7 Ways to Get Abs Fast Without Doing a Single Core Exercise
The stomach you've always wanted is there—reveal it once and for all with these expert tips for your lifestyle, fitness, and diet.
The good news/bad news on abs
Everyone—yes, everyone—has great abs. The bad news? “Though all humans have beautiful ‘six-packs,’ they’re often hidden beneath a layer of fat,” says Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, chief science officer at the American Council on Exercise (ACE) in San Diego, California. Thankfully, you can reveal those six packs without hours of sit-ups or crunches.
According to Bryant and other exercise pros we spoke with, the best way to lower body fat and get flat defined abs is to follow a healthy eating plan, prioritize rest and recovery, and tweak your workouts to get better results. Discover how trainers help their clients make these changes, so they can see results sooner rather than later. (While you’ve got trimming down on the forefront of your mind, check out these 13 quick weight-loss tips that nutrition pros swear by.)
Abs are made in the kitchen—almost every trainer we spoke with said a smart diet is the key to success. One easy way to improve your diet is to follow Revenge Body creator Lacey Stone‘s go-to formula: “I tell my clients to drink lots of water and eat four meals a day,” says the ACE-CPT Los Angeles-based celebrity trainer. “Each meal should contain a palm-sized serving of a lean protein like fish, 1/4 cup of complex carbs like quinoa or brown rice, four tablespoons of healthy fats, and as many non-starchy vegetables as they want.”
If sticking to an exact formula seems overwhelming, Bryant suggests to first cut meal portions by 20 to 25 percent. (These 9 genius portion control tricks for quick weight loss can help.) Once you’ve become used to eating less, then try transitioning to Stone’s approach to a balanced diet.
Make your cardio more challenging
If you’re already regularly doing cardio, that’s great; that means you’re ahead of the game when it comes to improving your cardiovascular health. But when it comes to fat loss, some cardio can help you get there faster. Trainers recommend HIIT—high-intensity interval training—a type of cardiovascular exercise that alternates between intense bursts of activity followed by a period of active recovery like walking or light jogging. “Studies suggest that this style of training can reduce waist circumference and abdominal fat, including visceral fat, which is stored around the organs and is associated with health complications,” says Rick Richey, National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) certified personal trainer and owner of the Independent Training Spot in New York City.
Never done HIIT before? Richey advises starting with a 1:4 work-to-rest ratio. “Go all-out for 20 seconds, and then go into an active recovery for 80 seconds. Do this seven times for a super-effective 12-minute workout.”
As for frequency, Stone suggests doing HIIT workouts three or four times a week, either on a spin bike or a treadmill. If biking or running is tough on your joints, Ajia Cherry, ACE-certified personal trainer, suggests an elliptical instead. “This allows my clients to reap the benefits without the impact,” says the Rochester, New York-based trainer. (Hate doing cardio? Don’t miss these five energizing workout playlists to make exercising less miserable.)
HIIT isn’t for everyone, though. Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise can give you many of the same benefits without the risk of orthopedic injury it poses for sedentary or overweight individuals. Talk to your physician before embarking on a HIIT program.
Make your life less convenient
Austin-based former personal trainer and boutique fitness studio owner Carla Birnberg has a different approach to exercise—one that doesn’t involve sprinting on a treadmill or bike, and she says at 48 years old she’s never been fitter—or had flatter abs. Her choice of cardio: walking. “This is something I do every day,” she says.” .Even if my schedule is super busy, I make time to get at least 10,000 steps by simply making my life less convenient. I’ll take the stairs, park far away from entrances, and pace during conference calls. Every little bit adds up.” For days when it’s not feasible to cram in 10,000 daily steps, this shorter routine has got you covered. And you can work up to the golden 10,000 by trying to increase your step count by 2,000 each day.
Steer clear of fake food
There are so many diets these days—Paleo, vegan, gluten-free—that it can be difficult to decipher which approach is best for your goals. But Birnberg says a specific diet isn’t necessary. When she was working with clients, she would tell them to simply stay away from fake, chemical-laden fare and eat more nutritious whole foods. “I don’t get behind any specific approach to eating,” she says. “I believe we need to find what works for us and I personally stick with foods that my grandmother would have recognized.”
(Psst! Don’t miss these other ten sickening secrets about processed foods.)
Stop doing crunches
“There is zero evidence that doing ab exercises like crunches or planks actually help to lose belly fat,” says Richey. Kelvin Gary, NASM-CPT, owner of Body Space Fitness in New York City, stresses the same message, saying you can see results faster by doing compound movements instead.
“When a client comes to me asking how to get abs fast, we’ll add a lot of movements that involve both upper and lower body at the same time. They might do squats combined with overhead presses or lunges paired with a row, for example,” he says. “These exercises raise heart rate, which increases calorie burn, helping you see faster results.” (Hate hitting the gym? This tiny change can make workouts way more enjoyable.)
Set aside more time for sleep
If you’re sacrificing sleep to squeeze in early-morning workouts, you may be doing your body more harm than good, says Jay Cardiello, a National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) certified personal trainer, who’s worked with stars like Sofia Vergara and Jennifer Lopez. “Skimping on sleep can cause the body’s levels of leptin to drop. Leptin is the hormone that tells your brain that you’re full. So when you don’t have enough of it, it sends a message to the brain that there’s a shortage of food and increases your appetite,” he explains. “Do your waistline a favor and make sleep a priority. Seven or eight hours a night is ideal.” Try some of these seven essential oils for a good night’s sleep (and three to avoid).
Make some hard choices
“It doesn’t matter if you do core exercises all day long if you’re indulging in bread, dessert, and wine on your ‘cheat days,’ ” says Cherry. “You will continue storing abdominal fat. Pick one and truly savor it. This will allow you to enjoy life without overindulging.”
Nutritionist Jim White RDN, an ACSM certified personal trainer and owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios, seconds Cherry’s strategy, but he believes you will see results even faster by giving up alcohol. “Since alcohol provides little nutrition and is straight empty calories, I negotiate with my clients to reduce their intake at least by half. Each serving of alcohol that they eliminate per week helps them cut about 150 calories.”
- Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, chief science officer, American Council on Exercise, San Diego, California.
- Lacey Stone, certified personal trainer, Los Angeles, California.
- Rick Richey, certified personal trainer and owner, Independent Training Spot, New York City.
- Ajia Cherry, certified personal trainer, Rochester, New York.
- Carla Birnberg, former personal trainer and fitness blogger, Austin, Texas.
- Kelvin Gary, certified personal trainer and owner, Body Space Fitness, New York City.
- Jay Cardiello, certified personal trainer, New York City.
- Jim White RDN, owner, Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios, Virginia Beach, Virginia.