Get Your Abs Back
Try these moves for a tighter core and a boost in confidence—just in time for chasing-after-your-toddler-in-a-swimsuit season.
This workout’s just in time for chasing after your toddler in a swimsuit!
WHEN A WOMAN emerges from pregnancy, her abs are pretty much guaranteed to be weak, even if she exercised for all nine months. “It happens because the abs have been overly elongated,” explains Michele Olson, PH.D., an adjunct professor of sport science at Huntingdon College, in Montgomery, Alabama. Fortunately, the damage doesn’t have to be permanent.
The connective tissue (or fascia) of the abdominal wall—not the abdominal muscles—is what stretches most to accommodate your growing bump. For your abs to tighten back up, they need to regain their muscle memory, so to speak. “After pregnancy, your abs have to relearn how to work in their normal range,” says Carrie Pagliano, DPT, owner of Carrie Pagliano Physical Therapy, in Arlington, Virginia. “The good news is that you can achieve great ab conditioning at all stages—whether it’s six weeks postdelivery or after you’ve had your third child.”
Our two-pronged plan can get you there. All it takes: 30 to 40 minutes of exercise three or four times a week. You’ll burn the fat that’s covering up your abs through cardio and sculpt and tighten the underlying muscles via tailored exercises. Keep up the routine for a few weeks, and you’ll start to see and feel flatter and leaner results.
BREAK A QUICK SWEAT
High-intensity interval training, aka HIIT, is as close as you can get to zeroing in on lingering abdominal fat. Numerous studies show that doing HIIT is more effective at burning off ab fat selectively (it mobilizes certain fatreleasing hormones called catecholamines) than doing steady cardio, like traditional jogging or lap swimming. Spin, take a sweaty circuit class, or simply alternate pushing your pace for a minute and then going easy for a minute. Aim to do cardio or HIIT at least three times a week, ideally for 20 minutes or more.
TIGHTEN YOUR CORE
Compression moves (think navel-to-spine exercises) like planks flatten your stomach by drawing in the deepest ab muscle, the transverse abdominis. Often referred to as the TVA or TA, this muscle is the only one in your core that does a full 360 around your waist, which means it has superior cinch-you-in powers, says Dr. Olson. Once you strengthen your TVA, you can move on to more intense exercises like jackknives or plyometrics, which also recruit your superficial ab muscles—the obliques and rectus abdominis. “Then your ab strength and definition will come even quicker,” says Anna Kaiser, founder of AKT studios, in New York, Connecticut, and Los Angeles.
Kaiser designed these five moves to tighten your deepest ab muscles. They’re safe for every fitness level, and the whole circuit takes about 15 minutes. Throughout, remember to focus hard on squeezing your abs. Aim to complete the routine three or more times each week.