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Published on August 29, 2018

5 Killer Stomach Workouts for Impressive Abs

5 Killer Stomach Workouts for Impressive Abs

Having a well-chiseled six pack is the ultimate fitness goal for many people. And it’s okay if you want some as well.

Having a strong core is of vital importance – not just for aesthetics, but also for improved strength and overall health.

But there’s a problem – many people never succeed in carving out the core of their dreams! For some people, the problem lies in their approach to working out, while others have got their feeding wrong. Either way, there’s a remedy and you can commence your journey to an impressive six pack – starting today!

In this article, we’ll go over the role nutrition plays in carving out the body of your dreams, as well as non-sexy reasons for having a strong core.

I’ll also be sharing some proven stomach workouts and core exercises that’ll help you carve out an impressive ab and then I’ll cap it up by revealing the fool-proof formula for carving out that magazine-worthy core that you desire. So, be sure to stick around to the end, okay?

Why you need rock-solid abs

Believe it or not, there’s actually more to having a strong core than just good looks. Core muscles are required for just about everything we do on daily basis, from sitting, to walking, running and throwing things around.

Before we go any further, though, you should probably know that there’s more to core muscles than just the abdominals (abs), it also includes hip and pelvic muscles, as well as mid and lower back muscles. All these muscles work synergistically to support movement and maintain stability. Here are some benefits of having strong core:

1. It helps your posture.

When you engage in core-strengthening exercises, the thorough working of the torso helps to maintain a balanced posture. The posture balance in turn helps to reduce the risk of vertebrae degeneration and disc herniation…in other words, bad conditions for your spinal cord.

2. It reduces back pain.

Having a strong core also helps to alleviate back pain by providing adequate support for the spine. Research has also revealed that having strong core muscles reduces the risk of back injury during workouts.[1]

3. It improves athletic performance.

You’re going to have a hard time finding a sport that doesn’t rely heavily on core muscles for effective performance. From running, to rowing, baseball, football and tennis, every sport you could possible think of engages the core in one way or the other.

So, if you’re planning to become an athlete, then strengthening your core is absolutely indispensable.

4. It makes life easier on-the-job.

Life will become a whole lot easier for you on the job if you can manage to strengthen your core. And the reason is simple – just about every activity you engage in at work engages your core…from standing to lifting, twisting and even sitting.

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So, if you’d like to be a bit more comfortable and energetic at work, then strengthening your abs and back muscles would be a great place to start.

Nutritions you need for impressive abs

Alright, before we dive into which exercises you should start focusing on, let’s talk about the most important factor in building an impressive figure – what you eat.

If you’re a frequent gym goer, then chances are that you’ve overheard this common saying among gym rats – “abs are made in the kitchen.” Well…they’re not wrong!

Doing 1,000 crunches per day won’t give you magazine-worthy six packs if you’ve got your nutrition wrong. Okay, here’s how it works:

Ab exercises are aimed at strengthening your core muscles, not revealing them.

In other words, you may have a strong core, but until the fat layer above it is torched, it will stay hidden.

This is why your first course of action should be weight loss…which begins with a proper diet.[2] Your daily diet should contain the right amount of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).

So, in order to save yourself a whole lot of frustration and headache down the line, you need to ditch junk foods and start eating clean foods.

5 Amazing stomach workouts for rock-solid abs

Before diving into the specific workouts that will finally send your abs out of hiding, there are a couple of anatomical jargon you need to be familiar with. These are just fancy names for the muscles that make up the abs and they are:

  • Rectus abdominis (front abs commonly known as six-packs)
  • Internal and external obliques (side abs found around the waist).

Got it? Great! Keep those in mind because I’ll be mentioning them a lot in the coming paragraphs.

Now, let’s move on to the actual workouts:

1. Crunches

Regardless of the negative media crunches may have received over the years, one thing is for certain – it works…when done correctly!

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Crunches are great for eliciting muscle activity in the rectus abdominis and this helps greatly in strengthening those muscles.

How to do the traditional crunch
  • Lie on your back, bend your knees and place your feet closely together and flat on the floor. You may want to hold on to something with your toes to make it easier.
  • Place your hands behind your head (without interlocking them) or place them across your chest.
  • Keep your elbows open to the sides.
  • Gently tighten and pull in your abs.
  • Curl forward lifting your head and shoulder blades off the floor towards your knee.
  • Hold it for a moment and lower back down slowly.

Several variations of the traditional crunch have been developed to focus on other core muscles ignored by regular crunches. One of these is the bicycle crunch or bicycle kicks. The bicycle crunch impacts the external obliques (on the side of the waist) in addition to the rectus abdominis and this helps to work the torso.

