How To Train The Core For A Smaller Waist
Author - Stephen Griffith C.S.C.S.
Nothing accentuates a good physique like a narrow waist. Whether your guy looking for the inverted pyramid or a woman looking for that nice hourglass figure the narrow waist is key.
When I started training I thought that lots of cardio and crunches were the key to this tight waist, and if I did enough I’d have abs like Adonis.
However, as I went through my schooling I learned that the common assumptions I and many others in the gym have for narrowing the waist were either inefficient or even potentially dangerous. Since that time I've trained a number of clients who have lost 5,10,20, and even as much as 60lbs while dropping several pants sizes and inches off their waist.
During this time I've been able to see and document the training and exercises that have been most effective. Today I'd like to share how you too can train the core properly and drop 1 to 2 inches off your waist within the next month.
First, let's start off five mistakes that I often see in the gym from those who are looking to narrow their waistline. If this describes you then take joy in knowing that with a few tweaks we can get the scale and the tape measure moving in the right direction.
Mistake #1 - Poor Nutrition
“You cannot out train a bad diet”.
When it comes to losing weight and changing physique it all starts in the kitchen. If you lose weight and drop belly fat then your waist will get smaller.
So How do you know what eating well entails? I like to break it down into three categories which I’ve picked up from Fat Loss Expert Josh Hillis - Quantity, Quality, and Ratios
Quantity is going to determine your weight. It’s how much food you're eating and specifically how many calories you're consuming per day.
If you want to get bigger - Eat more calories.
If you want to stay the same - Maintain your calories.
If you want to lose weight - Reduce your calories.
If you're looking to lose weight then I advise not cutting much more than 500 calories a day. This will ensure healthy gradual weight loss. Dropping too many calories a day will make you hungry, slow your metabolism, and make you more likely to lose muscle in the process.
For help getting an idea of how many calories you're eating I suggest a 3-day food log using a service like myfitnesspal. Track all of your foods for 3 days and you begin to get an idea of how many calories you're consuming a day, and how many calories are in your favorite foods.
Here is another useful guide for finding how many calories are in the foods you eat every day
Food Quality is going to play a big role in your body composition. Your body composition is the ratio of how much muscle you have compared to fat. The better the composition - the more toned and defined you will look.
I like to keep things simple when choosing quality foods. Aim for whole foods high in nutritional value. This means lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds legumes and whole grains.
If you do this you will see a huge difference in not only your physique but also your health.
Ratios refers to the ratio of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates in your diet(also known as macronutrients). It plays a big role in how full you feel. The fuller you feel the less you eat unnecessarily and the more weight you will lose. There is no one macronutrient ratio for everyone because what works best depends on a person's individual response, activity level and, goals.
Do not cut out any macronutrient entirely. Bad things happen when you go to the extremes.
If your training as you should then make sure to have a source of protein with each meal. This is important for maintaining your muscle mass because muscle is made of protein. Protein digest slowly so It will also keep you full longer.
Keep your carbs in line with your physical activity. If you were very active during the day then you can eat proportionally more carbs. If your day was like many of us - that is at a desk and inactive, then reduce how many carbs you have.
That covers the basics of nutrition and what you need to know. Now let's get to the training.
Mistake #2 - Spot reduction
Spot reduction is the idea that you can burn fat in a certain area by working it out. The common example is doing endless crunches to lose your belly. Unfortunately, spot reduction is a myth that will not die in the fitness industry. Doing endless ab exercises will not help you lose your gut faster. To lose fat around your belly you don’t need a workout for your stomach, you need a workout geared at burning fat. In order to achieve this, you'll want an exercise program that works the whole body. The more muscles you work, the more calories you burn, and the more fat you lose. The more fat you lose the less belly fat you’ll have. Unfortunately, ab and core exercises burn few calories compared to their multi-joint counterparts such as squats, deadlifts, or push-ups. Make the switch if you want to actually lose the belly.
Mistake #3 - Endless Cardio
Let’s continue on the thought I just presented above - That burning more calories will burn more belly fat. Often when people hear they need to burn more calories their go-to is to hop on the treadmill and start trotting away. We’ll Your time is valuable and getting you the best results comes down to prioritizing your efforts. Alwyn Cosgrove, an Industry leader wrote an article called the Hierarchy of Fat Loss which changed the industry. In it, he laid out how to organize your training efforts to maximize fat loss. It’s an article I send to all of my clients and new trainers and I suggest you give it a read as well.
The Hierarchy breaks down below
1. Correct nutrition (We covered this above)
2. Activities that burn calories, promote muscle mass, and elevate metabolism
3. Activities that burn calories and elevate metabolism
4. Activities that burn calories but don't necessarily maintain muscle or elevate metabolism
Activities that burn calories are pretty much any activity or exercise you do during the day.
