McGill Big 3 Exercises For Your Core

McGill Big 3 Exercises For Your Core

Do you suffer from back pain or just want to build a stronger core?

Watch this video and I’ll take you through Dr. Stuart McGill’s Big three exercises for core strengthening.

Today I’m going to talk to you about McGill’s big three exercises.

Dr. Stuart McGill is a professor in spinal biomechanics at the university of Waterloo that’s right here in Ontario, Canada (where I also live!).


He’s basically the master of helping people recover from back pain.

He’s done a lot of research and he teaches clinicians. He knows what he’s talking about when it comes to spinal health.

Dr McGill has three exercises that he calls his big three that are important for spinal stability.

Those are the ones I’m going to share with you today, particularly important for people with lower back pain and make sure you watch the video all the way to the end because I’m going to show you how to incorporate these exercises into your routine and I’m going to explain the one very important instruction that Dr McGill insists on for all exercises.

McGill Big 3 – #1 Bird Dog

We’re going to start off with the bird dog exercise, which you’ve probably seen before, but this is a very specific version for McGill. He likes to do the isometric hold. It’s a very slow controlled movement with a hold. So you’re on your hands and knees here and about whatever’s comfortable, hip did stints for you.

First thing that you’re going to do is make sure that you’ve got an arch in your lumbar spine, maintaining that natural curve and you’re going to pull in, dry your abs up without rounding your back. So maintain the curve, tighten up with the apps and then move.

You’re holding for about 10 seconds at the top and then bring it back down. It’s very important that you avoid shifting from side to side. Everything is done with the control of the abdominals. When you’re finished, all your reps on one side, you switch and then come back down.

This is a great exercise for the core, the TVA, and the back. That’s everything that’s involved with stabilizing the spine.

McGill Big 3 – #2 Modified Curl Up

The next exercise is the modified curl up.

You’re going to start this on your back.

Place your hands underneath your lower back and you want to maintain that arch throughout the exercise.

The other important thing here is that you’re lifting your elbows up. Just to take the attention off there.

That’s your starting position with your upper body. One leg, in this case, one knee is going to be bent and the other leg is going to be straight. So it focuses and helps you brace on that side. What happens here is that you want to do that bracing action. You’re tightening up your abdominals before you make any movement. Think about when you’re in a plank position.

That’s the bracing action. So you brace and then lift the head up and then you’re holding there. So you do your accounts from here and then back down. Now it’s really important that you don’t start cranking your neck up or anything like that.

It’s a very gentle lift. You just want to lightly lift your head up, hold it there, and then back down. Remember also that your elbows are still up, your back is still arched and you’ve got one leg in front. When you’re done all the repetitions and holds on one side, you can switch over and do it on the other side. So left brace to begin and hold. One, two, three, four, five, six and then.

McGill Big 3 – #3 Side Plank

The last exercise is the side bridge or the side plank.

Now are you going to try? You’re going to come sideways and the important part of this one is that the top leg is going to come slightly in front of the bottom leg and that will set your position up. It’s a little bit more stable than what you often see, which is one foot over top of the other, so one over top of the other here in front of the other, and then you’re going to come down on your elbow and forearm really pressed in and then lift and you want to make sure that your spine is aligned.

You’ve got that little curve in the lower back and you’re pulling in your TVA. You can either put your hands here at the side. I like to do this one with the hands. Is that just to hold that position and the same thing. It’s a bracing of the abs so you can feel the obliques working primarily here. You’re going to get a little bit of glute work there as well. That’s your whole position and then you come down and then you’re going to come up and do this. So it would be 10 seconds on one side and then come back up for another rep of 10 seconds.

Then come back down. And then you do this six times on one side and switch over and do six reps on the other.

How To Fit The McGill Big 3 Into Your Workout Program

You’ll notice that if you go through the entire protocol that it can take a long time. So you can modify this, you can do one of these big three exercises per day, or you can just do a shorter amount. You can go straight up to the ten second you can modify the holds in general throughout the program and just do whatever works for you. It’s better to be doing these exercises some way and partially then not to be doing them at all.

And the one thing that Dr McGill absolutely insists on is the neutral lumber spine.

That means just maintaining that curve in your lower back while you’re performing these exercises. So to be honest, despite the fact that McGill is such an expert, the idea is somewhat controversial and a lot of people think it’s perfectly safe to be able to flatten the back.

Just kind of flatten this, this way to train the TVA and it’s okay to do some exercises that way.

His expertise is with back pain patients particularly. Perhaps for someone with a healthy spine, it’s not an issue.

