How do I Get a Flat Belly?

“How do I get a flat belly?” is a question I hear from women, particularly mums, a lot.

When most people think about flattening their belly they go and do crunches, but this is not going to help your cause. Let me explain a few things that will help you better understand what you need to address to get a flat belly.

What is your core?

Your core is made up of 2 layers of muscles:

  1. Your deep core layers – Pelvic Floor, Transversus Abdominis, Multifidus and diaphragm. Learn more about these deep core muscles here

    These are posture and movement supporting muscles. They help support the spine, pelvis and contain your abdominal contents. They are working while you sit, stand, lay down, walking, running, jumping etc.

  2. Your outer layers – Internal Obliques, External Obliques, Rectus Abdominis (the most superficial layer and known as your 6-pack muscles)

    These are your movement muscles. They are positioned and structured to generate force and create movement through the torso.

  3. What creates the “belly”?

    1. Subcutaneous Fat

      Adipose fat is the superficial fat layer that is deposited under the skin. An excess of this fat will contribute to a “belly”. This is the fat that you can visibly see and perhaps even grab in a skin fold. It’s the fat that people will generally focus on when thinking about and working on fat loss.

    2. Visceral Fat

      Visceral fat is the internal fat that wraps around our organs. This is the unhealthiest fat as it affects our organs abilities to function along with negative impacts on our endocrine (hormone) system.

    3. Diastasis Rectii

      A gap and/or weakening on the linea alba tissue (connective tissue between the two sides of the rectus abdmininis) means the structural integrity of the abdominal wall is compromised and less effective at managing the abdominal contents behind it.

    4. Weak or dysfuncional core muscles

      As above the superficial abdmoninal muscles do have an effect or the appearance of your belly. The deeper core muscles play are large role in supporting the abdominal contents and work together with the superficial layers to keep it all where it should be.

    5. Posture and Position of Pelvis

      If you have a that tilts forward at the top (anterior pelvic tilt), your belly will protrude. See for yourself, stand in front of the mirror, sideways. Exaggerate the arch in your lower back (creating exaggerated anterior pelvic tilt) and se what happens to your belly.

    What To Do To Get a Flat Belly

    Getting a flat belly needs to be approached from several angles:

    1. Exercise More

      To reduce body fat, especially visceral fat, it’s recommended you do at least 30 mins of moderate activity like walking, swimming each day. A study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism in 2004, showed that exercise made the difference in visceral fat reduction. If you are already doing this, and it’s “a walk in the park” now, then it may be time to up the intensity. Try a light jog, adding more hills to your walk, even add a group fitness class to the mix.

    2. Limit Refined Grain Carbs

      Increased refined carb intake has been linked to increased visceral fat. Swapping refined carbs (where the bran and germ are generally removed, also taking out a lot of fibre) for whole grain carbs can reduce this risk. Brown rice replaces white rice, 100% wholewheat bread replaces white bread and oatmeal replaces cornflakes.

    3. Check your Grain based carb portion sizes

      A lower grain carb diet has been shown to be good for fat loss. Keep your grain based carb portions to about 1/4 of your dinner plate or roughly a cupped hand size serving.

    4. Check your posture or have it assessed by your trainer or physio

      Correcting your posture will generally require a couple of things:-

      • releasing some tight muscles in your lower back, possibly your hip flexors
      • strengthening and tightening up your core and glutes.

      There could be a range of things in play that contribute to your posture and an anterior pelvic tilt and there is often some lower back pain associated with this. Seeing a women’s health physio to rule out any not so-obvious underlying causes is a good first step to resolving this.

    5. Have your core function and integrity assessed and address it

      If you suffer from lower back pain, incontinence, pelvic pain and/or have had children, find a local women’s health/pelvic physiotherapist and get assessed. Self diagnosing core function is not reliable at best. If there is dysfunction, understanding the root cause is vital to getting the function back on track effectively and safely. The wrong approach can set you back further. A women’s health physio is best placed to assess this.
      If you are found to simply need to build strength into your core, core exercises that target the deep core muscles are required – no crunches or sit ups here. Have a look at my earlier post on some core safe exercises to help build core strength in place of crunches.