How to do the bicycle crunch
  • Lie on your back, bend your knees and place your feet wide apart on the floor.
  • Place your hands behind your head without interlocking them and avoid pulling your head with your hands to avoid neck pain.
  • Lift your right knee off the floor, toward the left side of your chest and simultaneously lift your left elbow to meet your right knee.
  • Repeat this process for the left knee and right elbow and keep up this cycle until your abs are thoroughly worked.
  • Be sure to completely lift your shoulder blades off the floor to keep the action concentrated on your core.

Check out this video for how to do the bicycle crunch:

2. Planks

There’s a good reason why plank has gained so much attention in the fitness industry – it works. Not only does it crush the rectus abdominis, it also greatly impacts the external obliques and transverse abdominis.

In simple terms, it rocks your abs in a way regular crunches don’t and also doesn’t give you back pain no matter how long you hold out doing it.

Planks aren’t just a great workout for abs, though, it also does a great job strengthening the arms, shoulders and glutes.

Just like the crunch, there are several variations of the plank, each adapted to focus on specific muscle groups which may have been ignored by others. Here I’ll be discussing just two of them – the front plank and the side plank.

How to do the front plank

The front plank is the basic plank position and it targets your rectus abdominis. Here’s how to do it.

  • Start in the pushup position with your arms placed as far apart as your shoulders and place your feet together.
  • Rest your weight on your forearms, with your palms facing the ground and maintain a 90-degree angle between your shoulders and fore arm.
  • Raise your hip slightly and maintain a straight line from your head to your feet.
  • Hold the position for as long as you can before your form collapses.
  • Rest for a few minutes and repeat.
  • Aim for 3-5, 30-120 seconds sets per workout and it should get you shaking!
  • If this isn’t challenging enough, raise an arm and a leg to increase the difficulty level.

How to do the side plank

Apart from strengthening the front abs, the side plank also comes with an added advantage of working the external obliques and transverse abdominis, thus helping you to carve out that dreamy physique you’ve always desired in your midsection. Here’s how to do it:

  • Lie on your right side, supporting your body by placing your right forearm on the floor.
  • Place your left leg on the right leg while maintaining this position
  • Lift your hip off the ground maintaining a straight line from your shoulder to your feet.
  • Lift your left arm into the air to maintain balance.
  • Hold this position for as long as you can (one – two minutes is fine).
  • Rest for a few minutes and repeat for the other side.
  • Aim for 3-5 reps per workout.
  • To increase the difficulty level, you can raise the leg on top.

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3. Russian twists

The Russian twist is an amazing workout that works just about every muscle in your core as you twist from side to side. The obliques are the more obvious beneficiaries, though, as the side-to-side motion really impacts the torso and helps to carve out an impressive side.

And just like the other workouts listed so far, no serious gym equipment is required. All you need is some space on the floor and the will to keep going!

How to do the Russian twist
  • Sit on the ground and bend your knees such that there’s a 90-degree angle between your upper and lower legs.
  • You may place your feet under something immovable or lift them slightly off the floor.
  • Tilt your back towards the ground at an approximate angle of 45-degrees with the ground.
  • Hold your arms straight before you and twist as far as possible to one side before doing the same thing for the other side.
  • To kick things up a notch, hold a mildly heady object in your hands as you twist from side to side.
  • Aim for 10-12 reps on each side, rest and repeat the process 3-5 times.

4. Hanging leg raise or knee raise

This is another exercise that will rev up your core and leave your abs strengthened for days. The most beautiful thing about this workout is its scalability. You can start off with bent knee raises, then you can move on to straight leg raises and ultimately to toe-to-bar raises.

How to do the hanging leg raise or knee raise
  • Grab the pull-up bar, ensuring that your arms are straight and your feet are totally off the ground.
  • Straighten your legs and keep them firmly together all the while.
  • Tighten your abs and use your core to raise your straightened legs forward until they form an angle of 90-degrees with your midsection.
  • Hold this position for a few seconds and slowly return your legs back to their normal position.
  • For the knee raise, bend your knees before raising them to an angle of 90-degrees with your midsection.
  • For either movement, make sure you get your legs up using only your core. Avoid swinging them up with momentum.
  • To make things a bit more challenging, try placing a medicine ball between your ankles or knees.
  • Aim for 3-5 sets in the 10-15 rep range and you midsection should be burning for days to come.

5. Ab-wheel roll-out

Alright, this one may require a trip to the gym but trust me, it’ll be worth every minute of your time.

