If you’re wondering how to tone your stomach and why it’s important, we asked the experts about why working on your core benefits your overall fitness and wellbeing. Working your stomach muscles is well worth building into your routine as it can help with posture problems and even back pain.
You’re not alone in wondering how to tone your stomach, with many of us getting it wrong by abandoning our balanced diet and concentrating purely on core exercises. However, toning any part of your body should be a careful balance of exercise and diet. We’ll also look at the best core specific exercises to tone your stomach, including where you can use the best ab roller.
How to tone your stomach: what you need to know
Toning the stomach isn’t just a matter of getting a few ab crunches into your workout - but a mixture of exercise and sticking to a balanced diet. In fact, diet is important if you’re trying to tone the stomach - and most of us will have to be in calorie deficit to see results. For more on that, see our feature on how to create a calorie deficit.
A calorie deficit is when you’re burning more calories than you are consuming. The average adult woman burns around 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day, with the average adult man burning 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day - according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. If you want to tone your stomach and be in a calorie deficit aim to eat around 3 - 500 calories less per day, but make sure your diet is still full of lean protein, whole grains, fruit, and vegetables.
Tash Lankester, personal trainer at FLEX Chelsea told Fit&Well: “A toned physique is a physique with a good amount of muscle mass, and a low body fat percentage. On top of this, you need to be doing isolation exercises to help build your abdominals, such as hanging leg raises, cable crunches, reverse crunches, and plank variations, which are important for muscle growth.
“This takes care of strengthening and increasing the size of a muscle, but unless it is paired with a calorie deficit to decrease fat mass, you won’t see any changes to your stomach through exercise alone.”
Losing belly fat, via exercise, also means mixing it up in the gym, including using the best exercise machines to lose weight, says Lankester.
“It’s essential to be training compound movements, unilateral exercises, and applying progressive overload - these movements target a wide range of muscle groups including the core - they are some of the most effective exercises we can do to strengthen our core.”
How to tone your stomach: beginners’ exercises
A great place to start if you’re a beginner is a bird dog exercise. Lankester said: “This is really working your deep core muscles and training your stability for the more advanced exercises.”
How to do a bird dog exercise:
- Start on all fours, take one arm out and reach it in front of you, whilst pushing the opposite leg out behind you.
- Make sure to draw your tummy in and tuck your pelvis under so you do not have any movement through the lower back.
Another great exercise is a glute bridge, as they help to stabilize your core, as well as work the glutes and other muscles.
How to do a glute bridge:
- Lying on the floor, on your back, with your knees bent at a 45-degree angle and arms next to your side, start to raise your pelvic floor up so your legs and stomach are in a straight line.
- Hold the position for five seconds and squeeze the glutes together, then lower before you start again. Do this for 10 reps and repeat for three sets.
How to tone your stomach: intermediate exercises
"A great intermediate core-specific exercise is a plank and a slightly more intermediate version - plank shoulder taps. This move is laying a strong foundation for you overall, and specifically targeting your core,” says Lankester.
How to do a plank:
- Start on your elbows - make sure they are directly under your shoulders, draw your tummy in and scoop your pelvis under so your spine stays straight.
- Squeeze your glutes to prevent the lower back sinking and hold. Stay in position for one minute and repeat twice.
How to do plank shoulder taps:
- Start in a press-up position, legs straight - then slowly take one hand off the floor to tap the opposite shoulder.
- Repeat on the other side and then continue to repeat the exercise, on both sides, up to eight times. Release the movement, then repeat the set of exercises three times.
How to tone your stomach: advanced exercises
If you’re more advanced and want to specifically target lower abdominal muscles, Lankester recommends decline reverse crunches and an ab roller exercise.
How to do a decline reverse crunch:
- Grab a bench and set it to decline, secure yourself with your hands, bring your knees up to table top position, and draw your tummy in towards your spine while curling your knees into your chest.
- Slowly bring yourself back to the tabletop position, in a very controlled way. Try to do eight repetitions for three sets.
How to use an ab roller for your core:
- Start on your knees and hold the ab wheel in both hands. Place the ab roller on the floor in front of you and start to roll it forwards, tightening your abs and keeping your back and arms as straight as possible.
- Roll forward until your belly is close to the floor and then roll backwards towards your body. Repeat up to six times.
For more on this, check out our feature comparing ab rollers vs crunches.
Sarah is a freelance journalist who writes about fitness and wellbeing for the BBC, Woman&Home and Tech Radar. During lockdown she found her love of running outside again and now attempts to run around 50 miles a month. When it comes to other fitness, she loves a sweaty cardio session – although since she’s been working out from home she’s sure her downstairs neighbors aren’t too happy about it. She also loves to challenge herself - and has signed up to do hiking holidays, intense bootcamps and last year she went on her dream activity holiday: paddle boarding around deserted islands in Croatia. On her rest days, she loves to recover with a simple yoga flow session – the perfect antidote to her active fitness schedule.