I’ve actually found that with beginners, flattening the lumbar spine helps them to learn how to activate the transfers of dominance. And I think that’s the key because we need to learn to activate the TVA first and then we can use it in all positions. Because remember the role of the TVA is to stabilize the pelvis and the lower back before you, before there’s movement of the arms or legs. So you really want to make sure that you know how to activate that TVA one way or the other. So let me know in the comments if you’ve used these exercises before, what your experience was.

Ivana Chapman



Flatten Your Stomach Without Crunches

Do you want to flatten your stomach, but without doing crunches?

Or all those typical things that people do at the gym that don’t actually work?

Watch this video and I’ll tell you what it really takes to flatten your stomach.

Welcome to my channel!

I’m all about getting you fit healthy and strong and yes, a flat stomach is part of that.

A lot of people have that as their goal and I’ve been helping people do that for about 20 years now.

I’ve got some great tips coming for you.

At the very end I’m going to tell you why crunches can actually be a really bad idea and they can actually be dangerous for you.

I’m going to break this down into three simple tips. They are simple but unfortunately they’re not easy.

Lose Belly Fat To Flatten Your Stomach

I actually created an entire video about losing belly fat and I definitely recommend that you check that out.

Losing belly fat. Just in the simplest terms, you need to manage your calorie intake and calorie expenditure. So you need to be in a calorie deficit. So a lot of people think they’re in a calorie deficit, they think that they’re not eating that much or whatever.

By definition, if you’re not losing fat, then you’re not in a calorie deficit.

So you need to either increase your energy expenditure or decrease your calorie intake.

In some cases, modifying your macros may also make a difference. And that’s might be another factor that you need to consider. But producing a calorie deficit will reduce your belly fat, and that’s the first thing.

You’re losing fat all over anyway. For a lot of people, the last place to go will be the stomach.

You’re going to have to lose a certain amount of body fat before you starting to flatten things down around the midsection.

Simple but not easy.

Flatten Your Stomach With TVA Exercises

As opposed to crunches, which are primarily working the rectus abdominous TVA exercises, that’s the transversus abdominis. So it’s often thought of as the lower abdominals, but it’s not really just in the lower abdominals. It’s actually all the way around and it’s the inner abdominal.

Your abdominals are in layers, so you’ve got them underneath the rectus, the six pack muscle, the rectus abdominis is actually on the outside, but inside at the very inner part is the TVA or sometimes called the TA depending on um, your terminology. And that’s actually, it’s a big wide muscle. We often feel it just coming in.

You touch where your hipbones are and come in a little bit, but it actually is right under and it’s larger than most people think it is as well. And it, it wraps right around.

It helps to support your back.

A lot of people have weak TVA muscles.

That means that their stomach is kind of bulging out at the bottom, even though even if they are quite slim and don’t have a lot of fat, they’re bulging out at the bottom.

TVA muscles can actually help pull things in. Knowing to activate those when you’re either sitting or standing can help tighten things up and improve the appearance.

It’s going to flatten your stomach.

I’m going to go through a few of those exercises, the ones that are really important.

TVA Exercises To Flatten Your Stomach

The important thing when you’re doing TVA exercises is that you first need to learn how to activate that TVA.

TVA Contractions

Normally it’s easiest for people if they’re lying down on their back. And then you’re going to have your knees bent. And the first thing you’re going to do, cause you’ve got a natural arch, your lumber lumber arch here.

That should normally be in there. What you’re gonna do is just place your hands under there and then flatten. Press down with that arch onto your fingers. So then you’re squeezing. And by doing that movement, you should be able to start to feel the TVA in there. So you’re pressing down, but really you can feel the contraction on the other side.

Normally I have clients find it where the hipbones are and then just coming in a couple of maybe an inch or two in.

Then you just press down very hard. The one on the outside that would be rectus. It’s coming all the way.

Your rectus abdominis is outside and your TVA is very deep underneath.

It’s just a subtle movement. So as you pressed flat, then you should feel that area of contract underneath your fingers. And then you release and you go back into a natural arch position.

You look underneath my back there, I’m going back to a regular arch. And then we’re going to do another contraction. So to flatten your back and hold for one, two, three, and then release. So this one, when you’re starting out, you can just do three sets of 10 and you’re going to be doing it. Hold each of those for three seconds.

One, two, three, feel that squeeze and then relax it back. You have that lumber curve again.

And then press down one, two, three, and then relax. That’s the TVA contraction.


Now once you’ve learned to activate the TVA correctly, we’re going to move on to the next movement.

You’re in the same position. To start off, you want to flatten that arch to activate the TVA, and now you’re gonna lift one foot and then bring it back down again.

And then you’re going to lift the opposite side and bring it down again.

Initially you’re probably only to be able to do one lift and come back down before you feel like you have to release. And then let go of that. Let go of the TV at the front. Eventually it’d be able to do more in a row. So we’re going to start this. Maybe you start with five and that’s okay.

