Want Abs? Work Your Butt
When I was a full time trainer, every single woman I worked with wanted to focus on core. They thought that by working their abs, they’d get a flat stomach. The problem? You cannot spot train a body part. Now, working your core is important for a slew of other reasons: stability, balance, spine support and health…the list goes on. Pretty much every time you move your body, your abs are involved. Having weak abdominals will always catch up with you.
Back to the business of a flat stomach:
I have to mention the caveat that, to an extent, our body shape is predetermined by genetics. And *gasp* it’s okay, and healthy, to have some fat on your body! We all have natural builds, and while we can certainly work towards health or aesthetic goals, it’s important to accept your body and have reasonable expectations for where it can go. With that said, everyone is capable of more toned abdominals.
Simply put, you have to lower your overall body fat percentage to get a smaller waist. Women are typically built with higher body fat percentages, so it’s more of an uphill climb. In order to lower body fat, you have to create a caloric deficit: move more, eat less. Admittedly, this is an oversimplification, because so much is involved in weight loss (stress, sleep, micronutrient intake, hormones, the list goes on). But, all other things aside, this deficit is always necessary. I’m going to skip the food talk in this post, and focus on how you can get the most burn out of your exercise routine (hint, hint: work your ass)! Here’s how:
Muscle burns more calories than fat. Why? Muscle cells contain more mitochondria than fat cells (these are the little powerhouses that help turn calories to energy for the body). That means more muscle = a higher resting metabolic rate. Basically, when you add muscle, you’ll burn more calories even when you’re doing absolutely nothing.
Build muscles in the right places.
Don’t get me wrong, muscle anywhere on your body will make you burn more calories, but for efficiency’s sake, working on the largest muscles will give you the most bang for your buck. So what muscles should you focus on? Your glutes and hamstrings (and in general the other muscles located on the back of your body). Since we spend so much time sitting, we’ve become extremely weak in the muscles that line the back of our legs. And although your quadriceps are another large group of muscles, we tend to be very quad dominant, so I like to put the focus on the glutes and hamstrings to create balance in the body.
It takes focus.
A lot of lower body exercises rely on both the quads and glutes/hamstrings. Since we tend to be quad dominent, it takes focus to turn on the backs of our legs. Try this: do a simple squat and notice what muscles you use naturally. Then, do a squat while purposely using the glutes and hamstrings muscles (especially as you stand up out of the squat) – it probably feels different! It’s important to think about the muscles you want to work. Eventually, it will become second nature.
Combine cardio and strength training.
Strength training will help you build muscle and raise your metabolism over time (you also continue to burn calories for the 24 hours following a strength session, as your body repairs muscle). Cardio is the most efficient at burning calories during your workout. Combine the two, and you’ll get the best of both worlds. I love switching back and forth between the two for 45-60 minutes a few times a week.
Other reasons to work your butt.
Strong glutes are important for preventing back pain, healthy knees, and hip function. Women are naturally stronger in their lower bodies, so in my opinion it’s a really satisfying way to train for ladies in particular. On the flip, men need to pay extra attention to strengthening their lower bodies to keep balance in the body.
Here’s a perfect routine you can do in a gym, or using outdoor stairs. If you don’t have access to stairs, simply replace with alternating power walking/running on an incline:
15 Bridges. Start by laying on your back, feet flat on the ground. Lift your hips to the sky, pausing at the top and squeeze your butt and the back of your legs. Repeat 10x
15 All-Fours Superwoman. Start on all fours. Extend your right leg back at hip height, keeping both hips square to the ground. At the same time, extend your left arm forward. Pull your left elbow and right knee towards each other, then extend them back to the starting position, pausing for a second to squeeze your butt and the back of your leg. Keep your core deeply engaged throughout this exercise. Repeat 15x per side.
15 Step-Back Lunges. Hold 8-20 lb weight in each hand, with your feet hip width apart (if you have an injuries do this without weights). Step you right foot back and lower into a lunge; you left knee should be directly above your left ankle, and your right knee under your right hip. Then, using the muscles in your left glutes and hamstrings, stand up to your starting position. Repeat on the other side.
15 Jump Squats. Stand feet slightly wider than hips, toes gently turned out. Lower into your squat, then using your butt, explode off the ground. Land and immediately lower into your squat and repeat.
Stairclimber: choose a “base-pace” between level 5-10. This number should be one that would challenge you, but you could stay at for 15 minutes. You will not drop below this level. If you are outdoors, this should be a speed that you can carry a breathy conversation at.
0:00 – 1:00 – warm up at your base pace (example: level 5)
1:00 – 1:30 – increase to 1 level above your base (example: level 6)
1:30 – 2:00 – increase to 2 levels above your base (example: level 7)
2:00 – 2:30 – increase to 3 levels above your base(example: level 8)
2:30 – 3:00 – increase to 4 level above your base (example: level 9)
3:00 – 4:00 – recover at your base pace (example: level 5)
4:00 – 5:00 – skip a step (keep your arms straight at you grip the bar, and as you stand, you should use you glutes/handstrings to lift straight up to the sky, skipping a step each time)
5:00 – 6:00 – turn to the right and side step, crossing you right foot over your left
6:00 – 7:00 – turn to the left and side step
7:00 – 8:00 – Final push. Increase your level as high as you can handle for the last minute.
Repeat the strength and cardio sections 3 times total.