Like so many other people, I started doing ab workouts with the innocent, uninformed hope that it would burn off my belly fat. I have since learned that ab workouts can burn calories and build muscle, but they won’t spot-reduce fat because that is, sadly, not possible. (If losing fat is your goal, though, here are 23 ways to actually make it happen.)
I didn’t know that back then, and in any case, I played sports and still had a teenage metabolism. I was healthy and fit; there was no need for me to lose belly fat in the first place. But since my stomach wasn’t absolutely flat, like I decided it had to be, I started implementing a one-ab-workout-per-day program that would, presumably, carve a perfectly toned core.
Over the years, research and my own experience confirmed that just doing ab workouts wasn’t going to give me the perfect midsection. Still, I’d gotten into a habit of doing 10-minute ab workouts almost every day, after sports games and runs. It wasn’t necessarily changing the shape or look of my torso – maybe because I was doing the same random, six-move circuit that a friend learned at her junior lifeguards Summer camp – but eventually I realized that I liked the feeling of just working my abs. For almost a year after graduation, running was the only workout I did, and completing an ab circuit before or afterward gave me a full-body workout feeling that I realized I really loved.
Doing ab exercises six days a week, plus implementing other workouts like high-intensity interval training (HIIT), strength training with dumbbells, and swimming alongside my runs, did eventually give me a more defined core. (Although there’s no need to do ab workouts so often; experts say three to four times a week is fine.) At this point, seven years after I first started working out my abs, I know that other things are more important if losing belly fat and getting a toned core are your goals – diet, in particular. But even though I’m not using it specifically to target belly fat, I still love doing core workouts. They’re valuable for other reasons, even if they won’t get you a perfectly flat stomach on their own.
Lay a Foundation For Other Workouts
How many times in the last few years have I been told to “engage my core”? The favorite mantra of every trainer and class instructor is actually a great piece of advice for seriously almost any workout. Having a strong core helps you with key movements both in workouts and in everyday life: walking, twisting, picking up objects. Once you start engaging your abs in every workout, you’ll feel the difference – stronger and more stable.
Wake Up Your Whole Body – and Mind
Finishing a core workout, even if it’s just five or 10 minutes long, just makes you feel good: fatigued and sore in a good way, and also mentally and physically energized. Sometimes I’ve sat down to do my bodyweight core workout, really not feeling in the mood for exercise, but by the time I’ve finished, I’m motivated enough to add in a few butt, leg, or arm moves. And if you sometimes wake up feeling bloated, like I do, doing a few quick ab moves can make you feel tighter and more comfortable for the rest of the day.
Back when I just wanted a perfectly flat stomach, before I even realized that I wanted to build muscle, simple bodyweight ab workouts made me feel stronger and helped me realize that I really liked that feeling.
Prevent Injuries and Back Pain
Following ab workout YouTube videos was the first time I heard how important it is to pull your navel to your spine during core work, especially when you’re lying flat on the floor; it makes you work your core harder, for one thing, but also prevents unnecessary back strain. Whenever I feel soreness in my back following a workout, I know my abs weren’t engaged, and I make a point to pull them in tighter and spend more time activating them during my next workout. Plus, a strong core improves your posture, which is also important for preventing injury. It’s all connected, and a strong core is where it starts.
My Favorite Ab Workouts
If I’m doing a HIIT or dumbbell circuit, I do these core activation exercises to get my core warm and engaged. If I’m preparing for a run or just want to get moving on a rest day, though, I have a few favorite 10-minute ab workouts, all of which are on YouTube. Click ahead to try them out for yourself, and remember that even though ab workouts won’t automatically get you a flat stomach, when it comes to feeling strong and centered, they’re a pretty solid choice.