Press flat first and then do a March left. So your squeeze and keeping the back flat during that, and then switch, same kind of thing, and then back down and left. And it keeps switching from slide to slide. Just gently and always focusing on maintaining the contraction here at the bottom of the TVA.

TVA Foot Slides

The next exercise is going to start from the same position, flattening the back first to activate the TVA, and then you’re gonna move the foot. Just slide across the floor, just slightly off, off, up off the floor, and then back.

And then you want to maintain your contraction. You can actually have a rest here in between. And then squeeze again, tract, and then out with the other foot and back. So it was just a foot slide. You don’t need to do a big lift or anything like that. Just keep it along the floor, gentle. And then back. So those are the TVA foot slides.

TVA Seated Squeezes

And now we’re going to go into the TVA seated squeeze.

I’m going to show you this from a couple of positions.

You can have your legs crossed here. And the first thing that’s going to happen is that you’re going to breathe in and out. As you breathe out, you pull your stomach all the way in as far as you can possibly go. Then you’re gonna breathe out and pull it even further in.

You do the silly little breathing.

I’m going to show you this one from the side, but just sit however you’re comfortable. If you can’t do cross-legged, that’s fine. You can do this with your legs straight out in front as well. Whatever’s comfortable. So from the side here for a sun reigning in and out.

I’ve just done 10 there and that’s pretty challenging. You could work your way up to about 30, but the whole is that you want to squeeze even tighter each time that you squeeze out.

Sometimes I call this a pull. Pull, pull, pull. Just keep pulling it until you feel the inner abdominals or the lower abdominals, the TVA contracting as you do this exercise.

TVA Wall Squeeze

Now this last exercise is just a variation of the one that we did in the seated position. And you need to be up against the wall. You’re going to bring yourself just a little bit more than 90 degrees and you’re going to do exactly the same thing that you did on the floor. So what you’re gonna do is breathe in, breathe out.

You’re drawing your stomach in as far as you possibly can, focusing on the lower abdominals, keeping your back flat against the wall as well. So think about that when you did the TVA on the floor.

It’s the same kind of thing here.

You’ve breathed out as far as you can, and now you’re going to do the same kind of breath. So this is a progression from the seed of the one that’s a little bit harder. Sometimes it’s good to try it from different positions just so you can get the feel of it.

Eventually you want to be able to do the contraction in any position.

So as you’re moving around, you can feel that contraction. That’s really what it’s about.

Developing the functional strength and the abdominals and really tightening up that TVA to keep the stomach flat.

Why TVA Exercises Are Important To Flatten Your Stomach

It’s really important to do those TVA exercises on a regular basis so that you can keep that area strong.

You’ll keep your stomach feeling flat.

Reduce Digestive Bloating To Flatten Your Stomach

I actually already created an entire video about reducing stomach bloating.

Have Smaller Meals

To simplify, number one was have smaller meals so that you don’t have as much in your stomach at the time. It makes it easier for your digestive system to cope with the food that you’re eating.

Reduce Gas-Producing Food

Number two was reduce gas producing food. So those are the typical things like beans, cruciferous vegetables, like the broccoli and cauliflower and that type of thing.

Things containing fructose can be a problem for some people.

So that may be some fruit for sure, but some vegetables as well. So asparagus and zucchini, those are some vegetables that also have fruit toast, which may cause bloating as well. The one thing I didn’t mention was that raw vegetables can actually be much more difficult to digest than cooked vegetables. So a lot of people think that if they’re eating, they’re eating salads and they’re doing themselves a great thing, and then all of a sudden they’re like blown it out to here. Right?

I have a hard time because I have digestive issues. I have a hard time dealing with raw vegetables so I can have it only have small amounts of raw vegetables. Otherwise it becomes very difficult. Uh, when the food is broken down to a certain extent by cooking, whether you’re roasting it or baking or steaming, then it actually helps your body to absorb those nutrients as well.

So you can reduce your bloating and that’ll keep your stomach a little bit flatter.

Don’t Drink Liquids With Your Meals

And the third thing, not drinking liquids with your meals, because again, you’re going to have a larger amount of stuff in your stomach, right? So you want to keep it small meals and try not to drink water with your meals. Have them have it apart. So if you’re, you’re going to drink your liquids, then have it at least like an hour, half an hour before or an hour after your meals. And that will help reduce your stomach bloating. So I’ve just given you a three simple tips, simple but not easy for flattening your stomach. And if you follow all those through, your stomach will get flatter. It just takes a little bit patience and some time to achieve it.

Why Are Crunches A Bad Idea To Flatten Your Stomach?

And now what you’ve been waiting for, why are crunches such a bad idea?

I don’t want to say that they’re a bad idea for everybody because if you are a strong person, an athlete, a physique competitor, a bodybuilder or something like that. Crunches may actually be at useful thing.

