Bye Bye Belly Fat, Hello Abs
Tips for finding your 6-pack in Denver
When I first started practicing gymnastic bodyweight training in Denver, it was for fun. I didn’t really hear much about how it would change my physique or appearance, just that it would help me do cool things and become super strong, which were plenty reason enough to try out this new style of fitness.
I’d been practicing yoga in Denver for a year or two prior to jumping into my first gymnastic bodyweight training class, and it had prepared my body’s flexibility and balance; even carved out a few muscle lines that had never made an appearance before. But the one thing I wanted and never got from yoga, or cycling, HITT, CrossFit, boxing or any of the other fitness modalities I’d tried, was abs. I mean, they were there, I could feel them and they were strong…ish. But I wanted abs you could SEE. I wanted those little rolls of belly fat to finally give way to noticeable lines – the kind I couldn’t take my eyes off of whenever I saw them (on someone else). We can all admit, ab lines are sexy.
It’s not that I didn’t think I was strong without a visible six-pack, or that not having one was something to be embarrassed about. But, we all want what seems most elusive to us, and for me that was noticeable abdominal muscles. I’d always worked super hard expecting to one day see it show up in my belly (come on muscles!) and it never did, until I began training specifically to loose belly fat in Denver with Gymnastic Bodyweight Training. It wasn’t what hooked me, but my gymnastics six-pack has kept me faithful to the practice ever since.
As someone who’s spent most of her life battling belly fat, I wanted to share a few of my favorite exercises for transforming it into the well-defined abs I never thought I could have. Here are a few of my favorite belly fat busting drills:
Hanging Leg Lifts
This one comes first because it’s the queen bee of all ab workouts. No other movement recruits every last core muscle quite the way this skill does, including those tough-to-target lower abdominals.
You need a stall bar or pull up bar to do the most effective variation, which is toes to bar. Grip one of the highest rings with arms shoulder length apart (If this is uncomfortable or creates a pinch in your shoulder, you can grip wider). Keeping the knees locked, lift your legs in unison as high as you can - aim for over your head. At first, you likely won’t get above waistline, but with practice and repetition (and plenty of hamstring flexibility) your range of motion will increase and your core will become strong enough to lift your legs higher each time. A few key points with this maneuver: Hamstring flexibility is essential. Without first warming up your hamstrings and working on hamstring flexibility in general, you will likely have difficulty straightening the knees or lifting your legs very far, even if your core is strong enough to do it. Try doing some pike pulls or inverted pike/straddle pulls before trying the leg lifts. Or you can also do some other variations (such as the bent knee version shown).
Another point to remember is not to allow your back to come too far off the bars. The goal of hanging leg raises is compression, which means your torso and legs are folded onto one another and you’re able to still exert strength from a completely compressed position. Make sure you’re focused on getting the legs as high as you can while maintaining a flat back. There are many variations of leg raises including straddle leg raises, hanging tucks, L holds, compression holds, flutter kicks, side to side L holds, windshield wipers, leg lift negatives and more. But start with the toes to bar variation and you’ll notice those ab lines coming in fast and furious.
If you’ve been to any gymnastic bodyweight training classes in Denver, you know what a hollow is. While this is a simple move, it’s a staple of gymnastic bodyweight training and is deceptively difficult, as Loren points out in his excellent article on building core strength. Lay on your back with your arms behind your head, shoulder length apart. Raise your legs, arms and upper back about 4 inches off the floor so that your low back is resting on the ground and your body is in a banana shape.
You can either stay here or rock back and forth on the small of your back, being careful not to raise your legs too high or rest your upper back on the floor. The challenge with hollows is in the precise execution. You can’t give yourself a break or slack on form or it won’t get you very far.
