The good news/bad news on absJacob Lund/Shutterstock
Everyone—yes, everyone—has abs. The bad news? “Though all humans have beautiful ‘six packs,’ they’re often hidden beneath a layer of fat,” says Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, chief science officer at the American Council on Exercise. Thankfully, you can reveal those six packs without hours of sit-ups or crunches.
According to Bryant and other exercise pros we spoke with, the best way to lower body fat and get flat, defined abs is to follow a healthy eating plan, prioritize rest and recovery, and tweak your workouts to get better results in line with your goals. Read on to find out exactly how trainers help their clients make these changes so they can see results sooner rather than later. (While you’ve got trimming down on the forefront of your mind, be sure to check out these 13 quick weight-loss tips that nutrition pros swear by.)
Abs are made in the kitchen—almost every trainer Reader’s Digest spoke with said a smart diet is key to success. One easy way to improve your diet is to follow Revenge Body celebrity trainer Lacey Stone‘s go-to formula: “I tell my clients to drink lots of water and eat four meals a day. Each meal should contain a palm-sized serving of a lean protein like fish, 1/4 cup of complex carbs like quinoa or brown rice, four tablespoons of healthy fats, and as many non-starchy vegetables as they want.”
If sticking to an exact formula seems overwhelming Bryant says to start by cutting meal portions by 20 to 25 percent. (These nine genius portion control tricks for quick weight loss can help.) Once you’ve become used to eating less, then try transiting to Stone’s approach to a balanced diet.
Make your cardio more challengingDean Drobot/Shutterstock
If you’re already regularly doing cardio, that’s great; that means you’re ahead of the game when it comes to improving your cardiovascular health. But when it comes to fat loss, not any cardio workout will do. Trainers recommend HIIT—high-intensity interval training—a type of cardiovascular exercise that alternates between intense bursts of activity followed by a period of active recovery like walking or light jogging. “Studies suggest that this style of training can reduce waist circumference and abdominal fat, including visceral fat, which is stored around the organs and associated with health complications,” says Rick Richey, NASM-CPT, CES, owner of the Independent Training Spot in New York City.
Never done HIIT before? Richey says beginners should start with a 1:4 work to rest ratio. “Go all out for 20 seconds, and then go into an active recovery for 80 seconds. Do this seven times for a super-effective 12-minute workout.”
As for frequency, Stone suggests doing HIIT workouts three or four times a week either on a spin bike or a treadmill. If biking or running is tough on your joints, Rochester-based trainer Ajia Cherry, ACE, CPT says you can do HIIT on an elliptical. “This allows my clients to reap the benefits without the impact,” she says. (Hate doing cardio? Don’t miss these five energizing workout playlists to make exercising less miserable.)