They do help to define the rectus abdominis. That’s the six pack muscle. And you want to be doing them, preferably in lower rep ranges, just like you would do with any other muscle group.

But the reason that they’re not a great choice for most people is that number one, people don’t use great technique.

What Mistakes Are Made With Crunches?

They’re jamming their neck up and down. You make your neck really sore. A lot of people don’t do enough back work. So they’re not doing, say, Superman exercises or bird dogs to strengthen the back muscles as well.

They’re doing a lot of work forward. And if you think about what we do in our daily lives, we’re often forward anyways. So we’re sitting, we’re at our computers, we’re all hunched toward this way.

If people are just doing crunches and maybe they’re doing just cardio and crunches and that’s (I’ve seen that a lot at the gym) it’s actually quite common. and That’s probably one of the worst things to do.

You’re not strengthening your back, you’re only making things worse or you’re putting a lot of stress on your back probably by doing crunches with poor technique and also short range of motions.

For most people, crunches are not necessary and you don’t need to do them to have a flat stomach.

Hopefully you learned a little bit about flattening your stomach today.

Ivana Chapman


Get Stronger, Flatter Abs By Healing Your Diastasis Recti


My abs nine months after having my son. Slight ab separation visible.

Strong, flat abs are the centrepiece of an athletic body, and you probably already know that what gets your abs looking lean is your nutrition plan. Yes, abs (at least when we mean the leanness of your abdominal area) are made in the kitchen.

There is one instance, however, when the appearance of your abs can be significantly impacted by something other than diet and that’s with Diastasis Recti. If you’re struggling to get your abs flat because of a bulge in your abdominals, a diastasis may be to blame. I’m going to tell you what a diastasis is, what you might be doing that’s making it worse (!), and what you can do to fix it.

What’s Diastasis Recti?

Diastasis Recti (henceforth referred to as DR) is an abdominal separation at the linea alba, the connective tissue that joins the rectus abdominus (6-pack muscle) from side-to-side.


Who Gets It?

While most common in postpartum women, DR can also occur in babies (this is normally genetic) and some men.

With pregnancy, the risk of DR increases:

  • if you’re over 35
  • in multiple (twin/triplet) pregnancies or with a large baby
  • in 2nd, and later, pregnancies

I developed DR in the second trimester of pregnancy and it took months of Physio and adapting my workouts to bring it back together. I re-injured it a few times with either heavy lifting or bending over and lifting my son when he was a toddler and weighed nearly 35 pounds.

DR is surprisingly common. Right now I have three clients who suffer from DR (including one man) so I thought it was about time I addressed the issue.

Check out this photo of retired pro bodybuilder, 8-time Mr Olympia, Ronnie Coleman:ronnie-coleman-diastasis-recti

Certainly looks like Ronnie’s got a bit of abdominal separation there! Ronnie’s DR was likely caused by heavy lifting (Ronnie is one of the strongest bodybuilders ever), excessive abdominal exercise, and perhaps additional pressure in his abdominal area from drug use.

Most women have some degree of ab separation in the third trimester, and it takes about 8 weeks after childbirth for this condition to resolve. In many women (without treatment), it will remain and result in the appearance of a mummy-tummy, even when your child is a toddler or pre-schooler (and beyond!).

Do YOU Have It?

The main test for Diastasis Recti is to lie on your back with knees bent and do a small curl-up, while keeping your fingers in the area around your belly button. It’s best to have a physio or personal trainer who specializes in DR check it for you.

Anything greater than 2 fingers-width is considered DR, although fingers vary a bit in size. The strength of the muscle also makes a difference. In some cases, people have a small genetic separation, but if the area is strong it’s unlikely to become an issue.

Exercises That Make Diastasis Recti Worse

Ironically, the traditional exercises that most people rely on to strengthen the abs, like planks and stomach crunches, can make DR worse.

planks-diastasis-rectiSkip the planks if you have DR!

Any time you’re increasing intra-abdominal pressure (the force generated in your abdominal cavity), you can re-aggravate the delicate tissue. If you have DR, it’s important to avoid lifting heavy weights in the downward position, including your children. That means that deadlifts and heavy squats are out, at least initially…and as long as a significant DR is present. The facedown position for exercise is generally a bad idea, and that includes push-ups/press-ups. Gentle, controlled exercises like Bird Dogs can be gradually introduced once some lower abdominal strength has been built up over several weeks.

Twisting actions, like supine bicycles, can also be harmful. V-ups, where straight legs are elevated, also put too much stress on abdominals with DR:sit-up-diastasis-recti

Yoga…No, Thank You.

