Best Flat Belly Exercises

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Your Core Body

Your belly is part of your anatomic center, or core, which generates strength and mobility for the whole body. The core muscles, including the abdominals and spinal muscles, provide endurance for holding a position and dynamic power when the body is in motion. A strong core equips you to handle the routine physical demands of daily life – lifting children, working at a desk, doing housework, driving a car, or simply getting up out of a chair – with greater ease and comfort.

Why is the midsection so difficult to shape up?

  •  What causes midlife belly?

  • Why is it that an apple shape is at greater risk for disease than a pear?

  • Why is abdominal fat considered “toxic”?

  • Can exercise help reduce toxic fat?

  • Does belly fat contribute to lower back pain?

1) What causes midlife belly?

Age is one part of the equation; hormones and stress also contribute. With age, a woman’s level of estrogen declines and the male hormone testosterone becomes more prevalent. This causes fat to migrate to the gut from other parts of the body (the hips, for example). Stress reaction has a similar effect on fat distribution as it releases another hormone, cortisol, which also encourages fat storage in the belly.

2) What makes an apple shape more at risk for disease?

Body composition and shape are closely related to health. If you have excess body fat, are you carrying it around your middle (apple shape) or does it settle in your hips and thighs (pear shape)? For apples, fat found deep in the abdomen, visceral fat, is the real culprit. It surrounds your organs and raises your risk of chronic illness, like cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and some cancers, as well as a need for gall bladder surgery.

 3) Why is abdominal fat so “toxic”?

The enzymes in abdominal fat cells are very active, allowing fat to move easily into and out of the cells. The greater amount of fat in the abdominal cavity, the greater amount that can be dumped into the bloodstream, contributing to high cholesterol levels, heart disease, and diabetes.  Additionally, a stress response increases enzyme activity and can cause fat to be released into the blood.

4) Can exercise help reduce toxic fat?

Yes!  Visceral fat is easier to reduce than fat from your thighs (subcutaneous fat). It responds more rapidly to exercise and diet because it is more active and breaks down more quickly. Research shows that exercise reduces the size of fat cells in the belly more effectively than dieting alone. It also prevents fat from being stored in the organs and muscle.

5) Will doing flat belly exercises help prevent lower-back ache?

They can help. A combination of weak abdominals and extra weight around the belly can pull the top of the pelvis forward, increasing the curve in the lower back and straining it. This can cause muscle fatigue, soreness, or injury. Solution: strengthen the abs and lose body fat.

What’s the fastest way to shape up the belly with exercise?

Create a simple plan. Make it manageable. Stick with it!

A well-rounded exercise program has a definite structure and includes cardiovascular or aerobic exercise, strength training, and stretching.

  • Cardio

  • Strengthening

  • Stretching

1) Cardio:

At least 30 minutes every day, five days a week. When you have established your basic routine, add intervals of higher intensity to burn more calories in the same period.

2) Strengthening:

Focus on core exercises to strengthen the abdomen and the spine. Begin gradually and build up slowly. As you get stronger, do more advanced variations of the exercises, add more repetitions, or hold the positions longer. (See exercises below).

3) Stretching:

Reduce a belly bulge by standing up tall. Stretch out the trunk, elongate the sides of the torso, separate the ribs from the hips, and lengthen the spine.

The Exercises

  • Abdominal compression

  • Plank

  • Dead bug

  • Bird dog

1) Abdominal compression

Combine a belly breath with abdominal compression to engage the transverse abdominus (or TVA), a flat, horizontal band of muscle that encircles the midsection from front to back.  Strengthening it narrows the waist, flattens the belly, and supports the lower back, just like a corset!

  • Inhale, fill the belly with air, then exhale forcefully by pulling the abdominals tight (think “belly button to spine”) and push the air out. Place your hands on your belly to feel the action of the abdominals as they expand and contract.

  • As you exhale, imagine you are “scooping” the abdominals to zip up a tight pair of jeans.

2) Plank

There are several modifications of this abdominal stabilization exercise where you hold your trunk in perfect neutral spinal alignment, “hovering” above the floor. Start with the wall or half-plank variation on the floor (as in video) before trying the full-body version.

  • Lying on your stomach, position elbows directly beneath the shoulders, forearms on the floor.

  • Come up onto your toes and lift your body off the floor, creating a straight line from head to heels.

  • Pull your abs tight and anchor your shoulder blades. Hold for 30-60 seconds. Watch the video with variations on performing the plank.

3) Dead bug (not pictured)

Using abdominal compression, hold the pelvis in neutral while the moving limbs provide resistance. Be careful not to arch your back or rock your pelvis from side to side.

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent over your hips, calves parallel to the floor; both arms extended to the ceiling, palms forward.

  • Pull your abs in tight, belly button to spine.

  • Lower an opposite arm and leg toward the floor. To begin, keep your knees bent as you lower your legs to the floor, alternating sides.

  • As you advance, lengthen through the limbs, extending your legs as you lower them, and bring the other knee in over your chest.

  • Switch sides for 5-10 repetitions (1 rep = both sides)

4) Bird dog

To balance out the abdominal work, this exercise targets the deep muscles along the spine, the erector spinae, as well as the glutes in the buttocks and the deltoid in the shoulder.  As a bonus, it challenges your balance and stabilization.

  • Kneel on all fours, wrists beneath shoulders, knees under hips.

  • Lift one leg to the back, keeping the knee straight, then reach forward with the opposite arm, palm facing in.

  • Repeat 3-10 times on each side.

For expert guidance on strength training techniques, step by step photos depicting how to perform the exercises and a selection of well-rounded workouts please check out the book Strength Training Exercises for Women by Joan Pagano at

 Joan also offers an online fitness and nutrition course, “Beat Belly Fat, Bloating, Bone Loss and the Blues” available here.


  • Joan Pagano

    Joan Pagano has specialized in strength training for women since 1988 – training, teaching, and writing books on the subject, including Strength Training Exercises for Women (DK, 2014). When the health benefits of strength training started making headlines in the 1990s, and in particular how weight training could protect the bones and prevent osteoporosis, it was a natural segue for her. At that time, Joan was developing and delivering fitness training guidelines for osteoporosis to national audiences of exercise professionals. Currently Joan is recognized by the industry as a leading authority on exercise program design for osteoporosis. She is certified as an Exercise Physiologist by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and is on the Ambassadors Leadership Council for the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Visit Joan at:

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