We’ve all got areas that we wish looked a little different. A little smaller, perhaps. Or bigger. Or more toned. And whilst exercise definitely isn’t just about the aesthetics, you’d be forgiven for wanting to work towards something that will make you feel more confident in yourself.
The stomach is an area a lot of us struggle with. We all have different ways in which our bodies distribute excess fat. It will go to the thighs for some, the face for others, and for many, the place it likes to make itself at home is the stomach. This leads to it looking a little less toned than the rest of our body.
So, if you’re looking to firm up around the tummy and get your abdominal muscles working, here’s some advice on the workouts and machines for abs you can use to get that core a little stronger.
How do you tone your stomach?
Being ‘toned’ is a common goal. But it doesn’t really have much to do with your fitness. Knowing what you mean when you use the word ‘toned’ helps you figure out what you actually want to achieve and how to get there.
Toned means lean, which means having a low percentage of body fat. This can be achieved in two ways. By either increasing the amount of muscle you have or decreasing the amount of fat you have. Both impact the percentage of your total body weight that’s made up of fat.
Resistance training to condition the muscles will help you create a more ‘toned’ appearance. You can effectively increase your muscle definition on your legs, back, arms, and chest with some weight training. However, the stomach is a little bit different.
For most people, to reveal a ‘toned’ stomach or six-pack, you need to have a low body fat percentage. You could have the strongest stomach muscles in the world, but if you have an average amount of body fat in this area, your tummy won’t look like a washboard.
It depends where your body naturally distributes its fat stores. And that’s something you can’t control. To achieve a more toned appearance of the tummy, you’d need to find your balance of increasing muscle mass and decreasing body fat.
How do you reduce stomach fat?
Storing fat around the stomach is normal. It’s where most people, particularly women, hold onto those all-important fat reserves. It doesn’t mean you’re overweight, unhealthy, or reflects your fitness in any way.
If you’re one of those people who tend to hold it there, reducing body fat would be the way to reveal the muscle you have underneath.
The only way to reduce body fat is to create a calorie deficit across a prolonged amount of time where you burn more than you consume. You cannot choose where this fat will be lost from and at what rate. If you are looking to lose weight in general and hope this will begin to reduce from around your stomach, you need to start with creating that calorie deficit. This can be achieved through decreased calorie intake (food) or increased calorie output (exercise)—ideally, a healthy bit of both.
But you might not want or need to lose weight. Everyone is different, and there’s no set rule for when and why you should try to lose fat in the stomach area. If you’re fit and healthy, have a think about whether more visible stomach muscles is really worth it. It all depends on where you naturally distribute your body fat, but for some people, having a six-pack would mean needing a significantly, potentially dangerously low body fat percentage that wouldn’t be recommended by a health professional.
It might be better to focus on increasing muscle instead. If you’re looking for a stronger core and abdominals with more endurance, the gym is the place to do that. There are plenty of machines and exercises you can do to tone your stomach. The end result will hopefully be a firmer-looking tummy.
How do you tone your stomach at the gym?
Engaging and working the muscles in the core and the abdominals is the way to tone the stomach.
There are four main stomach muscle groups. The transversus adbominis, rectus abdominis, external oblique muscles and the internal oblique muscles. They combine to cover and protect the internal organs. You need to be working all these muscle groups with your exercises to progress muscle mass growth.
The best exercises are always ones as they target more than one muscle group at a time. The reality is, there are lots of exercises that will work your core when your not even aware of it. The deadlift, for example, is a superb exercise. It not only works your glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, and traps, but it also works at least two of the four muscle groups in your stomach. It’s a hidden tummy toner.
Chances are, you’re probably working your stomach muscles in the gym with your usual full-body workout without even knowing. So, there’s no need to go over the top and dedicate whole sessions to your abs alone.
The key is knowing which exercises are worth your time and which ones aren’t. The standard crunch, for example, is seen as the go-to ab exerciser, but in reality, doesn’t fully engage all the muscles in your core. Remember, your core and your abs are not the exact same thing.
The best exercises you to work the muscles in your stomach:
The plank is a well-known, killer compound exercise that works your rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis as well as additional muscles in your lower back and shoulders.
The side plank:
The side version of the plank targets your transversus abdominis and gets your external and internal obliques involved, which means your working the sides of your stomach and the front. It also engages muscles in your glutes and legs.
You can do a Russian twist with or without a weight. You can place your feet on the floor to make it easier or hover them above the ground to make it harder. This exercise engages all four abdominal muscle groups plus your lower back and upper back.
What gym machines work your abs?
If you’re not keen on floor workouts, there are many ways to work your core by using the machines at the gym.
The Captain’s Chair
The Captain’s Chair is perfect for leg raises which will work your rectus abdominis and external obliques. Hanging leg raises can also be done on parallel bars or a dip station. Protect your lower back by not arching it as you lift your legs. Try not to swing your legs and keep control by engaging your core as you continue to raise and lower your legs to a 90-degree angle.
The Sit Up Bench
The sit-up bench can look like a scary piece of equipment, but it’s a great way to do your sit-ups and make sure you’ve got the correct form by keeping your legs in the right place. Sit-ups only really work the rectus abdominis, so make them a finisher for your core workout rather than the star of the show.
The Rowing Machine
Although it’s not traditionally an ab machine, the rower is an excellent piece of equipment for mixing it up with your core exercises. You won’t actually be rowing on it.
From a plank position, place your feet on the seat of the rowing machine. Move your legs towards you and out again, tucking your knees into your chest as you come in. Although tricky, this is arguably the best machine you can use for your stomach as it will target all four abdominal muscle groups.
So, when trying to tone your tummy, think a bit more about exactly what it is you want to achieve and why. If you’re looking for exercises and machines to work the muscles in your stomach or just want to try something new, there are plenty of options in the gym to get you where you want to be.
With Hussle, you can make your fitness flexible. Use any gym in our network whenever you want. Stop and start whenever you want. Fit fitness into your life, not the other way around.