It always amazes me how yoga is so often recommended to pregnant and postpartum women. Pregnant women rarely need the additional flexibility that yoga provides. The hormone relaxin, which is released during pregnancy to prepare the body for childbirth, actually makes women more flexible. Doing too much stretching (as in many yoga classes) can increase the risk of injury and lead to unstable joints.

Women are often encouraged to do yoga in the post-partum period too, since it’s considered a “gentle” exercise. In truth, a progressive resistance training program that avoids unsupported forward flexion (bending forward without support) is much safer and will help heal the delicate abdominal tissues after childbirth.

downward-dog-diastasis-rectiDownward Dog…not a good choice if you have DR

So deadlifts are out for at least a few weeks while I wear the fitsplint again during training to try to reduce the stress on the abs. 

What’s The Harm?

Uncorrected DR can lead to back pain and posture issues. Pelvic floor dysfunction can also result from DR. If a DR is large and a lot of pressure is exerted, a hernia (where the organs bulge out of the abdominals) can occur.

So don’t just think of it as a cosmetic issue. Untreated DR can have an impact on your functionality so don’t just ignore it.

How To Fix Diastasis Recti

Research is a little inconsistent in determining how effective physiotherapy exercises are for healing a DR. Most of the rehab techniques involve activation/contraction of the transverse abdominis (TVA), the innermost abdominal muscle. We often think of the TVA as the lower abs, but if you take a look at the position of the muscle you’ll notice that part of the TVA comes up quite high towards the ribs:



Exercises That May Help Diastasis Recti

I give my clients with DR a progressive TVA strengthening program, while avoiding any exercises that exacerbate the DR, like the planks/push-ups/deadlifts/crunches mentioned above.

Generally, learning to activate the TVA starts in the supine (face-up) position with knees bent, and then progresses to seated, and then to standing with knees bent.

TVA Exercises For Diastasis Recti

Supine TVA Contraction – Lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat, gently contract the lower part of the abdominals by pressing the lower back towards the floor. Hold for 3 seconds, then release the lower back to neutral (slight arch in lower back).

Complete 2 sets of 10 reps.

Supine TVA Foot Slides – In the same position, activate the TVA in the same way, then slide one foot out along the floor (while keeping hips from moving) while holding the contraction. Take a breath and then activate the TVA before repeating the process for the other leg.

Do 2 sets of 10-20 reps.

TVA Seated Core Contraction – In a seated position, place both hands on the abdominal muscles, just inside your hip bones. Slowly contract the abdominal muscles, pulling them straight back towards the spine. Hold the contraction for 30 seconds, while maintaining controlled breathing.

Complete 3 sets of 30 seconds each.

Arnold’s Ab Vacuums were a version of the TVA Core Contraction/TVA Seated Squeeze arnold-vacuums-diastasis-recti

TVA Seated Squeeze – In a seated position, place one hand above the belly button, and the other below the belly button. Pull the belly button back toward the spine to start (mid-position), then pull the abdominals in even further for 2 seconds while exhaling sharply. Return to the mid-position and exhale sharply again and pull the abs toward the spine for 2 seconds.

Complete 10-30 reps.

TVA Squat Against the wall – Sit back against a wall, feet bent at a 90° angle. Pull your belly button towards your spine. Release slightly, and then squeeze your abs in again and return to standing position (sliding up the wall). Squeeze your abs in again and bend your knees to 90°. Release the abs, contract again, and then slide up the wall again to standing position while maintaining the TVA contraction.

Complete 10 reps.


Splinting For Diastasis Recti

Some physios recommend a belly splint or some sort of binding in the first couple of months after childbirth, or when your DR has widened (I have done this a few times with heavy lifting…usually by lifting my son when he was a toddler!). While a splint can be useful in the postpartum period to take the stress off the tissues while they heal, it’s also important to avoid aggravating movements and do exercises to correct the DR at the same time.
fitsplint-diastasis-rectiThe Fitsplint, which I used for about 6 weeks shortly after giving birth to my son.

Lifestyle Tips For Diastasis Recti

It’s important to avoid stressing the DR during your daily activities. For new moms, this means being very careful to lift your baby (and later, your toddler) close to the front of your body while activating engaging your abdominals. Training your TVA will make this easier to do naturally over time.

Getting Out Of Bed

Any time you’re lying down and want to get up, roll over to your side and push yourself up with one arm. Think about this the next time you want to get out of bed!

You want to avoid “jack-knifing” your body up at any time, whether your legs are up in the air or not (it’s even worse if they are).


This move is a really bad idea if you have DR!


If DR is very large and doesn’t respond fully to physiotherapy (this is unlikely if the exercises are done correctly for weeks or months), surgery can be an option. It’s unlikely that surgery will be necessary.

There’s Hope!

