A strong core isn’t just about getting a six-pack – apparently, it can also improve your mental health. According to research psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, Dr. Kelly McGoningal, different types of exercises affect your brain in different ways and you can actually change your emotional state through physical movement.
For example, when you engage the muscles of your core, it actually produces feelings of happiness or euphoria in the brain, which in turn helps reduce anxiety. How cool that simply bracing your core to stabilise your body can actually tell your brain that “I got this” and “I’m in control.”
Janice Ng, creator of AbsFocus and mental health advocate, shares five tips on getting flat abs that will not only strengthen your core, but enable you to activate an empowered state of mind.
1. Work your abs in proper body alignment
I always preach quality over quantity when it comes to workouts. Imagine if 10 well-executed ab crunches could yield the same results as 30 minutes of a core workout – which option would you choose?
2. Mix cardio and strength training
I personally like to do cardio (in the form of spinning, running, or swimming) at least two times a week so that I can burn calories, strengthen my heart and increase my oxygen capacity. Other times, I will do my own AbsFocus training (a Pilates-inspired core workout) at least twice a week and spend one day working on the full body with light weights for a more sculpted and lean physique.
3. Learn how to breathe
Apart from perfecting the movements, breathing plays an important role in sculpting your abs. If you want defined abs, you’ll need to learn how to release air out of your stomach to allow the core muscles to contract fully.
The first concept you learn in Pilates is that breath facilitates movement. My method is to use the Pilates breathing technique, which is to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. When you exhale, make sure that you’re not breathing out from your throat but through the mouth.
When you blow the air out, you’ll notice that your core muscles naturally contract. That is why when you breathe out as you do an ab crunch, you will feel the depth of the core contraction. Exhaling completely basically tightens your core as if you’re wearing a corset.
4. Eat a balanced diet
I’m not particularly strict with my diet, but I am constantly aware of the food I consume. That said, I make sure that most of the food I eat is not processed and real food (served on a plate vs. grab-and-go style). I do not actually like the taste of fatty food which contributes to a cleaner diet.
When I do crave an alcoholic drink, I try to consume drier wines that have lower sugar content. Whatever you do, avoid crash diets, as it is far more important to establish a healthy relationship with food. A positive relationship with food allows us to enjoy a more sustainable diet so we feel good about ourselves: mentally, emotionally, and physically.
5. Stay committed with positive reinforcement
Like everyone else, I also have my off days where I just do not want to move – especially during this difficult lockdown period. Positive reinforcement is key for establishing new behaviours, where your brain connects the action (exercising) to the reward. The workout itself might not get easier, but the action of getting a workout done will become a habit that you look forward to doing. Why not find a workout buddy to share the joy, or pain, of working out?
Created by Janice Ng, AbsFocus is a music-driven workout that applies Pilates techniques and exercises to the routine. The HIIT core exercise section increases the workout intensity to give your core better definition, while the adrenaline rush that comes with it makes you feel great.
Want to try it out? Follow this 30-min AbsFocus workout with Janice and see what you think!