Abs. Toned stomach. Flat belly. I’ve been on a quest for the secret weapon to getting six-pack abs since I was a teen. I do everything right—eat healthily, exercise regularly, limit alcohol, even do core-targeting exercises three to seven times a week, and sometimes even twice a day. Yet—even my mother attests—I look like a healthy normal woman. Not a healthy toned, fit woman.
While the prevailing wisdom among fitness trainers is that body transformations are 80% diet and 20% exercise, anyone looking to achieve some idealized notion of six-pack abs will want to add the primary factor into that equation. If you really want eye-popping ab definition, “choose your parents carefully,” Harley Pasternak, celeb trainer and founder of the 5-Factor Diet, joked to Shape. Terms like “upper abs” and “lower abs,” he explains, mislead us to believe that we have six separate pockets of muscle defining our midsection, when it’s actually all one muscle, divided into sections by fibrous bands. “Most people have a genetic predisposition to where those lines are,” Pasternak says.
We can’t change our genetics (at least, not yet), but there are things we can do to improve our body’s response to exercise.
On my first training session with Roydian Chan, a “tier 3+” personal trainer at Equinox in Toronto, he pointed out something no one has ever told me. I wasn’t breathing properly. So, he taught me how to breathe.
That’s right. He taught me how to breathe. Sounds random, I know. But as he was poking my ribs and tummy with his finger as we went through his planned workout, I did feel silly. But the next day, I had something I never had before—delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) in my abs. And with every workout after that. (By the way: This is how you get rid of delayed-onset muscle soreness!)
Here, Chan shares with me (and you, of course) how you can get more from your abs workouts by simply breathing better.
You *NEED* to breathe!Shutterstock
“The biggest mistake is that they don’t breathe,” Chan tells me. “This usually happens in beginners because they are so worried about the task of the exercise, and how their body is feeling, that they forget to breathe. Over time this becomes a habit, and it turns into breathing all over the place.”
And I found that breathing actually engaged my core, making my abs work harder on simple exercises, like planks or squats, even when those moves don’t obviously call on the abs for the movement. (By the way, this is exactly how long you need to hold a plank to flatten your belly.)
But not breathing can also put you at risk of hurting yourself. When you don’t breathe, especially during the “hard effort” of an exercise, like the bottom of a squat, says Chan, it could put the spine and the pelvis in danger of injury.
Read about how this woman in her 30s got her enviable six-pack.