The Truth About Abs Training

Jessica Poplawski, a Boston Marathon runner, certified personal trainer and general manager of Bodyscapes Fitness in Southborough, Massachusetts, shares the secrets to getting great abs.

Is it really possible for me, an average recreational runner in my 30s, to get flat, toned abs? I'm not overweight, but I've always had a "tummy tire."

Yes, it's possible for most women in their 20s to 40s to get a six-pack. But there's no magic pill. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication. There are three factors that come into play with abs training--exercise, genetics and nutrition. Abs development is as much about food and fat as it is about exercise. Here are three tips to keep in mind.

What you eat matters. Women don't like to hear it, but so much involved with getting great abs comes down to what they put in their mouths. You have to be lean before you can see the abs, which are usually hidden underneath a layer of fat. The best plan: Eat a sensible, well-balanced diet full of lots of fruits and vegetables and lean protein like fish. Following a well-rounded diet allows you to avoid periods of purging and bingeing. And don't fall for fad diets. They might work for a short period of time, but not for the long haul. 

My clients often make nutrition mistakes they think are healthy choices. Remember: Protein bars can be high in calories and aren't usually appropriate for a snack, even after a run. An apple with peanut butter is a better choice. And don't drink pre-made smoothies, which can be loaded with sugar and calories. Make your own with low-fat milk or Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, and a small amount of orange juice for a bit of sweetness.

Get lean. There is no such thing as target training. It's not possible to lose fat in just one place, like your abs or butt. You have to focus on how much you're eating vs. how many calories you are burning in order to lose weight. Stress can also cause your body to hold onto fat as a protection mechanism. Reducing stress in your life and getting enough sleep--seven to eight hours works for most people--can help you lose weight.

Know your body. Genetics does play a factor in where your body holds fat and how easy it is for you to develop ab definition. If your parents gain weight around their mid-sections, you probably will, too. But exercise and nutrition can overcome genetics. If you tend to gain weight first in your stomach region, it'll be the hardest place to lose it. This doesn't mean it's impossible; it's just going to take more time and work.

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