If there’s one thing those infomercials got right, it’s the fact that ab wheels produces better muscle activation than crunches and leg raises.[3]

As you roll out on the wheel, your trunk is forced to fire actively in order to maintain the neutrality of the spine and prevent collapsing due to gravity and your body weight.[4] In order words, it does a great job of crushing your abs and carving out those much-desired six packs.

How to do the ab-wheel roll out
  • Get into a tabletop position and place some pads under your knees for protection.
  • Place your hands on the ab wheel and take a deep breath.
  • Push your belly backward to prevent it from sagging as you roll out.
  • Roll out the wheel as far as you comfortably can and keep your core tight all the way.
  • Hold the position for a few seconds and roll back in, fully engaging your abs as you do so.
  • To kick things up a notch, strap on a backpack containing some weight as you roll in and out.
  • Aim for 2-5 sets in the 10-15 rep range and you’ll definitely feel it in your abs for days to come.

Bonus Tip: Your other muscle groups

Before you dash off, don’t ignore other muscle groups!

Here’s a little fact you need to wrap your head around – doing only ab exercises won’t give you six pack! Here’s why:

Your abs are invisible because it’s covered by a heavy layer of abdominal fat.

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Excessive body fat results from calorie surplus, which means you take in more calories than you burn. And the abdomen is just one of the several fat-storage spots in the body.

So, lowering your total body fat should be the first course of action and that requires a full body workout.

Contrary to what some marketers would have you believe, you can’t directly target abdominal fat for elimination, there’s simply no scientific evidence behind this hocus pocus.[5]

Although research has revealed that training a particular muscle group does increase lipolysis (conversion of fat into energy) and blood flow in that area, the effect is usually too negligible to matter.

So, training a particular muscle group doesn’t make them cannibalize the fat covering them, although it does help those muscles to consume more energy as they get bigger.

You may do hundreds of crunches and leg raises until your abs almost explode, but you still won’t see those abs if you don’t reduce the percentage of your total body fat 15% or less.[6] Fat loss is a full-body process and that means you need to stick to a calorie deficit and train all muscle groups to achieve it.

The bottom line

There are no magic tricks to carving out an impressive core! If you want great abs, you need to do three things – eat right, train right and burn fat!

And no, this isn’t going to happen overnight, so you’ll have to commit months to the stomach workouts listed above, as well as full-body exercises to achieve your goal.

Here’s the thing, though – you can do it!

Start today, take it one day at a time and a few months from now you’ll look in the mirror and love what you see. Stop sitting around, get out there and get it done!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Richard Adefioye

Richard has a unique passion for healthy living and productivity.

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Published on November 14, 2018

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

With our busy, always on lives, it seems that more and more of us are facing constant tiredness and fatigue on a regular basis.

For many people, they just take this in their stride as part of modern life, but for others the impact can be crippling and can have a serious effect on their sense of wellbeing, health and productivity.

In this article, I’ll share some of the most common causes of constant tiredness and fatigue and give you some guidance and action steps you can take to overcome some of the symptoms of fatigue.

Why Am I Feeling Fatigued?

Fatigue is extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.  It is a reduction in the efficiency of a muscle or organ after prolonged activity.[1]

It can affect anyone, and most adults will experience fatigue at some point in their life. 

For many people, fatigue is caused by a combination of lifestyle, social, psychological and general wellbeing issues rather than an underlying medical condition.

Although fatigue is sometimes described as tiredness, it is different to just feeling tired or sleepy. Everyone feels tired at some point, but this is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Someone who is sleepy may also feel temporarily refreshed after exercising. If you are getting enough sleep, good nutrition and exercising regularly but still find it hard to perform, concentrate or be motivated at your normal levels, you may be experiencing a level of fatigue that needs further investigation. 

Symptoms of Fatigue

Fatigue can cause a vast range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms including:

  • chronic tiredness, exhaustion or sleepiness
  • mental blocks
  • lack of motivation
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • muscle weakness
  • slowed reflexes and responses
  • impaired decision-making and judgement
  • moodiness, such as irritability
  • impaired hand-to-eye coordination
  • reduced immune system function
  • blurry vision
  • short-term memory problems
  • poor concentration
  • reduced ability to pay attention to the situation at hand

Causes of Fatigue

The wide range of causes that can trigger fatigue include:

  • Medical causes: Constant exhaustion, tiredness and fatigue may be a sign of an underlying illness, such as a thyroid disorder, heart disease, anemia or diabetes.
  • Lifestyle-related causes: Being overweight and a lack of regular exercise can lead to feelings of fatigue.  Lack of sleep and overcommitting can also create feelings of excessive tiredness and fatigue.
  • Workplace-related causes: Workplace and financial stress in a variety of forms can lead to feelings of fatigue.
  • Emotional concerns and stress: Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as depression and grief, and may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, including irritability and lack of motivation.

