I just came back from the dentist. I’ll wait for the applause to die down before continuing. Because, seriously, every person should be met with a cheering crowd after any dental work.

Whether it’s deep cleaning with what feels like construction equipment or root canals, it’s always ZERO amounts of fun.

 NOT my real teeth, thankfully

To make matters worse, my dentist is a big fan of standup comedy, so he attempts to ease the discomfort of the session by telling jokes.

It not only doesn’t work, but if I laugh I risk gagging on some mirrored dental probe shoved in my face.

Plus, lately my appointments have not ended well (see this prior post about cavities). I leave with a new toothbrush, mini tube of toothpaste, and a bill for a couple hundred dollars and an appointment for the next level of work to resolve whatever issue now plagues my pearly whites.

From crowns (unfortunately, not the Queen of England type) to root canals and worn down teeth, you’d think I’d spent my days gnawing on jaw breakers for breakfast and lollipops for dinner.

Nope, just bad teeth genetics, apparently.

This reminds me of a question I get at least once a week: How can I firm up my belly?? Frowny face with tears.

I know, the two topics seem worlds apart. But here’s the thing: The answer is similar to the one I get when I ask my dentist: How can I stop spending hundreds of dollars and going through hours of pain, needles and nearly falling backwards out of the chair?

The answer: It depends.

Since this post isn’t called Ageless Tooth Adventures, I’ll focus on abs.

Washboard abs aren’t realistic for 99% of the population

Contrary to nearly every article on the subject, the ab-firming results you get from any exercise program have nothing to do with volume, e.g. endless crunches every day.

In fact, that type of routine is almost never beneficial because if you’re able to perform hundreds of crunches, chances are you’re not using a slow-and-controlled, perfect form but blasting them out rapid fire like.

(And, if you have any type of osteopenia or osteoporosis, you shouldn’t be doing any type of flexion exercises such as crunches, regardless.)

Your genetics, diet, the amount of sleep you get and the stress you’re under (and your ability to handle that stress), plus any surgeries you’ve had in the past that may have affected the muscles in that area (e.g. C-sections) PLUS… your exercise routine all create a perfect storm of ab muscle formation.

Or not.

More than any exercise on the planet, the biggest factor in creating a flatter midsection: getting your diet in order if you need to lose weight.

If you have excess fat around your middle, you can do ab exercises until the cows come home and you won’t be able to see any change until you rein in belly fat. Crunches do NOT burn off ab fat.

If it did, everyone cranking away on gym ab rollers would have washboard bellies. It’s not the case.

Spot reducing (working out to make one particular body part smaller or tighter) doesn’t work if you need to lose weight.

If you haven’t yet thrown eggs at this post, I’ll assume you’re also working on your diet as well as your exercise routine.

Keep these five tips in mind to get the most bang for your ab buck, no matter what exercise you choose…

1. Think quality vs. quantity

Forget about achieving a ridiculous number of reps. A hundred crunches means nothing if you’re ballistically bouncing up and down and using mostly momentum.

When you use proper form and control the movement in both directions (up and down, stretch and contract, a.k.a. eccentric and concentric) you should not be able to do tons of reps – but they’ll all count. Go to fatigue, which simply means do as many as you can in good form.

Once you start getting sloppy, stop, rest and do another set. 

2. Keep up your Kegels

Yup, Kegels! You know these as the exercise done to get your pelvic floor back in shape to keep you from leaking urine when you sneeze or jump up and down.

Well did you know the pelvic floor is one of the core muscles? File under “weird but true.” So along with contracting your abdominal muscles, pull in these bad boys, too (squeeze as if you’re trying to stop the flow of urine) to get every muscle into the act.

3. Engage before launching

Be mindful of contracting your abdominals by pulling them — “engaging” — in versus pushing them out as you do your moves. Plus, be sure to consciously engage your muscles, avoid just going through the motions. Imagine someone’s about to tickle you. Feel those muscles tighten up?

4. Exhale

Never hold your breath when doing ab exercise, or any exercise for that matter. It not only raises your blood pressure (called the Valsalva Maneuver) but prevents you from completely engaging your abdominals when doing a crunch. Think “exhale on exertion,” or simply count out loud with each rep, which makes you exhale as you do.

5. Be stealthy with it

You can do isometric ab exercises (these do not involve a stretch and relax component but you remain in the same position — like a plank) whether you’re stuck in traffic, sitting at your desk or otherwise being sedentary. For example, while sitting at your desk, focus on pulling in your belly button, relax, and repeat. It keeps your mind on your abs in between structured workout times.

NOW YOU… What’s your favorite (e.g. least hated) ab exercise? Will you try one of these tips to kick up results a notch? Let me know in the comments section below…

Other posts you may enjoy:

Abs! A 3-minute routine you’ll love to hate

3 Exercises to tone you all over

3 Underrated, undervalued and unavoidable keys to reaching your goals

Got question? Comments not related to this post? Send ’em my way: Linda@LindaMelone.com