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Real Life Nutrition Questions Answered

Real Life Fitness Questions Answered

Emma Brown

Janet Aylott

Kelly Marshall
Fitness Consultant


How do I tone the tummy and will sit ups make it stick out?

Hello, I want to lose weight from my stomach area and tone it up. I am not overweight but have what I consider a 'pot belly' in comparison to the rest of me! Whilst I realise that with exercise you can?t target weight loss on specific areas, are there any exercises that you recommend for the stomach? Also I have heard that if you have weight on your stomach that you want to lose to avoid any sit ups/toning exercises as this will turn the fat into muscle and leave you with a sticky out belly - is this true or just an urban myth? Thanks x


Our expert says...


Ok this might actually be the biggest longest answer I have ever written, I apologise for the big read but I wanted to provide you the most comprehensive answer I can! So, firstly to dispel the myth you have been given …..

The abdominal muscles are endurance muscles, meaning they have a high percentage of a certain type of muscle fibre that is NOT prone or capable of mass building or bulking. The abdominal muscles (deeper ones and superficial ones) are responsible for holding us upright and allowing us to move, bend and twist all of the time and therefore are equipped accordingly. So, making them ‘stick out’ is near impossible and when you see bodybuilders with rippled, popping abdominals it is due to a combination of supplementation, extreme strength and power training twice daily over a long period of time and also a total stripping of surface body fat to simply leave only muscle.

In addition, muscle does NOT turn to fat and vice versa although with training there is often a simultaneous increase of muscle tone that coincides with decreased body fat leaving the impression that one has become the other. If someone was to train their abdominals however and improve their tone but get their nutrition wrong and not lose bodyfat then it could be possible to have a more ‘sticky-out’ appearance though it would be subtle and be caused more by the lack of body fat loss then by the abdominal training.

Ok, so to answer your question about how to train your abdominals and to prevent what I’ve just described from happening, here are some tips or rather the best approach for how to draw your waist inwards for a leaner midrift!

An abdominal circuit done as much often as every other day is an effective start and can be done in 15minutes! Below is an example of such a potential circuit that involves activating the deeper muscles first:

1) On a DAILY basis you need to be re-training your deepest abdominal muscles (transverse abdominals and pelvic floor = TVA) so practice the 'drawing-in manoeuvre' as often as you remember.

You can do this anywhere (nobody will know!) and it is great to do when you are in a car or at a desk (i.e. any sedentary position), simply start by taking a breath in and as you do, draw your belly button in towards spine. You should feel a tension develop in your midriff (like you have put a belt on!), then as you breathe out, keep your belly button drawn towards your spine and breathe normally.

Hold the tension for as long as you remember, although it will not be long to start with. The more you practice this manoeuvre the more automatic it will become. By strengthening your TVA and retraining it to automatically activate and stay where it should, you can visibly reduce the size of your waist as well as protect your lumbar spine in the long-term.

- As well as the above, you do also need to be retraining the more superficial muscles of the abdominal area which will include the rectus abdominals ('six-pack' muscles). The core exercises you do need to be performed at a slow, controlled pace, with a full range of motion, with conscious attention given totally to the abdominal area you are trying to strengthen.

2) A well executed basic floor crunch with your knees in a bent position would be an excellent way to start, doing 2-3sets of 15 repetitions. At the top of each crunch movement, (which wouldn't be a big movement and would not involve your lower back leaving the floor) pause and hold for 1 second while trying to consciously squeeze your abdominal muscles. The most important thing about this exercise is not the repetitions but that you REALLY feel the muscles waking up, working and tiring out!

3) An exercise called "the plank" is a fantastic exercise designed for core strength and incorporates shoulder stability and upper body strength. For the starting position, lie on your front and have your elbows underneath your shoulders and feet tucked under your ankles, then lift your body off the floor so only your forearms and knees and shins are on contact with the floor.

Concentrate on drawing your tummy in towards your spine against the pull of gravity. If you can do this and hold for 30seconds and prevent your lower back from activating and getting involved then your core strength is strong enough to try a full plank where you progress the hold by lifting the knees up so only your forearms and toes will be in contact with the floor. Aim to hold for as long as possible and do it 2-3 sets.

4) Oblique crunches - same as above but as you lift the body upwards (with hands at ears) take one elbow towards the opposite knee. This will provide a small twist motion. Alternate sides and again look to do a maximum of 20 repetitions.

5) Bicycle crunches - feet off the floor with this one. The elbow comes across the body while the opposite knee comes in to meet in the middle, so you are essentially crunching across the body. Then slowly control on the way down and bring the other elbow and opposing knee into the middle. Aim NOT to let your legs drift out away from the body too much as it can encourage the lower back to get involved and help out.

- See if you can manage the exercises above in a circuit-type fashion, so performed with minimal (if any) rest between them. This should really allow you to feel the burn in your stomach muscles if you keep strict technique and concentration on the muscles throughout the movements.

Hope this helps!


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