You think the old adage ‘no pain, no gain’ is totally true when it comes to your abs? Not so, says Paige Waehner, a Chicago-based personal trainer. There are plenty of ways you can engage your core all day long for fitness and weight loss — without hours of mat work at the gym or at home. With these tips, you can work your way to flatter abs while you’re on your way to work, while you’re at work, and when you’re relaxing at home. Even better, these eight moves are simple enough that they’re the perfect starter routine for any fitness level:

  1. Take five for morning fitness: Ballerinas are known for their flat stomachs, so spend five minutes copying this dance move when you get up in the morning: Stand to the left of a chair and rest your left hand on the chair’s back. Keep your legs together. Touch your heels, and point your toes out to form a triangle. Lift your right arm straight up, reaching for the ceiling. Now hinge forward at the waist, round your back, and reach your right hand toward the floor, touching it if you can. Holding the position, tighten your abs, bringing your belly button in toward your spine. Exhale and slowly lift yourself to the starting position. A complete repetition should take about 20 seconds. Do five repetitions in all, adding more reps as you feel stronger.
  2. Work your core as you commute: Driving to work or taking public transit? Do some isometric contractions while on your way. Pull your abs in and contract without holding your breath. Hold for a few seconds and then release. Here’s a good way to be sure you do it enough to benefit: “Repeat for at least two songs on the radio,” Waehner says.
  3. Stretch at your desk: Once you’re at work and at your desk, try these seated rotations. Hold a full water bottle, paperweight, or small hand weight between both hands. Sit up tall and keep your hips and knees forward. Slowly rotate the bottle from one side of your body to the other side, concentrating on contracting your obliques, Waehner advises. Extra: If you squeeze your weight of choice as you rotate, you will engage your chest.
  4. Try side bends before lunch: “This is a great one to do at work when you need to stretch,” Waehner says. Stand up and reach your arms overhead, pressing your palms together and keeping your arms straight. Stretch up and lean to the right as far as you can, focusing on contracting the left side of your waist. Come back to the center and lean to the left, focusing on contracting the right side of your waist. Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds. Sure, you might get some strange looks from your co-workers, but once they realize how good this stretch feels, they just might join in.
  5. Do leg lifts in line: Sneak in this move while waiting in line at the cafeteria or in the grocery store. Stand with your feet 2 to 3 inches apart. Engage your abdominal muscles so that your spine is stable and straight. Slowly lift your left leg 3 to 6 inches off the ground and balance on your right leg. Try not to sway from side to side as you hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds. Return your foot to the ground and repeat with your right leg. Aim for an equal number of repetitions with each leg before you reach the head of the line.
  6. Move in the mid-afternoon: Here’s another ab workout you can try mid-afternoon at your desk: Stand up and put your hands flat on your desk, directly under your shoulders. Keeping your back flat, walk one foot back and then the other until your body forms a straight line. “You should look as though you’re going to do a push up,” Waehner says. Now walk your feet in towards your desk. Repeat for 60 seconds or more.
  7. Add abs after dinner: When you’re at home relaxing, get off the couch, and grab a stability ball, one of Waehner’s favorite fitness tools. For this workout, lie on the ball, positioning it under your lower back. Place your arms behind your head or cross them over your chest. Tighten your abs, and lift your torso off the ball. As you contract your stomach muscles, pull the bottom of your rib cage down toward your hips. Lower back down to stretch your abs. The ball forces your legs to do more work than just doing floor crunches, Waehner explains. Plus, maintaining your balance on the ball will force you to engage your entire body for balance.
  8. Exercise before bed: Lie down on the floor on your back with your legs straight out. Slowly bring your right leg up toward the ceiling as you lift your left arm as well. Cross your leg over your body so your toes touch your fingertips (or get them as close as you can). Lower and repeat with your left leg and your right arm. Go slow so you can control the movement, and do as many as you can in five minutes.

