How can I flatten my belly?
January 25, 2011 7:28 PM   Subscribe

I am softer than I'd like in the belly area and have been for quite some time. Please tell me what has worked for you to "lose your gut!" I'm a 30-year-old male. More possibly important details inside.

I would like to, once and for all, banish my belly from my body. I have attempted to wade through the dreck of "men's fitness" magazines but generally leave more confused than informed.

I'm curious - what has worked for you? And if you can provide some guidance for me, I'd be quite grateful. Here are my specifics:

I'm a 30 year old male in slightly above-average shape. My eating habits - while certainly not anything I'm proud of - are steady and consistent enough that I can say I "eat right."

I am not fat - far from - and I'm quite happy with the rest of my body. But my belly is soft and has been for most of my life. I wouldn't go so far as to say I have a gut, but I'd like to flatten it out.

I swim laps twice a week (usually at least a mile each session), ride my elliptical sporadically, and have a variety of 15-minute workouts I do each morning (Mondays and Thursdays are arms, for example, while Tuesdays and Fridays are core).

But instead of me prattling on about what I do, what am I not doing that I could be doing that would help me flatten out and harden my belly? What has worked for you?
posted by st starseed to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Do you drink beer? If so, I'd cut that out. Losing that softness (I was there, I know how hard this is) is mostly about diet in my experience. Exercise too, of course, but making sure that you're not putting any shit into your body is a HUGE part of it. And beer is downright awful (yet awfully delicious.)
posted by fso at 7:35 PM on January 25, 2011

Regular progressive weight training incorporating heavy compound lifts, plus varied and challenging conditioning training, all performed under a healthy daily caloric deficit (-300 calories below your general weight maintenance level) over several weeks, months or years.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 7:35 PM on January 25, 2011

harden the belly? situps.

Lose the soft crap covering your abs? Run instead of swim. I know, I know, swimming is awesome. I miss it terribly. But running, or riding a real fucking bike, is what it's gonna take. Long, medium-effort workouts.

Ride or run four to five times a week, at least a half-hour.
posted by notsnot at 7:39 PM on January 25, 2011

You really want to tighten up the stomach, telemark ski and rock climb. One season of each will turn you into a hard man, from top to bottom, but your core should be rock solid.

That, and quit drinking beer.
posted by TheBones at 7:54 PM on January 25, 2011

I run regularly and am generally in shape, but my abs only started really look toned when I got into swimming hard intervals. A mile in 45 minutes, including about 10 minutes total of rest in between short sets. I started seeing core muscles I didn't know I had.

Running more, especially uphill, paying attention to your core muscles, will definite help too though.

I don't find that cycling really works the abs much, but if you work out much more than you take in, obviously you'll lose the pounds.
posted by bread-eater at 8:00 PM on January 25, 2011

(That quoted time/distance for the swim was hard for me, but I am relatively new at this kind of thing.)
posted by bread-eater at 8:00 PM on January 25, 2011

I think guys who have uber abs are working out really hard - 4-7 days a week, doing cardio and ab focused exercises (like, hundreds of crunches), being very food conscious (like, no carbs and lots of weird systems about drinking a certain amount of water etc), and have the genetics that get them there. Is it really worth all that? I bet your belly is cute. (:
posted by serazin at 8:01 PM on January 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

I think the general rule is that if you want nice abs, you need to get your body fat percentage down under 10%, preferably 8% (for males). That's really low. Doing a bunch of crunches and other core exercises will strengthen your abs and helps greatly with stability and lower back problems, but if you want them to pop you need to get rid of the fat that's on top of them.

So yeah... increase the level of your aerobic exercise and really watch the diet.

Again, 8% is really, really low. I'm what most of my friends would call skinny and using the various measurements out there I've estimated mine at 15+%.
posted by sbutler at 8:14 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you're going to need a combo of exercise and diet to get noticeably nice abs.

I've been doing the p90x ab-ripper workout for a few months. I have a very strong core and if I look in a certain light, from a certain light, I have a pretty ripped abdominal area. Unfortunately, in most lights, from most angles, there is still a covering ayer of chub. So, I think I do the exercise almost where it should be (need more non-ab-specifics, more cardio) and my diet is getting there... but neither of these alone will do it. Half-assing both won't either.

Other folks can chime in on this, but I totally recommend the p90x thing, at least for abs. I was able to do 1500 crunches on a dare, before I started p90x. I couldn't do the whole thing the first time, the second, or even the 10th. It's pretty awesome.
posted by iftheaccidentwill at 8:57 PM on January 25, 2011

Lose the soft crap covering your abs? Run instead of swim. I know, I know, swimming is awesome. I miss it terribly. But running, or riding a real fucking bike, is what it's gonna take. Long, medium-effort workouts.

