“Is it true?” I was asked last weekend during a session, “that doing crunches make the stomach bigger?” Most of us want to flatten our tummy because having a small waist is associated with looking good. Having a smaller waist-to-hip ratio gives us an impression of good health. This is fundamental to why we also find people with smaller waists more attractive than people with pot bellies, for example. Our minds are unconsciously physically attracted to people who are in better health; although we may not always be accurate in judgement.
Different Tummy Shapes
It is not true that people with smaller waist-to-hip ratios are healthier or fitter than others. There are two situations to consider:
- If you are obese and have not been exercising, the larger your belly, the more unhealthy you are.
- If you are skinny-fat, that larger waist-to-hip ratio is also a warning that you should change your lifestyle.
- If you are lean, been exercising right and eating right, you waist-to-hip ratio does not matter, as long as you do not have high amounts of visceral fat.
How to Flatten your Tummy if You are Obese, Fat or Skinny-fat
If you have not been exercising, start. Your exercise should comprise of: 1. Strength training. Strength training builds muscles and increases your resting metabolic rate (RMR).
2. Walk everyday. Walk for about an hour everyday. You should walk with good posture and slightly brisk. Walking daily is snaps the body out of that sedentary state, and gets the blood flowing increasing the metabolism. This is different from running or doing cardio exercise. It should be done everyday including rest days and workout days.
3. Eat properly. Start by drinking nothing with calories (which means drink only plain water, black unsweetened coffee, tea, or diet soda). Cut all refined carbohydrates and sugar in your diet. Reduce your fruit intake. Eat more lean meat and vegetables. This three points alone, when you adhere to them carefully will help you lose fat around the belly. All you got to do is stick to it.
The Worst Exercise to Flatten Your Tummy if You’re Already Lean
There is no such thing as a bad exercise. All exercise is good. However some exercises can give you a bigger tummy than you’d like. Most of you will already know that this exercise is called “crunches”. Any exercise that makes you crunch will grow the muscles that are “crunching” — that’s true in most cases. So why are people still crunching so much? I don’t know. It is probably habit. Crunches come in many forms, these involve pulling the upper body and lower body together forward. This movement works the 6-pack ab muscles or Rectus abdominus. As you can see in the figure above, these muscles bulk up with this movement. Doing too many crunches will cause them to grow bigger, and your waist will look bulkier. That is why many bodybuilders, even, have big waists rather than small waists despite being lean.
Some people think that to get that “6-pack-abs” look, they have to work the Rectus Abdominus. That look comes with getting lean and losing the fat around the abs, not by building up the muscles. Hence there is no point in over-doing the crunches. There are reasons for exercising the abs, and that is to build strength in your core. The core is more than just the 6-pack muscles it includes all the muscles in the front, side and back of your trunk.If you aren’t taking any measures to get lean (like the points listed in the last section), doing crunches will just make you waist bigger. It would be a wasted effort.
Exercise for a Smaller Waist
If you are already lean, but find that your midsection is rather ‘bulky’, you’re probably not holding the abs in naturally. You can feel this when you try to “tuck in the tummy”. Tucking in flattens the abs and it looks aesthetically nicer. Most of us have this bulky belly look because the internal ab muscles (the muscles under the Rectus Abdominus, are hanging lose, and too relaxed. We also have not got the habit holding on to that tucked-in posture. The exercise most trainers will advice is a very simple move, and that is called ‘Vacuuming”. This “vacuum” abs exercise is useful for people who are already lean and just want to be able to tuck in their stomach muscles and look better. Doing vacuuming exercise also has benefits of improving the posture, and improving the form when doing workouts. Tightening the core muscles in this way stiffens and hardens the midsection, providing more control of the body as a whole. How to do this exercise: Level 1: Sit upright or stand against a wall or lie down. Take a deep breath. Exhale as completely as possible. Hold that breath. Suck the belly in. Push your navel in — navel towards the spine. Hold for 12 counts. This is quite uncomfortable, your throat will feel funny, but this is how it’s done. Level 2: Do everything in level 1, As you are holding the breath, contract as hard as you can, contract all your ab muscles as hard as you can (as if you are deflecting a punch in the stomach). Pull the navel in towards the spine and upwards towards the ribs. How often should you do this exercise? As often as you can. Make it a habit of doing this exercise 10-12 times a day, or any time you take a break from whatever you’re doing. Benefits of Vacuuming exercise:
- Improve the look of the body by flattening the belly.
- Strengthens the core
- Improves the posture
This is actually the secret of not only bodybuilders, but also runway models. It is a relatively painless ‘workout’ but frequency is key. Do it for a couple of weeks and it will become second nature (to suck & tuck in the belly). If you thing you need a reminder to do this exercise here is a tip: Wear a tight belt. Not too tight that it chokes, but tight enough that you need to suck in to feel more comfortable. Good luck and smaller waist to you!