Sneak these ab exercises into your day and you’ll start to see results. But, Waehner notes, remember that for a truly flat stomach, it takes more than exercise alone. Don’t forget to exercise regularly and eat a healthy, balanced diet while burning more calories than you consume. For more fitness, diet, and nutrition trends and tips, follow @weightloss on Twitter from the editors of @EverydayHealth. You’ve been working your core since high school and still can’t see your abs. It’s a common complaint: The elusive six-pack is one of women’s most frustrating fitness conundrums. But—get this—the solution isn’t planking for hours on end. It’s burning fat. «You can do all of the crunches you want, but unless you are addressing fat, you are going to be spinning your wheels,» says certified strength and conditioning specialist Tony Gentilcore, cofounder of Cressey Performance in Hudson, Massachusetts. Now, that’s not to say crunches, planks, and cable chops can’t strengthen your core muscles—which is important if you want a tight, flat stomach—but core strengtheners don’t burn the little layer of fat that sits between your abs and skin. No matter how strong you get your core muscles, belly fat has the potential to mask them from sight. Most women need to get their body fat percentage down to about 20 percent to uncover the abs they’ve worked so hard to strengthen, says Gentilcore, but that exact number is a little bit different for every woman since each one carries her fat in different areas. If you don’t carry it in your belly, consider yourself lucky. Remember that lower isn’t always better, though. Having too low of a body-fat percentage (generally about 16 percent or lower) can cause your estrogen levels to drop, your periods to cease, and your bones to weaken, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.

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preview for Women's Health US Section - All Sections & Videos Also (and while it’s completely unfair!), it’s important to keep in mind that it’s easier for men to sport a six-pack than it is for women. «Women’s hormones program them to have a higher body-fat percentage than men,» says Gentilcore. So if you’re doing the same workout as your boyfriend and his stomach is more ripped than yours, don’t beat yourself up. So how do you actually get your body fat percentage where it needs to be? Here’s how Gentilcore recommends prioritizing your plan of attack: 1. Nutrition
You need to burn more calories than you’re taking in to burn fat, and the most efficient way to do that is to practice clean eating, he says. Why? Think of it this way: To shave 500 calories from your day, you could either forgo that whipped cream-topped blended coffee beverage or spend about 45 minutes sweating it out on the treadmill. Which one seems easier to you? MORE: 4 Foods That Burn Belly Fat 2. Strength Training
Multi-joint exercises like squats, rows, bench presses, and lunge variations are crucial to a six-pack. «These exercises train a lot of muscles, meaning you’ll have to work harder [than if you performed isolation moves],» says Gentilcore. You’ll also burn crazy calories both during and—since building muscle boosts your metabolism—after your workout. Bonus: Performing multi-joint moves requires you to use your core muscles to brace yourself and keep correct form, which means you’ll sculpt your abs while you’re burning fat. Still, when focusing on strength training, it’s important to incorporate core-specific moves, such as planks and cable chops, so that you have toned muscles to show off once that fat is burned. MORE: A 5-Move Workout to Fire Up Your Muscles and Boost Your Metabolism 3. Cardio
Getting your heart rate up is vital for your health, but when it comes to burning calories and uncovering those abs, it’s far less efficient than proper nutrition and strength training. Plus, compared to strength training, cardio tends to burn a greater number of calories from muscle. That said, you shouldn’t leave cardio out of your abs-training plan entirely. Circuits and high-intensity intervals can also help you carve a killer core, and they burn more calories (and in less time) than steady-state cardio. MORE: 7 Reasons To Try High-Intensity Interval Training

  • A strong core is a coveted sign of fitness — but you don’t need a six-pack to be healthy.
  • If you are working on your abs, focus on good nutrition and consistency, one personal trainer says.
  • Prioritize compound exercises like deadlifts and squats instead of crunches and curls.

