Toned abdominal muscles are hard to come by, especially for women whose hormones can work against them, says Brett Hoebel, the New York City-based celebrity personal trainer, who appeared on the last season of The Biggest Loser and is the creator of RevAbs, a 90-day workout program that promises to deliver a 6-pack.
Fluctuations in estrogen, cortisol, and testosterone (due to your normal menstrual cycle) can make it harder to burn fat, explains Hoebel. “And lower testosterone levels in women overall also make it harder to burn fat and put on muscle—two factors in getting great abs.”
And while most of us don’t feel the need to flaunt a solid 6-pack, we may crave a pair of parentheses, those sculpted vertical lines that flank the bellybutton. How to get them? Here are Hoebel’s tips for an effective approach—hormones be damned.
1. Lift heavy things. Since it’s impossible to spot reduce belly fat, you have to burn fat off of your entire body. “Strength training builds lean muscle, and lean muscle burns fat,” says Hoebel.
2. Keep up the cardio. Cardio is important for the same reason. “If you do anaerobic interval training, it not only burns calories during the workout, but it continues after the workout as well,” Hoebel says.
3. Balance your nutrition. Food is a crucial element, and Hoebel says this was a challenge for him while on The Biggest Loser, where total weight loss is the ultimate goal, rather than total body health. “It’s not just about calories. It’s about the quality of the food, and the quality of the calories,” he says. “You can save 200 calories by eating something ‘low-fat,’ but that drops your energy so you can’t do a 1,000 calorie workout.”
4. Get your sleep. Your hunger hormones are regulated while you sleep (and we’re talking deep sleep, not nodding off on the subway). Without enough sleep, ghrelin and leptin, which regulate appetite and satiety, go into overdrive and may contribute to weigh gain and obesity, say studies. Get your 8 hours and your metabolism will thank you. —Lisa Elaine Held