Although we hear endlessly about the desire for washboard abs, in reality, we're not meant to have an absolutely flat abdominal area (so don't go sucking in your belly all day).
There are actually three keys to keeping the abdominal area (relatively) flat:
1. Overall reduction of body fat
2. Training the muscles
3. Your digestion
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Overall Reduction Of Body Fat
There is no magic way to spot reduce the fat away from your belly (or any other region of your body, for that matter). You can reduce your overall body fat by watching your diet and exercising with a mix of cardio (to burn calories) and strength training (to build muscle that'll help you burn more calories throughout the day).
Abdominal exercises alone are not big calorie burners. So the best way to obtain a flat belly is to train your core in its entirety.
Training The Muscles
Your core has two components: The rectus abdominus (the six-pack area) and the obliques (the love handle area). There are also the muscles you don't see -- which are your deep-core stabilizer muscles.
It's important to strengthen your lower back and glutes (your butt) when trying to flatten your belly. A weak behind can make your abs stick out.
Try these exercises to train your entire midsection:
Planks: Front and side planks work all portions of your belly and back -- they also stimulate your glutes.
Bicycle: Named one of the world's top ab exercises by the American Council on Exercise, this one works your entire core, especially your obliques.
When it comes to your digestion, even a slight disruption can cause swelling and discomfort in the abdominal area (which can cause distention).
Carefully examine your diet and keep it filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and plenty of fresh water. This will help keep you regular and your belly flatter.
Sarah Brown is a very healthy woman. She's a fitness instructor at GoodLife in Toronto, where she teaches Body Pump, Body Flow, Cycling, Bootcamp and yoga – and a registered holistic nutritionist.