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How to flatten your stomach for life
It's the bodily feature that most men would die for - a rock-hard set of abs that make you look like an extra from the movie 300.
Fortunately, getting - and then maintaining - a six-pack is not as hard as you might think. After all, we all have one, it's just that some of us choose to hide it under 50 pounds of excess blubber.
Read on for our expert guide to unleashing your inner six-pack and forging a washboard stomach that will stay with you for life.
Understand your stomach fat
Before you can commit to getting rid of your gut, you need to know why it's there in the first place.
Fitness trainer Gavin Walsh (www.thebootcamp.co.uk), says: "Men are predisposed to storing excess fat around the waist, and when this is combined with a poor diet it's obvious why men struggle with their trouser size.
"Too much processed food and alcohol means many men consume more calories than their body actually requires. This surplus energy is either burned off through exercise or stored as fat and with so few men working out regularly it is usually the latter."
Endless sit-ups aren't the answer
Although targeted stomach exercises will play an essential role in the development of your a-list abs, doing hundreds of sit-ups a day is not the right strategy, especially if you have a fair amount of fat to get rid of first.
Walsh says: "Stomach exercises can help make your abs more visible once the excess fat has been stripped away, they don't burn fat from the belly directly." To get the stomach you want, you will need to take a rounded approach, involving cardio exercise, gym-work and, of course, a healthy, balanced diet."
Cut out stress
There are many obstacles standing in the way of you and that perfectly sculpted midriff - poor diet and lack of exercise being the most obvious. But did you know that stress is also a major contributing factor?
Trainer Paul Huntingford (www.studiog14.co.uk) explains: "Too much stress at work or at home can play havoc with your hormone levels, making it very difficult to lose abdominal fat. This is not easy to control, but do your best to cut some stress out of your life and you will notice a big difference."
Another pitfall to avoid is ineffective training. You could spend hours in the gym doing the exercises you think are beneficial to your stomach and the rest of your physique, only to find out the effort you put in is not matched by the results.
Walsh says: "Any man can start strength training along with high intensity cardio and they will lose some fat and see the beginnings of a flat stomach, but to get the perfect six-pack requires careful planning."
Talk to a trainer before you hit the gym, make sure you vary your workouts and, most importantly, stick to your training plan.
Exercise all you want, but the ripped stomach won't make an appearance unless you address your nutritional needs at the same time. Remember, you can't out train a poor diet, so commit to making the necessary changes before you start training.
Walsh explains: "Eat less starchy carbs such as pasta and potatoes and more protein, such as lean cuts of meat and fish. A balance of 33% carbs, 33% protein and 33% healthy fats such as olive oil and oily fish works well for getting you lean. Basically, if you want that flat stomach, the junk has to go."
Stay off the booze
Easier said than done, we know, but with the festive season out of the way now is the perfect time to give up or cut down your alcohol intake and see the benefits in the bedroom mirror.
Huntingford says: "Empty calories are definitely not wanted if you're after that washboard stomach. Alcohol is full of sugar, and reduces fat metabolism by up to 30% which means you will have to train even harder to burn off the extra calories."
What to do in the gym
To get that body fat percentage down, you will need to burn fat, and this means a mixture of strength training and high-intensity interval training, as these get the heart rate up and promote lean muscle growth. Once you become familiar with these, you can start to introduce a few stomach exercises.
Walsh says: "The moves that will strengthen and tone your abs include the plank, leg raises, crunches, overhead squats and jack knives on the Swiss ball. If you are unsure about any of these, ask a trainer in your gym."
Keep things interesting
Even the most hardened gym-bunny gets bored of staring at the same four walls after a while.
To avoid gym-fatigue, make sure your fitness plan makes time for sessions doing the sports you love - especially if they of a high-intensity nature like football, basketball or squash. These raise your heart rate and speed up your metabolism for hours after the session.
You should also try to mimic the sportsmen with the abs you covet the most, such as surfers. Huntingford says: "Surfers are widely regarded to have among the best abs, and though not many of us live near the beach, you could try swimming as this a fantastic trunk exercise as the water provides ideal, low-impact resistance."
Pinch an inch
Unless you have a lot of weight to lose, then there is little point in weighing yourself throughout this journey. If anything, you might actually gain weight due to the extra muscle you are packing on. A more effective barometer of your progress is your body fat percentage, which is basically a measurement of the total fat on your body.
The lower it gets, the more impressive your stomach will be. There are a number of online tools to help you gauge your current level of body fat, or you can ask your GP. Keep checking it regularly; your six-pack should begin to appear at around 10%. Once you get down to 5-6%, it may look more like an eight-pack.
How to make it last
It's one thing to get a flat, toned and perfectly defined stomach, but how do you make sure it sticks around long enough for scores of women to see it?
The answer lies with you, and how much you are willing to carry forward the changes you have had to make to your lifestyle to get in shape in the first place.
Diligent training, dietary discipline and persistence is what's required. As Huntingford says: "You need to commit to change. The moment you go back to your old ways, so does your belly."
MSN's Charlene Campbell reports from the Vivienne Westwood show at Men's London Fashion Week.
Date 09/01/13, Duration 2:51, Views 719