Fatigue can also be caused by a number of factors working in combination.

Medical Causes of Fatigue

If you have made lifestyle changes to increase your energy and still feel exhausted and fatigued, it may be time to seek guidance from your doctor.

Here are a few examples of illnesses that can cause ongoing fatigue. Seek medical advice if you suspect you have a health problem:

Anemia

Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. It is a common cause of fatigue in women.

Having anemia may make you feel tired and weak.

There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.[2]

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that can cause persistent, unexplained fatigue that interferes with daily activities for more than six months.

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This is a chronic condition with no one-size-fits-all treatment, but lifestyle changes can often help ease some symptoms of fatigue.[3]

Diabetes

Diabetes can cause fatigue with either high or low blood sugars. When your sugars are high, they remain in the bloodstream instead of being used for energy, which makes you feel fatigued. Low blood sugar (glucose) means you may not have enough fuel for energy, also causing fatigue.[4]

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where sufferers briefly stop breathing for short periods during sleep. Most people are not aware this is happening, but it can cause loud snoring, and daytime fatigue.

Being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol can all worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.[5]

Thyroid disease

An underactive thyroid gland means you have too little thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in your body. This makes you feel tired and you could also put on weight and have aching muscles and dry skin.[6]

Common lifestyle factors that can cause fatigue include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Too much sleep 
  • Alcohol and drugs 
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Lack of regular exercise and sedentary behaviour 
  • Poor diet 

Common workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:

  • Shift work: Our body is designed to sleep during the night. A shift worker may confuse their circadian clock by working when their body is programmed to be asleep.
  • Poor workplace practices: This may include long work hours, hard physical labour, irregular working hours (such as rotating shifts), a stressful work environment, boredom or working alone. 
  • Workplace stress – This can be caused by a wide range of factors including job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, conflicts with bosses or colleagues, bullying, or threats to job security.
  • Burnout: This could be striving too hard on one area of your life while neglecting others, which leads to a life that feels out of balance.

Psychological Causes of Fatigue

Psychological factors are present in many cases of extreme tiredness and fatigue.  These may include:

  • Depression: Depression is characterised by severe and prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. People who are depressed commonly experience chronic fatigue.
  • Anxiety and stress: Someone who is constantly anxious or stressed keeps their body in overdrive. The constant flooding of adrenaline exhausts the body, and fatigue sets in.
  • Grief: Losing a loved one causes a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, depression, despair and loneliness.

How to Tackle Constant Fatigue

Here are 12 ways you can start tackling the causes of fatigue and start feeling more energetic.

1. Tell The Truth

Some people can numb themselves to the fact that they are overtired or fatigued all the time. In the long run, this won’t help you.

To give you the best chance to overcome or eliminate fatigue, you must diagnose and tell the truth about the things that are draining your energy, making you tired or causing constant fatigue.

Once you’re honest with yourself about the activities you’re doing in your life that you find irritating, energy-draining, and make you tired on a regular basis you can make a commitment to stop doing them.

The help that you need to overcome fatigue is available to you, but not until you tell the truth about it. The first person you have to sell on getting rid of the causes of fatigue is yourself.

One starting point is to diagnose the symptoms. When you start feeling stressed, overtired or just not operating at your normal energy levels make a note of:

  • How you feel
  • What time of day it is
  • What may have contributed to your fatigue
  • How your mind and body reacts

This analysis may help you identify, understand and then eliminate very specific causes.

2. Reduce Your Commitments

When we have too many things on our plate personally and professionally, we can feel overstretched, causing physical and mental fatigue.

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If you have committed to things you really don’t want to do, this causes irritability and low emotional engagement. Stack these up throughout your day and week, then your stress levels will rise.

When these commitments have deadlines associated with them, you may be trying to cram in far too much in a short period of time.  This creates more stress and can affect your decision making ability.

Start being realistic about how much you can get done. Either reduce the commitments you have or give yourself more time to complete them in.

3. Get Clear On Your Priorities

If working on your list of to-do’s or goals becomes too overwhelming, start reducing and prioritizing the things that matter most.

Start with prioritizing just 3 things every day. When you complete those 3 things, you’ll get a rush of energy and your confidence will grow.

If you’re trying to juggle too many things and are multi-tasking, your energy levels will drop and you’ll struggle to maintain focus.

Unfinished projects can make you self-critical and feel guilty which drops energy levels further, creating inaction.

Make a list of your 3 MIT (Most Important Tasks) for the next day before you go to bed. This will stop you overcommitting and get you excited about what the next day can bring.

