The Do's And Don'ts Of Toning Your Midsection

The Do's And Don'ts Of Toning Your Midsection Hero Image
Photo: @rachel.trotta

Most of my clients want to sculpt a lean midsection for aesthetic reasons. Fortunately, making belly fat disappear also has a huge health advantage—a trim waistline helps prevent a variety of lifestyle-related diseases.

In fact, waist-hip-ratio (WHR) is a reliable indicator of health for both men and women and can actually be a better measurement than BMI, weight, or clothing size. When you divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement, the resulting number should be 1 or less for men, and 0.8 or less for women.

How do you reach this goal if you exceed what is recommended? Some strategies are far more effective than others, and some may be downright harmful. As a personal trainer and running coach, I know that fitness goals can seem frustrating and elusive, and I want to clear up some common myths about shedding extra weight around your waist.

Here's what you should keep in mind.

Focus on more than basic core exercises.

Don't turn exclusively to crunches and sit-ups to burn belly fat. If you're doing the right core exercises, your abdominal muscles and back will become more stable and strong, but you probably won't see visible results. In fact, many popular "ab exercises" may put your spine health at risk.

Instead, focus on standing, rigorous compound movements that utilize the butt and thighs. Squats, lunges, step-ups, and deadlifts are the foundation of all of my fat-burning plans, because they torch calories, prevent injury, and have tons of variations that make these strengthening moves perfect for any level of fitness.

Avoid extreme dieting.

Don't jump into an extreme diet. Meal plans that restrict you to less than 1,200 calories per day or eliminate entire food groups are not sustainable. You are more likely to burn out than reach fitness goals because these diets do not meet your body's basic nutritional needs. Eating restrictively also promotes black-and-white thinking, which can contribute to "yo-yo" weight loss followed by gain.

Instead, make sure to eat balanced meals at traditional mealtimes (I recommend 9 a.m., 1 p.m., and 6 p.m.) and incorporate a few nutritious snacks—and make sure that grocery shopping is part of your weekly routine. Your diet should primarily consist of fiber-rich vegetables, lean protein, and unprocessed grains that make you feel satisfied (but not heavy) after every meal.

Don't overdo it on the exercise front.

Don't "start running" by logging 5 miles per day, every day. In that vein, don't start a too-intense DVD program or exercise class, either. The key is to remember that exercise can be a stressor if overdone. If you go from "0 to 60" with high-intensity moves, you may initially see results, but you're setting yourself up to become fatigued and injured.

Instead, focus on NEAT—non-exercise activity thermogenesis. In other words, keep it moving all day long! Your body burns a baseline of calories every day just to keep you alive, which is more than you could ever burn through formal exercise. You can increase that calorie expenditure by going for a walk at lunch, walking to work, getting up from your desk every 15 minutes, and taking the stairs.

Finally, don't fall into the the trap of overthinking.

Don't allow yourself to get pulled into "tricks" or "hacks" for weight loss, because there is no secret to whittling your waist. Achieving and maintaining a lean midsection requires you to implement balanced changes over a long period of time and to also manage lifestyle factors like sleep, stress, and alcohol consumption—variables that diet and exercise don't necessarily address.

Instead, try to enjoy it. When you have a fitness goal, it's tempting to drive yourself too hard to achieve it. Remember to be kind to your body. Seek out physical activities that you find fun and refreshing. Find calorie-conscious ways to incorporate the types of food that you love. Lasting weight loss happens because changes are sustainable and consistent, so be patient and focus on making an active, healthy lifestyle something that you truly enjoy.


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