If you do corrective exercises regularly and avoid aggravating movements, you can heal your DR and tighten up your abs again. It can take several weeks or a few months to resolve, depending on the extent of your DR and how consistent you are with corrective exercise.

If you’re not successful on your own, work with a physiotherapist or fitness coach with expertise in DR to correct the issue (my Online Coaching program can help).

My son will be four this year and I no longer have a clinical DR, but my abs aren’t quite the same as they were before (not much is!).

I’m still careful to avoid planking and heavy deadlifts and squats, but I’m able to lift heavy in face up positions.

Healing your DR and strengthening your abs can help prevent further issues.

Be patient and consistent with your efforts and you’ll have strong abs again (or for the first time).

Ivana Chapman


Why You’re Not Losing Belly Fat



Before we get started, check out my FREE e-Book on “How to get lean after 35” and BONUS 6 Week Workout Program. My program lays out the exact steps and strategy to lose that belly fat and get lean – fast!

Anyone trying to get leaner usually points to their stomach as the area they want to change the most. It makes sense, since the midsection is normally where the evidence of your overall body composition is most obvious.

You may have great arms or lean and muscular legs, but the belly will give away how lean you really are.

Most people can hide their bellies under well-tailored suits at work, then the moment they have to wear more fitted clothes they suddenly become more self conscious.

How Do You Get There?

Most people’s journey to the coveted six-pack begins with some dietary modifications and regular trips to the gym.

Maybe you’ve been working out for a while and eating pretty well. Things are looking better. You feel tighter and leaner.

Yet there it is, that stubborn belly fat, sticking to you like peanut butter on the roof of your mouth (mmmm, peanut butter).

Everything else seems to be moving in the right direction, so why won’t the belly fat go away?!


The belly is often the last place for fat to go, especially for men. 

While women tend to lose fat last from the hips, thighs and butt, men will lose it last from the stomach area.

Men are also especially prone to visceral fat, the kind of fat that surrounds your organs and causes a distended abdomen. It’s also the dangerous form of fat, since it increases your risk of heart disease, Type II Diabetes, and insulin resistance.

Still, it is possible to lose that stubborn belly fat, if you do the right things.

If you’re struggling with belly fat, maybe you’re making some of these mistakes:

1) You’re Not Tracking What You’re Eating

woman-fridge-eating-belly-fatIt’s easy to have a little taste of something here, and a little swig of something there…and not think it counts.

Although I’m not a big calorie counter, I do think it’s important to have an idea of what you’re consuming on a regular basis. If you know that your weight isn’t budging, you’re probably eating more than you need to be to sustain your body.

So have a closer look at how much you’re eating in each serving, and each day.

Do You Know How Much You’re REALLY Eating?

Research shows that when people are recalling their food intake they underreport the number of calories that they’re consuming. Even when people are asked to weigh and measure what they’re consuming, their measurements are far from accurate.

Most people overreport protein intake (a key part of fat loss and muscle gain is having adequate protein intake) and underreport foods these perceive as unhealthy.

If you’re not even trying to keep track of what you’re eating, and just hoping that eating “healthy” will get you the flat stomach you want,  you’re even worse off.

Low-carb vegetables like kale, spinach, tomatoes, celery, cucumber, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and zucchini don’t matter much, and I rarely recommend that my Online Coaching clients limit those.

The more the better, as long as your digestive system can handle the fiber.

The issue comes when you’re having a lot of protein from poor choices, like ribs or processed meat like sausages or burgers. The calories add up pretty fast, mainly due to the high fat content in the less-ideal overly-processed animal form.

What About Carbs?

The other area to look out for is your starchy carbs. Although it’s important to have some carbs, many people are eating too many for their relatively-sedentary lifestyle. Also, when we think of potatoes and sweet potatoes, the issue isn’t necessarily the carbs themselves but what they’re prepared with.

Olive oil and butter can certainly be healthy, but if you’re taking in several tablespoons in a meal without accounting for it then you’ll get into trouble reducing your body fat.

2) You’re Not Focusing on Building Muscle 

Losing weight is actually relatively easy – at first. If you eat less and exercise a bit more then you’ll start to drop the pounds. Getting to an impressive body composition though, where you’ve got a lot of muscle (and water and bone) compared to fat, is a different story.

You need to build muscle to make your body more metabolically active, so that you haven’t got a significantly slower metabolism  when there’s less of you. When you’ve got a higher percentage of muscle, your belly fat will start to come down.


The Right Way To Lift Weights

Building muscle takes a structured, progressive weight training program that you do at least three days a week.

Ideally, most of your exercises will be compound, rather than isolation exercises, which use multiple muscle groups at once.

So prioritize squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses, dips, and chin-ups over bicep curls, lateral raises, and knee extensions on a machine.