4. Express More Gratitude

Gratitude and confidence are heavily linked. Just being thankful for what you have and what you’ve achieved increases confidence and makes you feel more optimistic.

It can help you improve your sense of wellbeing, which can bring on feelings of joy and enthusiasm.

Try starting a gratitude journal or just note down 3 things you’re grateful for every day.

5. Focus On Yourself

Exhaustion and fatigue can arrive by focusing solely on other people’s needs all the time, rather than worrying about and focusing on what you need (and want).

There are work commitments, family commitments, social commitments. You may start with the best intentions, to put in your best performance at work, to be an amazing parent and friend, to simply help others.

But sometimes, we extend ourselves too much and go beyond our personal limits to help others. That’s when constant exhaustion can creep up on us.  Which can make us more fatigued.

We all want to help and do our best for others, but there needs to be some balance. We also need to take some time out just for ourselves to recharge and rejuvenate.

6. Set Aside Rest and Recovery Time

Whether it’s a couple of hours, a day off, a mini-break or a proper holiday, time off is essential to help us recover, recharge and refocus.

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Recovery time helps fend off mental fatigue and allows us to simply kick back and relax.

The key here, though, is to remove ourselves from the daily challenges that bring on tiredness and fatigue. Here’s how.

Can you free yourself up completely from work and personal obligations to just rest and recover?

7. Take a Power Nap

When you’re feeling tired or fatigued and you have the ability to take a quick 20-minute nap, it could make a big difference to your performance for the rest of the day.

Napping can improve learning, memory and boost your energy levels quickly.

This article on the benefit of napping is a useful place to start if you want to learn more: How a 20-Minute Nap at Work Makes You Awake and Productive the Whole Day

8. Take More Exercise

The simple act of introducing some form of physical activity into your day can make a huge difference. It can boost energy levels, make you feel much better about yourself and can help you avoid fatigue.

Find something that fits into your life, be that walking, going to the gym, running or swimming. 

The key is to ensure the exercise is regular and that you are emotionally engaged and committed to stick with it.

You could also walk more which will help clear your head and shift your focus away from stressful thoughts.

9. Get More Quality Sleep

To avoid tiredness, exhaustion and fatigue, getting enough quality sleep matters. 

Your body needs sleep to recharge.  Getting the right amount of sleep every night can improve your health, reduce stress levels and help us improve our memory and learning skills.

My previous article on The Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know will give you some action steps to start improving your sleep. 

10. Improve Your Diet

Heavy or fatty meals can make you feel sluggish and tired, whilst some foods or eating strategies do just the opposite.

Our always on lives have us reaching for sweets or other sugary snacks to give us a burst of energy to keep going. Unfortunately, that boost fades quickly which can leave you feeling depleted and wanting more.

On the other hand, whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats supply the reserves you can draw on throughout the day.

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To keep energy up and steady, it’s a good idea to limit refined sugar and starches.

Eating small meals and healthy snacks every few hours throughout the day provides a steady supply of nutrients to body and brain. It’s also important not to skip breakfast.

Eating a balanced diet helps keep your blood sugar in a normal range and prevents that sluggish feeling when your blood sugar drops.

11. Manage Your Stress Levels

Stress is one of the leading causes of exhaustion and fatigue, and can seriously affect your health.

When you have increased levels of stress at work and at home, it’s easy to feel exhausted all the time. 

Identifying the causes of stress and then tackling the problems should be a priority. 

My article on How to Help Anxiety When Life is Stressing You Out shares 16 strategies you can use to overcome stress.

12. Get Hydrated

Sometimes we can be so busy that we forget to keep ourselves fully hydrated.

Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight and is essential in maintaining our body’s basic functions.

If we don’t have enough water, it can adversely affect our mental and physical performance, which leads to tiredness and fatigue.

The recommended daily amount is around two litres a day, so to stay well hydrated keep a water bottle with you as much as possible.

The Bottom Line

These 12 tips can help you reduce your tiredness and feeling of fatigue.  Some will work better than others as we are all different, whilst others can be incorporated together in your daily life.

If you’ve tried to make positive changes to reduce fatigue and you still feel tired and exhausted, it may be time to consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your condition.

Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

Reference

[1]Oxford English Dictionary: Definition of fatigue
[2]NHS Choices: 10 Reasons for feeling tired
[3]Verywellhealth: What is chronic fatigue syndrome
[4]Everyday Health: Why does type 2 diabetes make you feel tired
[5]Mayo Clinic: Sleep apnea
[6]Harvard Health: The lowdown on thyroid slowdown

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