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absIt may not be a secret that the best way to a six-pack is a healthy diet (even if it’s no diet at all) and regular exercise, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to get a flat belly. Read on for the ultimate guide to getting flat abs.

Related: Your Arms and Abs Will Transform After This 2-Week Challenge 

1. Know the Formula

stretching

POPSUGAR Photography / Kat Borchart

Getting flat abs in time for Summer isn’t about starving yourself or living at the gym. Reducing belly fat involves a mix of smart eating and effective exercise. Make sure you eat enough food to keep your body from experiencing hormone imbalances; eating too little (fewer than 1,200 calories a day) reduces the amount of the fat-burning hormone leptin in your body, which will slow down weight loss. And if you’re just exercising without changing your diet, you’ll spend a lot of time at the gym with little result.

2. Posture Makes Perfect

good posture

POPSUGAR Photography / Kat Borchart

Doing regular posture-building exercises packs a double punch when it comes to busting that belly. Having good posture helps you look slimmer instantly, while sticking to a posture-building routine every day will strengthen your ab muscles and help get you well on your way to a six-pack. Here are some posture-building moves to help you look like you’ve dropped five pounds.

3. Fight the Fat

measuring waist

POPSUGAR Photography / Benjamin Stone

Ab exercises will help define those muscles, but don’t forget cardio for overall weight loss — otherwise all those sit-ups will go to waste. If you want results fast, try high-intensity interval training, which has been proven to be one of the best ways to fight belly fat.

4.  De-Stress

meditation

POPSUGAR Photography / Kat Borchart

Having too much stress can lead to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body, which can increase the amount of fat you store around your belly. Can’t seem to de-stress? Take a few minutes each day to relax with these tips on how to de-stress.

5. Start With Oatmeal

Oatmeal

POPSUGAR Photography / Lizzie Fuhr

The secret to getting flat abs includes a diet that helps shrink that midsection. The best things to eat include foods high in fiber and other foods that help you beat the bloat. Swap your normal breakfast for a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries, for example; the fiber in the oatmeal will aid in digestion and the antioxidants in blueberries may help you shed ab fat. Find out more on which foods you should be eating to bust that belly here.

6. Drink to Detox

lemons

POPSUGAR Photography / Nicole Perry

It’s not just in the foods you eat — what you drink can help debloat and flatten your tummy as well, so bottoms up! Drinking a glass of water with lemon every morning, for example, will help you alkalize your body, which helps you burn fat and detox your system. Besides lemon water, here are more drinks to add to your routine so you can regularly detox every day.

7.  Stay Away From These

Girl eating ice cream

POPSUGAR Photography / THEM TOO

There are those foods that help slim your middle and those that make you feel like a bloated balloon. As you continue your ab-flattening workout plan, be sure to avoid foods that cause bloating, like broccoli and cabbage, when things start getting serious. Find more foods that can cause belly bloat here.

8. Choose Full-Body Exercises

Bridge dips

POPSUGAR Photography / Kat Borchart

If you’re looking for killer abs, don’t waste your time focusing solely on crunches, since they tone just one muscle group and exacerbate bad posture, especially if you sit with a rounded spine at a desk all day. Instead focus on full-body exercises, like squat to overhead press. Not only do these types of exercises save time by working multiple body parts while engaging your core, they also do so without the posture-wrecking position of a rounded spine. Check out our video on full-body workouts here.

9. Work All Layers

bicycle crunches

POPSUGAR Photography / Kat Borchart

If you’ve only go one type of ab workout in your routine, your midsection is missing out. Working your core involves exercising all your abdominal layers, not just the top part that you can see. The inner muscles help pull in your belly for a slimming look, so be sure to work all of your ab muscles with this workout!

10. Don’t Forget the Muffin Top

Workout motivation

POPSUGAR Photography / Ericka McConnell

Getting rid of a muffin top involves many of the same strategies you’re employing when it comes to washboard abs, but if you’ve got a little extra padding all around your waistline, there are a few more tricks you should have up your sleeve. Read labels carefully, for example; lurking trans fats in your favorite foods can increase the amount of fat you hold around your waist. And while you’re focusing on your abs while you work out, don’t forget back exercises like the Superman or the side bridge if you’ve got a muffin top to lose. Find out how to get rid of that muffin top here.

11. Go MUFA

Almonds

POPSUGAR Photography / Nicole Perry

Foods high in monounsaturated fatty acid burn fat, especially of the belly variety. Go for MUFA-rich foods like avocados, almonds, olive oil, and pistachios to help you keep your belly full.

12. Practice Yoga

yoga

POPSUGAR Photography / Kat Borchart

Give your muscles a good stretch while toning at the same time with yoga. This ab-defining yoga sequence will tone your tummy in no time.

13. Eat Clean

Clean eating

POPSUGAR Photography / Ericka McConnell

Salt, sugar, and fatty foods can all add to bloat, while fresh fruits and veggies and whole grains do just the opposite. Pay attention to labels as you shop and train your taste buds to prefer fresh produce; read more tips on how to eat clean here.

14. Practice Portion Control

girl eating

POPSUGAR Photography / THEM TOO

Even if you’ve been working on your abs, no one will see your strong, defined midsection if you’ve got a few extra pounds covering it. Keeping portions under control can help you lose weight; make it easy with these portion-control tips.

15. Add Weights

girl lifting weights

POPSUGAR Photography / Kat Borchart

Think weights won’t help you get a six-pack? Think again. Grabbing hand weights for your ab work will increase the difficulty and challenge your ab muscles further. Try these ab exercises with weights to change up your workout.

16. Find Your Balance

exercise ball

POPSUGAR Studios

Another way to challenge your abs is to make your workout a little unstable. Do planks on a rocker board or stand on a BOSU while you do bicep curls to make almost any exercise an ab-working move. Find more balance exercise ideas here.

17. Target Your Pooch

abs

POPSUGAR Photography / Ericka McConnell

Now it’s time to work on your lower abs to help whittle down your pooch. Exercises like the ab scissors or Boat Pose target your lower abs effectively; find out how to do these pooch-eliminating exercises here.

18. Work Out Your Back

Back extensions

POPSUGAR Studios

A strong back will make you look taller and slimmer and especially helps in that pooch area. Do these back exercises regularly to help you stand strong.

19. Eat Lean Protein

lean protein

POPSUGAR Photography / Nicole Perry

Lean protein burns fat and helps keep you full so you don’t overeat. Whether you opt for fish, turkey, or tofu, make sure your diet includes enough lean protein to keep you satisfied and your belly flat.

20. Plank It Up

plank exercises

POPSUGAR Studios

Planks are an amazing ab-defining move to incorporate into any workout. The plank focuses on your entire core, helping you work the muscles that tighten your midsection while also strengthening your arms and legs. Learn these plank variations so you can drop and do a plank anytime!