Keeping your body in a banana shape doesn’t seem too hard, until you realize that in order to do so you can’t poke your belly out, you have to suck it in. I remember realizing that I’d been doing hollows wrong for years when an instructor pointed out that if my belly is puffing up during them, I’m actually deferring the muscle recruitment away from the diaphragm and deep upper abdominals, and putting it in the outer abs only. This prevents the athlete from gaining that compression strength in the deep core muscles and will show up in weaker core stabilization ability in other skills. Another key point with hollows is the medial glutes, which should always be engaged along with the core and abs in order to keep the lower back on the ground. The hip flexors are not responsible for holding the legs off the ground in a hollow position. Hips should be open and flat, while the medial glutes, otherwise known as your twerking muscles, should be working to stabilize the lower body. Add just three sets of 30 seconds or 30 rocks into your workout routine and watch your belly take a pleasant shape.
L Sits and Straddle Holds
For me, these are the most humbling of the ab and compression skills. I have to be consistent in my practice of them or they disappear and I have to relearn them. Again, the goal is compression, which means pulling the legs into the torso until they lift off the ground. Sit with legs together out in front of you. With your palms flat on the ground, push down and lift your body off the floor in the same position. If you can’t get your feet off the ground yet, pick them up in little bounces and hold them off the floor for as long as you can. It sounds easy, but it is not. In the beginning, you may want to practice on your fingertips, but it will just make moving to a flat palm that much harder, so I say start where you want to end. You may also practice on parallel bars or parallettes to give you more height and allow you to get a feel for the movement.
Pushing strength is a big part of this skill as well, so make sure your shoulders are fully depressed and your lats are engaged to give yourself the most height possible. You may also want to try a straddle hold: With legs straddled on the floor, place your palms in front of you and push down. Pull your legs up into your torso and lift off the floor, with toes pointed. Another way to practice straddle holds is with one hand in front and one in back until you’ve got the compression to have both hands in front. All your deepest core muscles working so hard will melt the fat off your powerful tummy in no time. Ok, some time, but it won’t take long to see it.
V-ups with a strap
A harder twist on the traditional V-up, adding the strap makes sure you’re really compressing as much as possible, and forces you to keep your legs straight in correct form. Lay on your back with a strap in your hands behind your head. With locked knees, raise your legs and your chest at once into a closed V shape, bringing the strap over your feet. Your chest should touch your knees at the top. Release back to straight with the strap behind your legs and repeat the movement bringing the strap back up over your feet to behind your head, trying not to bend the knees if possible.
This is another exercise you’ll need a lot of hamstring mobility for, so make sure you warm up well. A couple sets of ten to twelve of these will definitely have you feeling that pack of abs the next day, which means they’re on they’re way to center stage.
Side Plank to Over Arch
To target the obliques, this is a simple and effective movement that will help you ditch the love handles for those coveted hourglass curves. Start in a side plank with your top arm down by your side and your feet staggered, top foot in front. Lower your hips to the ground, being careful not to let them fall out of alignment with the rest of your body (try to maintain a straight line). Push down into the floor to raise your hips into an arched position, reaching your top arm over your head while doing so. Repeat for ten to fifteen reps on each side.
These are simple, straightforward, highly effective exercises you can do to turn that belly fat into belly muscle. Of course, building muscle anywhere burns tons of calories, so as long as you’re putting the time into building your physique and not just cardio-ing all your fat away, you’ll see a difference – a big difference.
Diet for Loosing Belly Fat
Lastly, the most important part of the mission against belly fat is diet diet diet. I think of it as drawing back the curtains on the beautiful, muscular body that hides just under the surface of the ice cream, pizza and soft drinks. A few small changes in your diet can go a long way when paired with a dedicated gymnastic bodyweight trainingworkout routine.
I’ve been watching the 2016 Rio Olympic trials and the one thing everybody swoons over is the gymnasts’ well-defined abs. That’s because it’s almost impossible to not get abs when practicing gymnastics. So get at it! Pretty soon, you’ll be the proud owner of some of the hottest abs in Denver. And swimsuit season won’t be long enough.