is one of the best exercises you can do for general fitness.
    You have to be on all fours (not knees, feet). By moving around like this, you use lots of different muscles at once (more endurance based, but will see some minor strength increases due to the CNS adapting to the motion).

    -You can walk in a bear crawl (when your butt sticks high in the air) and this is how most people might do it. However, you actually want to be lower to the ground, and spread out a little more. (Almost think like Spiderman). You’ll have to toy with it and find out what works best for you, but keep your back/butt level and don’t let your butt stick in the air too high.

    You get a strong workout for your legs/hips/triceps/deltoids/pecs/back/abs. Plenty of other little muscles used here and there. I can’t explain to you just how amazing this exercise is. Do it up stairs, down stairs. Walk with it, gallop with it, jump with it. [Although for social acceptance, I'd recommend keeping it to the home =P]
    I also want to note that it really helps with overall body awareness and proprioception(control/stability/balance/coordination…Your ‘mindbody’)

    So, if you have goals, set up a routine to reach them.
    You should still do this on the side.
    But especially if you don’t have anything specific in mind, and just want a general workout (and it’s pretty fun actually), this is amazinglysuperfantastic for you. Try it. =]

  22. Thanks for the great article.

    Our designers at have reformatted this article into a hand-designed PDF file designed to be printer-friendly.

    Anyone who wants a copy can find it here.

    Hope everyone finds it useful!

  23. dave says:

    Oh why does everyone hate running so much? I hate every other kind of exercise, running is really the only thing i can do on a regular basis.

  24. emmyalex says:

    the easiest thing to do is to get lean by doing cardio and strength moves continuously. you don’t need to kill yourself with the same old moves either. i get new moves all the time from fitness magazine. they have a great tank top workout in their september issue and i love their fit at any level workouts.


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