Updated: Jun 14, 2021
If you want to flatten your belly, forget about those "Get abs in 10 days!" YouTube videos. Those videos get views by being catchy and making grand promises that they can’t fulfil. Their priority might be getting more views rather than helping you achieve results.
Instead of doing 100 sit ups and getting all sweaty, you should choose a smarter way to make a change, one that lasts for the rest of your life: sort out your LIFESTYLE and your POSTURE.
I know that sounds boring, but if you skip these basics while jumping straight to other fitness trends, you’ll end up wasting your time. Such fast changing fads do sound more attractive - that’s the intent of their marketing - but people tire of them quickly and move on to the next trend, and no one will remember them in a few years.
Improving your lifestyle and posture will have way bigger impacts on your muffin top than sit-ups.
I learned the painful way that such basics work the best and last the longest. So before you make the same mistake as me, let me tell you the most effective method to make your core strong and to get a flatter belly.
Work on the 3 layers of your belly separately
When it comes to the mid-section, "training abs will reduce belly fat" is a myth. Unfortunately, our body is not simple enough to apply this equation.
Doing hundreds of sit-ups might make your ab muscles bigger and more defined, like your biceps grow with weight training, but it doesn't get rid of the blanket that's covering your precious abs so no one can see them. The problem here is Subcutaneous fat.
If you would like to work on your muffin top, there are 3 layers to your mid-section that you need to work on separately. By understanding more about these layers, you can find the best approach for your body.
Knowing what you need and why you need it is the first step: work smarter, not harder.
1) Subcutaneous fat
Subcutaneous fat is the layer that you can grab with your fingers. Although this is always subject to the individual, generally speaking, it is essential to reduce total body fat percentage in order to get rid of this subcutaneous fat. And to do that, lifestyle improvement is essential. You can be suspicious about the exercise videos that ignore this part. They might help you reach your goals in the end, but you will be taking a roundabout way to get there.
Why an entire lifestyle change? Your lifestyle affects your hormone balance, inflammation, blood circulation, organ functions, metabolism, and more. Doing a whole lot of ab workouts without changing your lifestyle will take you much longer to reduce your subcutaneous fat layer.
So, instead of looking for more exercise options, start working on improving the balance in your diet, improving sleep quality and quantity, finding time to manage your stress levels, drinking more water, and improving your work-life balance.
Subcutaneous fat is one of the outer-most layers of your body, and blood circulation there is poorer than in other areas. When the body temperature is low, it affects the circulation which will lead so it’s quite important that you cover your belly and keep it warm. It’s actually during summer that it’s kept the most cold because we wear just a T-shirt and sit in an air-conditioned room.
2) Visceral fat
Visceral fat is the layer that’s located underneath the subcutaneous fat and ab muscles. You can’t grab this one. If you gain this fat, your risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes will increase, so you should reduce this not just for the sake of your clothing size, but also for your health.
Because this layer is located deeper in your body, it’s kept warmer and surrounded by lots of blood vessels. Therefore, blood circulation is better than subcutaneous fat.
When you start exercising and improving your lifestyle, results tend to be seen the most and the fastest in this section. Like with subcutaneous fat, you need to reduce your total body fat in order to reduce this layer, so the lifestyle improvements mentioned above will be essential.
3) TanDen (Abdominal muscles , Obliques, Transversus abdominis )
In Japanese, there's an area of the body called the TanDen, meaning "the centre of the body". It's a few centimetres below your belly button, and in Eastern cultures this physical centre of gravity is also where internal energy comes from. Martial Arts practitioners have to master using their TanDen as it gives physical and mental energy, and is a part of their discipline.
Anatomically speaking, there are 4 layers of core muscles in the TanDen area, made up of the abdominal muscles, 2 layers of obliques, and the transversus abdominis. In English, using your TanDen is often described as engaging your core. But using your TanDen is more than just muscular strength, it's also habitual.
Your TanDen can be only used correctly when you have good posture: when your spine is in a natural position, your tail bone is tucked under, and your rib cage is closed. This means that even if you do thousands of sit-ups, if you have bad posture for the rest of your day, you are not strengthening your TanDen.
When you stand with good posture, it should almost feel like you are ready to be punched in the stomach. Your TanDen pushes your organs back to where they need to be, which makes your belly flat and your body operates correctly. As long as you are engaging your TanDen, any physical activities become core exercise. Standing, sitting, walking, running, lifting, and even lying down.
When you don't use your TanDen, it's like blowing up a balloon without realising that there's a hole on the other side. It’s not useless to train your abs, but even if you train them, what’s the point if you don’t use them? So, make sure to engage your TanDen 24/7 even outside of the gym in order to build core strength and get a flat belly.
What approach do you need?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer for this “how to get a stronger core and flatter tummy” journey. It makes me frustrated, because easy, simple, catchy messages are used quite often in this industry just because they attract people, not because they benefit people the most.
Please keep in mind that your body is not that simple. If it were that simple, there wouldn’t be any disease we couldn’t cure. There wouldn't be any under-weight or over-weight people in the world. There wouldn’t be any misunderstandings about our bodies.
I guess it’s the same in other industries because we see ads everywhere saying, “you can earn more money just by doing this small thing!” or “you can speak Spanish within a month!” and crazy things like that. We know that actual success requires far more effort than that!
So to finish: look at your own body, understand its unique qualities of your body, and troubleshoot to find basic things that you are not doing, so you can work out the approach that you need the most. To work smarter, you need to analyse what isn’t currently working before jumping into a new fad.