More movement means more muscle growth, as well as providing the right hormonal environment to build and develop more muscle.

Should You Do Cardio Too?

If you spend too much time doing cardio you’ll lose some fat, but maybe some muscle along with it too.

That means that although you’re getting a bit smaller, the improvement to your body composition will be negligible.

That’s not to say you should avoid cardio, but it doesn’t provide the long-term benefits that weight training does and it can interfere with muscle growth, as well as negatively affect your hormonal balance (by increasing cortisol levels).

Building more muscle with weight training means you’ll end up with less fat…and be less pudgy around your midsection.

3) You’re Not Sleeping Enough

I know you’re busy and have important things to do, but if skimping on sleep is the way you get by then your belly fat is likely to hang on.

It’s All About The Hormones

Growth hormone and testosterone are produced during sleep, and both of these hormones are associated with muscle building and fat burning.

A consistent 7 hours (minimum!) a night, preferably going to sleep and waking up at the same time, will optimize your production of these hormones and make it easier for your body to tackle its belly fat.


Let’s also not forget that when you’re not sleeping enough you get TIRED.

When you’re tired, you don’t have the energy to workout at your maximum capacity. When you’re not pushing yourself hard in the gym, you’re never reaching your maximum muscle potential. That’s if you get to the gym at all.

Remember all those times you blew off the gym because you just couldn’t muster up the energy?

That kills your progress.

What Do You Eat When You’re Tired?

As far as your diet goes, being tired means you’re more likely to make poor food choices. It just seems easier to open up a box of this processed food or a bag of that processed food than to prepare healthy meals that serve your body well. Ever felt like all you want to do is sit on the couch and eat?

We’ve all been there at some point…and lack of sleep is often the catalyst for an evening like that.

Sacrifice your TV or internet time and make sure you get your 7 hours of sleep (minimum!).

The route to a six-pack will be a lot easier to take when you’re rested and recharged properly.

4) You Drink Too Much Alcohol

Although a drink a day for women and a couple of drinks a day for men may be considered acceptable and not associated with increased health risks, if you’re looking to get rid of your belly then cutting down on alcohol is a good place to start.

Not only is alcohol 7 calories per gram, and easier to consume as the night goes on, but when you drink alcohol your body puts all of its other metabolic processes on hold until it gets rid of the alcohol. So if your body was planning to burn off some fat because you’ve had an intense workout, it will delay that process until it’s done with the alcohol.

There’s a reason that they call it a beer belly!


The occasional glass of wine or beer won’t be a big problem, but if you’re regularly consuming “a few” every weekend and some during the week then you’re probably not going to get rid of that big gut anytime soon.

Should You Ban Alcohol Altogether?

Cutting out alcohol initially could get you on the road to a flatter stomach quickly.

Many people, and in my experience it’s usually men, drink much more than they think they do. It’s easy to get caught up when you’re only out to “have a couple”. Two turns into three, which turns into four, which turns into “wait, how many did I have tonight?”. Do this once or twice a week and you’re talking about a lot of additional calories that your body won’t burn off.

And that’s without even discussing the extra food you consume later in the evening when everything seems that much more tempting.

5) You’re Stressed Out

Not only does stress causebusiness_woman_stress you to make poor food decisions (“I’m so anxious. This chocolate bar will calm me down!”), but it actually has hormonal implications that make it harder to lose belly fat.

Ongoing stress results in an increase in cortisol levels.

Cortisol is known as the stress hormone and causes you to store more fat in the abdominal area. We all have some stress in our lives, but how we manage it is what dictates the impact it has on our bodies.

What can you do to manage stress?

Meditation is a great start and you only need to do about 5 minutes a day. Practicing meditation regularly has actually been shown to change the brain in ways that help it respond differently to stress.

Amazing, right?

Stress Reduction Strategies

If you’re looking for some guidance on how to get started, read the blog post I wrote about meditation HERE.

Taking the time to do simple things like going for a walk, having a relaxing bath, talking to a friend, or reading a magazine can make a difference in your stress levels. And let’s not forget that not getting enough sleep is a big part of what stresses your body, even when you don’t realize it.

Getting enough sleep means that you’re better able to cope with stress. And you’ll also get all the benefits of more sleep that we discussed above.

What You Don’t Have To Worry About

I thought the word had gotten around that you can’t spot reduce your stomach, but I constantly see people with flabby bellies spending 20-30 minutes doing JUST abdominal exercises like crunches and V-ups.

That’s a complete waste of time!

Do Ab Training When You Really Need it

I’m not saying that strengthening your rectus abdominus is useless, but you need to be very lean for it to be noticeable and in the meantime you should use your time more wisely by weight training with compound exercises.

Doing tons of abs exercises during each workout is a better way to give yourself back pain than anything else.