A lot of people these days would argue short, high-intensity cardio is superior to steady-state cardio. Compare Olympic long distance runners versus sprinters (maybe NSFW, scantily-clad Olympians in an artists' reference for body types of athletes). Marathoners look like famine victims the day after the Olympics. But yeah, they don't have bellies. No idea why you think running is superior to swimming, though.

Whatever you do, you probably want to do real cardio workouts more than twice a week. And a split lifting routine of arms and core is just strange. Nothing wrong with split-bodypart lifting even though it's currently not in fashion, but what about your legs, back, chest, and shoulders? You at least want to include squats and deadlifts into any type of lifting regimen.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 9:02 PM on January 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Have you considered lipo-suction?
posted by jchaw at 9:05 PM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

You can't spot reduce. If you don't reduce your overall body fat, exercising your abdominal and oblique muscles will just result in a bigger belly because you will still have that same layer of fat on top of your now-more-developed muscles.

Building muscle mass, however, will help you burn more calories (and thus reduce fat) because muscles burn more calories.

But you'll still need to cut calories (preferably the least nutritious foods in your current diet) and/or add some high-calorie-burning exercises (running, swimming, etc.) to burn off that extra fat.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:08 PM on January 25, 2011

You don't mention your drinking habits but I have only ever been able to make an impact on my waist by cutting out booze altogether. Exercise and diet too of course. It's no fun :)
posted by londonmark at 12:19 AM on January 26, 2011

sorry, spot reduction is a myth. you cannot choose a part of your body and say "fat, begone!". anyone who claims otherwise is a victim of broscience.

what isn't broscience is the benefits of introducing high intensity intervals (HIIT) to your workout regime. or, as i've learned from doing crossfit, if you don't feel like puking after you're workout you're doing it wrong.
posted by asymptotic at 3:33 AM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't say you need to hit 8-10% body fat to lose your gut. I hover around 15%, and I've got crazy abs. I don't really do any specific abdominal exercises, either, other than plank.
I do an awful lot of squats, deadlifts, and press, though, and I've still got quite a fast metabolism.

I'll second everybody saying that if you want to be rid of your belly fat, you'll need to hit the cardio harder and more regularly, change your diet to induce a safe caloric deficit, and possibly work your larger muscle groups more often with the weights.

Tracking your diet is probably the best thing you could do. Keeping an eye on what you eat over the course of a "normal" couple of weeks and recording it will give you a baseline to cut from. I've had to do the same thing with the opposite aim, trying to make sure that I'm eating enough to support my weight training.
posted by Kreiger at 5:25 AM on January 26, 2011

If you're just looking to "uncover" your abs, it is all about reducing bodyfat percentages ("good abs are made in the kitchen more than the gym").

But something like the P90x ab workout, pilates, or other core workouts will certainly strengthen your whole core - maybe make one of your 15 minute workouts all core-strengthening (not just crunches!) for a few months and see if that does it for you.
posted by ldthomps at 6:00 AM on January 26, 2011

if you don't feel like puking after you're workout you're doing it wrong.
Thank you, asymptotic, that's just the phrase I need when to help me push through.

posted by Brainy at 7:58 AM on January 26, 2011

*shrug* i can't tell if you're being sarcastic, but...different strokes for different folks. i used to row crew; if you still able to walk normally the next day after a full-out, maximum intensity training session, the same applies - you're doing it wrong.
posted by asymptotic at 9:01 AM on January 26, 2011

Calisthenics. I personally recommend Convict Conditoning. At my worst I had a 42" pant size. About to hit my 42nd birfday at a 34" pants, and CC has been a major part of that.

One loses fat from all over the body, equally. There is no "Lose it from my belly", that's a myth. But get serious about old-school bodyweight calisthenics as a strength developing program, and you subconscious will associate "Lower appetite and less weight" with easier push-ups and pull-ups.

You also might want to consider going heavy on the vegetables (I'm talking 10% of calories from animal total) for health reasons as well as losing flab. Going 90% vegetarian has done wonders for the formerely jiggly Pirate. I stink less too.

Also, read this article: Is your workout wasting your time? Promise you: CC will not waste you time.

Best of luck!
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 4:12 PM on January 26, 2011

Can't believe no one's mentioned giving up grains. I lose weight effortlessly now that I'm eating this way. My ribs are visible for the first time in years, and I'm gaining muscle on a 3x5 barbell lifting program like this one.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 5:44 PM on January 26, 2011

Yes, interval exercise for losing the fat. And exercises like planks that strengthen the deeper, transverse muscles.
posted by martianna at 8:21 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I do 8 minute abs every day, sometimes twice and it keeps my abs in pretty good shape. I just youtube 8 minute abs. Even if I slack off for a long time after two weeks of doing this I'm back to normal. It's kind of corny and sounds questionable but I swear by it.
posted by ad4pt at 2:31 PM on January 27, 2011

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