Exercises that Promote Muscle mass refers to resistance training. When you train with resistance not only does it burn calories but also creates muscle damage. This muscle damage needs to be repaired, and when it is, you are left with larger more toned muscles. The added benefit is that the food you eat begins working for you, instead of you working for it. When you eat food the nutrients and energy go to repairing and building muscle instead of being stored as fat.
Elevation of metabolism allows you to burn calories even after exercise. This happens when we work at high intensities. After about of high-intensity exercise, your body must work to bring everything back to normal. This process takes energy, and hence burns calories even after you’ve left the gym. Workouts that elevate metabolism include resistance training done with short reps and a high intensity, and interval training.
Below are the top five methods listed which should serve as a blueprint for how to your program should look when looking to burn fat. Note that Steady state cardio like easy running on a treadmill is last in its efficiency. Read the article for more details and explanations for each.
The Top Five Fat Loss Training Methods
1. Metabolic Resistance Training
2. High-Intensity Anaerobic Interval Training
3. High-Intensity Aerobic Interval Training
4. Steady State High-Intensity Aerobic Training
5. Steady State Low-Intensity Activity
Up until this point, I’ve focused on how to lose belly fat because it's the most important factor to shrinking your waistline. Now I want to transition to what type of core exercises will be most productive to tighten the stomach. This brings me to the last mistake which poses the biggest safety concern on the list.
Mistake #4 - Excessive Spinal Flexion
This last mistake poses the largest safety concern of the list. Up until this point, the mistakes I've mentioned have been mistakes of inefficiency. This one is a mistake that can jeopardize your safety which is excessive spinal flexion exercises. By spinal flexion exercises, i'm referring to those ab exercises that require you to round your spine such as sit-ups, crunches, and their weighted variations.
The issue with these exercises stems from our lifestyle - often one that involves countless hours of sitting down hunched over a desk. This lifestyle of always being hunched over leads to poor posture and eventually deteriorates into lower back, shoulder, and neck pain. When we perform exercises where we continuously flex the spine underweight we are only adding to the dysfunction. The shoulders round forward, the back hunches over, the head juts forward, and the lower back continues to take a beating until it eventually causes pain or injury.
Crunches and such are not inherently bad for those with a healthy back, but for those who are older, spend several hours sitting each day, or already suffer from back pain then you would be best to abstain from these exercises or risk suffering consequences later down the road.
Spinal flexion exercises may be used to create definition in those 6 pack muscles. But I usually make a few suggestions before performing them.
You should have a healthy back. If you are at risk for back pain or have poor posture then I suggest you abstain and work on fixing those dysfunctions.
If it's covered in fat then it doesn’t matter how hard you work your abs because no one will see it. There's no need to put your spine through that punishment. Instead, focus on the exercise I suggest below and on losing the body fat first. One you lose a significant amount of body fat and you can begin to see outlines come in then start with an ab training regimen.
When performing ab exercises where you're flexing the spine perform slow controlled repetitions. Fast repetitions increase risk and damage while not working the muscles as well. Slow mindful reps - feel the muscles burn.
Avoid the trifecta - That is to avoid flexing and rotating the spine under load. This is the single most effective way to ensure a visit to the orthopedic. Don’t even look at the ab crunch/rotation machine found in most gyms.
So what core exercises should you do if you want to shrink your waist?
When we think of core the first muscles that come to mind are the rectus abdominis, the 6 pack as it's known. But beneath the 6 pack lies many muscles that effectively act as a corset by wrapping around the midsection and sucking everything in providing support for your internal organs and spine.
I’ve gotten to see the corset effect in person while training my clients. After just a few training sessions I was able to see dramatic reductions in my client's waist measurements. I had clients who lost as much as 1-2 inches off their waist in only a two-week span. While they did lose weight it didn’t explain that big of a difference in their waist measurement. So what was it the then?
The change was to those core muscles being turned back on. The muscles around the core are postural muscles. These postural muscles help maintain support and stability for the body over long durations. However, after spending so much time sitting with poor posture these muscles effectively turned off and stopped working.
Once we started activating them again they're engaged and started pulling everything in.
So how can you do the same?
The main purpose of these deep core muscles is not to generate movement but rather to resist movement. Their goal is to keep you stabilize first and foremost. Here are some of my favorite exercises which I slip into my client's programs. Training these muscles will not only make your waist appear smaller, but also make you healthier.
Core exercise that stabilizes the core will fall into one of the 4 categories below.