People often ask me what the best abdominal exercise is.

Honestly, if you’ve got a layer of belly fat obscuring your abs then it doesn’t matter what abs exercises you’re doing.

Skip them altogether and use that time to push some heavier weights and prepare meals made of lean protein and vegetables.

That’s what really makes an impact.

My Take

If you’re struggling to get rid of belly fat, while the rest of your body seems to be improving, then any of the mistakes I mentioned above could be the cause. Have an honest check and decide whether there are lifestyle issues that you need to address.

You CAN get rid of your belly fat.

It takes patience, and consistency with your workouts and nutrition to see changes in your belly fat levels.

Overlooking your food intake, sleep, and stress levels will keep you fighting a losing battle for a flat stomach. Address those missing parts of the routine effectively and you’ll be on your way to visible abs.

Ivana Chapman


Secrets to 6-pack Abs

fitness couple with abs

With the right combination of training and nutrition, lean abs can be yours.

Ok, so these aren’t really secrets. They’re relatively well known and established guidelines for getting definition in your abs, but you get the point. Everybody has the same abdominal muscles, but whether they’re visible or not depends on many factors. If you’re training consistently and specifically for this goal and have yet to see results then it’s time to look at the situation from all angles.


It’s a common refrain that abs are made in the kitchen. It’s true; without the right nutrition plan (for most people that’s relatively low-carb, with the right amount of protein & fat) you won’t see the results of your hard work you’ve done at the gym. Being lean overall is necessary for getting your abs visible. Leanness rarely happens on a diet of Ben & Jerry’s, cheeseburgers, and chocolate chip cookies. Sorry!


Hormonal balance, which can be influenced by factors including stress, medications, food, life stages, genetic disorders, and chemical exposure, plays a role in determining fat storage areas. Excess fat storage in the abdominal area is related to chronically high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Stress is constantly present in our daily lives, but it’s our response to stress rather than the mere exposure that’s important. Good quality sleep, meditation, and relaxation exercises help the body cope with daily stressors and reduce your chances of storing ab fat.


Most people now realise that endless crunches are a waste of time and are more likely to lead to back pain and neck pain than anything else. Many people with great visible abs don’t do any abdominal isolation exercises AT ALL. In certain cases (post-pregnancy, back injury, after long periods of sedentary activity) specific core and lower abdominal exercises can be useful for re-establishing muscular balance in this area.

Planks, supermans, lower TVA activation, and bird dogs are preferable to crunches, as they work the core in a more balanced fashion and protect the back. In general, it’s best to stick with strict form on large muscle group exercises like overhead squats and deadlifts to build your abdominal muscles functionally. For an efficient ab workout, spend your time on large multi-joint movements and occasionally add one or two isolation exercises at the end of your workout.


As for endless hours of low intensity cardio – skip it!  Long duration steady-state cardio will increase your cortisol levels and actually cause you to store fat in the abdominal area.  Excessive cardio also reduces your muscle mass, which slows your metabolism and makes it harder to lose fat.

High-intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is most effective for burning stomach fat and involves short (up to about 40 seconds) periods of intense work followed by a period of low intensity or rest.  The work to rest ratio would be determined by the individual’s fitness and the desired length of the workout.


Omega 3 fats, preferably in the form of fish oils, are the first step in reducing your cortisol levels and getting your abs lean. A dosage of 1g per % of body fat (someone with 20% BF would take 20g per day) is a great start.

Vitamin C is also an effective tool for reducing cortisol levels and dropping belly fat. 2g after your workout provides a substantial benefit, and according to world-renowned Strength Coach and BioSignature creator Charles Poliquin, will increase free testosterone levels after 2 weeks. Extra testosterone helps increase muscle mass, making your body more metabolically active and able to burn off more of its fat stores.


If you’re following the guidelines above, are very lean (below 10% BF), and still suffer from a bloated tummy, it’s time to look more closely at potential digestive issues. Many people suffer from poor digestion and elimination and this can cause gut distension.

Digestive enzymes (particularly HCL supplementation) can make a huge difference in how your food is digested and may reduce bloating. Good quality probiotics can also improve digestion. If constipation is a problem, using a gluten-free (gluten can cause gut irritation and further exacerbate digestive issues) fibre supplement such as flax may help clear out the system. Any food that you consume regularly can result in intolerance or sensitivity, a negative response by the digestive system that can cause bloating, fatigue, and headaches. Wheat and dairy are common intolerances that may develop.

Getting a defined 6-pack is easier for some people than others. Genetics may play a role in fat storage and ab definition, but most of those who follow a sensible regime will be rewarded with flatter, leaner, and sexier abs. There really are no secrets to 6-pack abs.

Follow the tips above and you’ll be on your way to developing a respectable washboard.

Ivana Chapman