Times are changing, and I think women are recognizing that they don’t need the perfect, skinny, fit body to be beautiful and accepted. We don’t have to do juice diets and hours of cardio to be “seen”. In fact, there are a lot of movements happening that are celebrating women’s bodies, and normalizing things like acne, stretch marks and cellulite…as we should.
But – you may also be striving for more. Striving for change, strength and maybe even abs. I know it seems so trivial, to have an aesthetic goal be your main priority…and it honestly, isn’t my first choice when it comes to coaching. But – I cannot change your mind or the goals you have set for yourself. So all I can do is help you along the way. Let’s chat about building abs at home, and what the best approach is.
Abs can be built anywhere. We sometimes don’t understand that just because you can’t visually see them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. They are there, and they are probably stronger than you think they are.
Your abs are working in most exercises you do, because they are a stabilizer. So they help us stand up straight, bend over, keep our organs in…you know, all the important things. So when it comes to building abs and a strong core, you have to start with the foundation of movement.
At home workouts always get a bad rap. The health and fitness industry has been shoved down our throats for years through mainstream media. And the only “at home” devices shown are extremely gimmicky, or they are weight loss supplements. So, I get the confusion about at home workouts being a waste of time.
Let me just tell you, at home workouts can be just as beneficial as a gym workout. Sometimes, even better.
What builds muscle? It is a stimulus on the muscle tissue, yes. But it is also the process of contracting the muscle. We have to get over this idea that they only way to build muscle is with weights. Weights help, but if you are not focusing on the number one key component..the contraction, then you aren’t going to see changes.
A strong and functional core starts with the basics. It’s perfect form in a plank, it’s engaged transverse abdominis (TVA) muscles. It’s controlled intra-abdominal pressure (IAP). Before we even add weights or start to make exercises more difficult, we have to get the basics perfected. And that can be a slow and boring process.
Abs are more than just a visual key candy. They serve a purpose, and if you train them right – they can be strong and nice to look at. And if you train them wrong – they can just be nice to look at. Have you ever seen someone with a 6 pack, but they have a huge line down their midline that separates their abs? That is likely from poor mechanics and improper core training. There should be no line or separation…they should be touching.
So yes, abs can be build without weights. You just have to make sure you are doing it correctly and progressing your exercises in the right way.
In order to actually see your abs, yes they beed to be strengthened. But – you also have be to at a low enough body fat percentage to uncover them. Because again, just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
The best exercises to start building a strong core foundation are as follows.
Form: Lay flat on your back, knees bent in table top. Press your low back into the floor, engage the TVA and reach opposite hand/foot to the floor and then come back to center.
Form: Start in the all 4 position with your wrists under shoulders and knees under the hips. Pull your ribs down, pull your core in to engage the TVA and reach opposite hand/foot.
Form: Breathing is key when it comes to core engagement and strength. Start on your back with knees bent. Press your low back into the floor, pull the ribs down and pull in the core. Slowly lift one knee towards the chest, and then return in back down, keeping tension on the core. Then switch sides.
Once you have those exercises down, you can start to add in more advanced movements, exercises like…
Form: Start in a high plank position with your wrists under your shoulders and on your toes. Press through your shoulder blades, pull the ribs down, and slowly bring one knee to your chest. Focus on pulling in the core and engaging with your breath.
Form: Start in a side plank position with your elbows under your shoulder and on the side of your foot. Keeping the shoulders square to the front, and core engaged, drop your hip down towards the floor and the raise it up. Using the obliques to do the work.
Form: Knees bent towards the chest, lean back onto your tailbone and place your hands behind you for support. Engage your TVA (almost like holding in gas and zipping up the core) and extend your legs are straight and then pull them back in. Making sure there is no coning or doming of the stomach/core. If that happens, keep the knees bent and only extend a small amount so you can strengthen without breaking form.
The best way for females to get abs is the same way as males. It takes specific core exercises and programming with progression. Work the core like you work any other muscle, but also remember that a well rounded program with increasing weights on compound movements like squats and presses are also going to be beneficial.
You also have to decrease body fat to “show” the abs or for them to be seen. This means being in a caloric deficit, or eating less than you burn in an y given day.
It can be tricky for women because of our hormones – things like cortisol, estrogen and thyroid hormones can be culprits of unwanted belly fat. So make sure all hormone levels are at a good starting point before getting frustrated with your lack of progress. Here is a great blog on cortisol, stress and how it can effect weight loss.
This number is going to be different for everyone. Genetics play a huge role in body fat composition. I cannot give a straight forward answer because aiming for that number could be arbitrary.
Focus on eating a healthy diet, being in a deficit to lose fat, and following a progression overload training program.
The best ab exercises for women are going to be the same ones for men. The only focus difference is that women need to spend more time working on a functional pelvic floor. This means things like diaphragmatic breathing, kegels, and just overall slow controlled movements.
We tend to assume that we need to do the hardest version of an exercise to see results, and that is not the case. Especially with your core, you want to start slow so that it is functional and is working with you instead of against you. I could do leg lifts all day, but if my IAP and TVA are not working with me, it is going to be more detrimental than beneficial to do them. Focus on breathing mechanics, engagement and stability before focusing on adding weights or resistance to core movements.
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