Something is loading. Thanks for signing up! Access your favorite topics in a personalized feed while you’re on the go. A strong core not only looks impressive on the beach, but it also helps you have better posture and avoid injury during workouts. Abs are a coveted symbol of fitness, but getting them can be frustrating if you rely on misinformation and false advertising instead of evidence-based advice. Trying to gain a muscular midsection by spending too much time on spot training — or looking for a quick fix — can take you further from your goals, according to Irving «Zeus» Hyppolite, personal trainer and founder of House Of Zeus in New York. Instead, you should dial in your nutrition, keep your workouts consistent, and include a good mix of cardio and strength training for best results in the shortest time, he said.

Don’t try to spot-reduce fat. Focus on good nutrition instead.

It’s a myth that you can spot-train, or reduce fat in certain areas like the stomach, by targeting them with exercise. To make the muscles of your core more visible, you have to focus on your overall body composition, the ratio of body fat or lean muscle mass. That means good nutrition is key, particularly as the weather warms up and more people are enjoying picnics, outdoor cocktails, and more. «People throw caution to the window in the summer with events and barbecues, which is fine, but we want to make sure we’re managing nutrition,» Hyppolite said. To reduce body fat, you must be in a calorie deficit, which means you burn more calories that you consume, on average. How you do this can vary, and some diet strategies for fat loss are easier and more sustainable than others. Without a plan, though, no amount of exercise will make your abs pop. «If you’re eating wrong, it doesn’t matter how many sit-ups you do. You’re not going to get the look that you want,» Hyppolite said.

Target every part of your core

When most people think of an ab workout, they tend to picture sit-ups, crunches, or maybe leg lifts. But those exercises only hit a few of the muscles that make up your core, according to Hyppolite. For well-defined abs, you need to work on your entire midsection, including your sides (obliques) and lower back. Mountain climbers, Russian twists, and side planks are great exercises that Hyppolite recommends when working on these often ignored areas of your core.

Lift weights

If you want abs, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is avoiding the weight room. Hyppolite said weighted exercises like deadlifts, squats, and rows are some of the best ways you can work your core muscles. Using a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells forces you to stabilize your whole body to control the weight throughout the movement, which is great for building a rock solid core and full-body strength. As a bonus, big weights also burn more calories, which can help if you’re trying to lose body fat.

Don’t forget cardio

Another mistake people make is relying on hours of running or lifting weights alone. If you’re trying to shed body fat to reveal your abs, you want the best of both worlds. «People don’t do enough cardio,» Hyppolite said. «Keep functional strength training in your workout, but end with some cardio, even if it’s just a walk. That way you maximize your calorie burning.»

Be consistent

Even the best workout and nutrition plan won’t work if you can’t stick to it. To get results, make sure you can keep putting in the work, week after week. «The first step is creating a consistent schedule,» Hyppolite said. If you’re trying to make major progress in a relatively short time, like a few months, aim to work out for about an hour a day, five days a week, he said. A sample workout would include a warm-up, strength training such as squats and rows, a few circuits of core exercises, and about 20 to 30 minutes of cardio at the end of your workout to maximize calorie burn.

Set realistic goals, and stick to them

It’s also helpful to plan out what you want to achieve, how much time you have to do it, and track your progress. «It’s about managing your expectations. Some people are picking up the gym really late and want to lose 50 pounds by June,» Hyppolite said. For reference, the average person can safely lose about one to two pounds of weight per week, or about eight pounds a month.

Don’t overdo it

Finally, and most importantly, recognize that fitness progress takes time, and you’re not a failure if you don’t have a six-pack for the summer (or ever). Spending too much time and effort on getting ripped for summer can backfire, causing you to feel worse and burn out. To avoid getting stuck in a cycle of trying to lose weight and regaining it, it’s important to be patient with yourself and accepting of where you are right now, Hyppolite said. «If people get hard on themselves, they’ll do a crash diet,» he said. «There’s got to be a level of self-care. Summer’s gonna get whatever body you give it.»

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