Anti Extension - preventing the back from extending
Anti Flexion - Preventing the back from rounding forward
Anti Lateral Flexion - preventing the body from bending at the side
Anti Rotation - Preventing the spine from rotating
Below I’ve shared a few of my favorites for you to get started with. A balanced and comprehensive core routine will work each one of these categories.
The dead-bug which is an excellent exercise for engaging the core and teaching you how to stabilize the spine while moving your arms and legs.
In the dead-bug, you will lie on your back. While on your back, bring your legs up at a 90* angle with knees over hips. Next, lift both arms straight in front of your body like Frankenstein. From this position, you will engage the core pushing your lower back on the ground. Hold this spinal position as you extend your opposite leg and arm. Bring it back in and perform with the other side.
Feedback is necessary for learning. If you can find a thin rubber exercise band. Tie one band to a secure object. Stretch the band so there is tension and place it under your lower back(right where it would want to arch up. Engage the core and push down on the band with your lower back then perform the dead-bug. If you lose spinal position the tension on the band will pull and you will know. For a perfect dead bug, the band shouldn’t move.
If opposite arm and leg are difficult then practice by moving just one limb at a time. Start with the arms, then the legs. Try touching the heel down first before extending the whole leg out.
The plank is an exercise that can help us build baseline core stability.
Starting Position - Lie on your belly. From this position prop yourself up on your elbows and forearms. The elbows should be under your shoulders.
Performance - From here lift your body and hold it in a straight line.
The plank is a simple exercise but one that's often performed wrong. To receive the most benefit from this exercise, we will want to make sure our body in the right position.
When doing this exercise correctly, you should feel it in the muscles around the belly. When performed wrong you will either not feel anything, or begin to feel something in your lower back.
If this happens, then you have lost position.
Losing your body position
If you are having trouble getting into the right position follow this progression
Go back to our posture and alignment drills. Before performing a plank while standing perform our hip tilt drills. Engage the core and squeeze the butt to tilt your pelvis back towards neutral. Being able to engage the core and keep the pelvis in this position will be important.
Get into your plank position. lift your hips a little too high, then a little too low. Note how each position feels. Then find the position right in the middle where it feels just right.
For Feedback, you may glance over and do a mirror check.
Last, if you are having trouble perform our stick drill. Either have a friend place it along your back, or maneuver it yourself. On a good plank your head, upper back, and tailbone should maintain contact with the stick.
Use these tools to get in the right position. Once there make sure you're engaging the core and feeling it in the right spot.
Stir the pot https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5JiqX3whQI
The side plank is a great exercise for resisting lateral flexion (side bending movement)
To perform the side plank lie on your side, prop up onto one forearm and lift the hips.
Hips don’t sag down - maintain a straight line with your body.
Hips don't shift back - If you must squeeze your butt to help
The Pallof press is an exercise to challenge your obliques. Your obliques are the muscles that run an angle next to your abdominals. Their job is to resist rotation.
Set up perpendicular to a cable or band and hold the handle close to the chest. Push the handle out in front of you, then pull it back to your chest - 1 rep.
Bonus: Assume a half kneeling position: One knee down, and one knee up with both knees form right angles to challenge your hip stability.
Perform the exercise slowly for full benefits.
Loaded carries read: Carry heavy stuff. Loaded carries are a great way to build the core, work capacity, and transfer directly to your everyday life.
Farmer Carry - Carry a weight in each hand with good posture.
Suitcase carry - Carry a weight in 1 hand while maintaining posture
Goblet carry - carrying a weight in front of the body
Heartbeat carry- a modification of the goblet carry where you press the weight out and back like a beating heart as you walk.
Overhead carry - Carry a weight in one hand overhead
Heavy Exercises like Deadlifts and Squats
Big compound exercises(exercises that use multiple muscles and joints) not only provide the most value as far as burning calories and gaining muscle but also require a ton of core strength. In order for your body to hold its position, you will have to brace the core. EMG studies have shown muscle activation of the deep core muscles to exceed that of the plank when performing heavy squats.
Various One Arm Exercises
Any exercise done with one arm puts unequal forces on your body. Forces that need to be stabilized. One arm exercises can be a great way to add more core activation to your workout.
Consider throwing in some of following -
One arm Row
One arm Plank
One arm Bench Press
One arm Overhead Press
We all want a narrow and defined waist, however most conventional approaches will do more harm than good.
To avoid these mistakes and potential injury start with proper nutrition. Even the greatest ab routine will return no changes if your work is hidden behind a layer of fat.
As you take care of nutrition, let’s focus on exercises that stabilize the core. These exercises will not only help suck in the waist but also keep your back safe from injury.
As you progress and lose weight, you may do some dedicated core flexion ab if you are determined to get a 6 pack. exercises if you back permits.
Follow this guide and reap the benefits.
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