This is a common theme that comes up among runners I coach and in my nutrition sessions: the belly! How do I target belly fat? How do I get a stronger core? How do I tone up?
Contrary to common belief, the answer is not that you have to run more.
As I shared on Instagram last week, I used to think you just have to do more and more and more… nope! In fact, the opposite is typically true. For many women, high mileage training creates stress in the body, which raises cortisol levels and prevents the body from shedding any belly fat.
It’s always when I pull back from running and focus a bit more on strength training that my core feels stronger and I can see a visible difference.
Here are 5 tips if you want to strengthen your core this summer:
1) Run less!
Yes, you can do cardio 4-5x per week but you do not need to be running more than 45 minutes… even 30 minutes is sufficient. Frequent high mileage has the opposite effect for most women, causing the body to hold onto belly fat in a state of stress.
2) Strength train with a full body focus
Skip the crunches and incorporate full body compound moves like squats with a shoulder press, kettle bell swings or push ups. All of these moves work the whole body, core included and are more functional ways to move. But start small and simple. I included some of my favorite short strength workouts here.
3) Neutral spine moves
Speaking of skipping the crunches, avoid moves that crunch or twist the spine like sit ups and russian twists. Recent research shows those moves can be harmful to the spine in the long term. Instead, you can do core specific moves with a neutral spine- including planks, leg raises while lying on your back, bridges, or bird dog (pictured below).
4) Balance your protein, carbs and fat
Eat a balanced intake of your macro nutrients (fat, protein and carbs) and every meal if possible, and spread out your protein all day long, instead of concentrating it at dinner. Protein is the building block of muscle but your body can only absorb so much at a time. By spreading it out, you absorb more. Likewise, by balancing protein with carbs and fat, you prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes, stabilize your appetite and allow the body to use carbs as they are designed to be used- for energy to help you feel good!
5) Engage the deep core muscles
Try lying on your back and exhaling all the air out of your belly. Take a deep breath in, and let the belly rise as it fills up with air. If your belly doesn’t move, you are breathing in your chest, not your belly. Repeat this a few times until you are using your belly for breathing.
Then exhale all the air and engage the core, pulling the belly button down to the spine and setting the pelvic floor by holding it in place, your back pulling into the floor. You should feel the core engaged all the way from the belly button to the rib cage. Hold this for 15-30 seconds, breathing a bit more shallowly as you won’t be able to take deep breaths while contracting the core.
Exhale and repeat. This is a great way to align the pelvic floor and work the deeper abdominal muscles.
6) Work the back
The core is not only the front belly- it includes the whole trunk, stabilizing the body for every day activities. Abdominal work should be balanced with exercises that work the posterior chain.
Incorporate superman (from your belly), bridges, and donkey kicks to work the posterior chain as well as the planks and leg raises.
And finally, consistency! Your food doesn’t have to be perfect, your workouts don’t have to be perfect, you just need to consistency work in healthy foods with a good amount of protein, work the core 2-3 x per week in (short) full body strength workouts, and reduce the stress on your body.
A daily plank of 20-30 seconds is great as well. You do not need to build to 3 or 5 minute planks- short planks are just as effective.
For more core tips and group accountability, registration is open for the Fit and Fueled 6 week program, with a focus on the core!
Have you fallen for the ‘more is better’ myth when it comes to exercise?
What are some of your favorite ways to work the core?
I’m linking up with Rachel, Lora, and Debbie for Running Coaches Corner, and Nicole, Annmarie, Michelle, and Jen for Wild Workout Wednesday and and Marcia for Tuesdays on the Run.