How Can I Get Defined Abs Without “The Pooch?” Q&A With Suzanne

Does the fact that I’ve been strength training for over 15 years make me an expert? Not a chance. I could’ve been training the wrong way all those years, and many people do. You can even be under the tutelage of a personal trainer and look the same year in and year out (although that might be your doing outside the gym).

However, due to my hard work, education, mentors, and coaching experience, I continue to produce results for both my clients and myself. I’m a little rebellious and a lot individualistic, and that’s why I shut out the gimmicky noise and focus on teaching what I love and results that are sustainable.

How can I get defined abs without the "pooch?" | Workout Nirvana

If you want the facts with my personal flair, post your strength training and nutrition questions on my Facebook page, ping me on Twitter, or just drop me a line. I’ll post the answers here each week!

Q: I want to see definition in my abs, which I can see as I get leaner, but I’m worried about them getting big/sticking out too much. What sort of exercises/progressions should I stay away from?

A: Having abs that “pop” might not be ideal when you consider this: Abs training exclusively with crunches and/or poor neural drive of the core muscles (or even lordosis) can cause your abs to protrude in a “pooch,” even if your body fat is low. This can make you look like you have fat where you don’t. (Otherwise, you don’t have to worry about your abs getting too muscular, as it’s a thin sheet of muscle. Plus, it’s not that easy to develop your abs!)

To prevent the pooch, you can strengthen your transverse abdominis (TVA) using the draw-in maneuver. This exercise, along with other core training, can improve low back pain too [1]. (More on this in a sec.)

The TVA is responsible for spinal mobility and forms the deepest layer of the abdominal muscles, wrapping around the abdomen horizontally below the navel. Your pelvic floor muscles are located beneath your pelvis between the pubic bone anteriorly and the sacrum (tail bone) posteriorly. The pelvic floor muscles contract when you sneeze or cough, but you can also contract them consciously. Ahem, all boys may leave the room now… Ladies, to contract your pelvic floor muscles, imagine that you’re trying to stop yourself from passing gas and peeing simultaneously. Got the picture? Alright guys, you can come back in – you probably coulda handled that.

See this for how to become friends with the draw-in maneuver, which can be performed daily on its own and/or during abs exercises.

A note about abs training and obliques! Having too much mass at your sides can give you a “blocky” waist, and who wants that? I mean, I love all muscles, but I also want a V-taper, ya know? The internal and external obliques rotate and laterally flex the trunk, running diagonally upward and toward the midline of the body. I like using body weight only or lighter resistance for obliques, using rotational and anti-rotational exercises. You can do heavier obliques training once every couple of weeks or so, but mostly stick with a weight you can do for 12 to 15 reps.

My favs:

Bicycle crunch
Pallof press
Cable lift
Lateral pillar
Reverse crunch, Cressey-style
Vertical chair knee raise

What about the rectus abdominis? Don’t worry about it – do abs training in all three planes of motion you’ll be fine. And that is another blog post.

Q: How long should it take to see results with a new strength-training program?

A: Most women are so focused on the scale that they don’t notice their own body becoming tighter and shapelier. But the people who see you every day do notice that you’re filling out your pants with less jiggle.

If you’re consistent and IF you’re eating enough and training properly, a woman can theoretically gain a half pound of muscle per week (men can gain a pound). But what happens more often than not is that the scale doesn’t budge for awhile. That’s because you’re losing fat while your muscles are holding on to more water. When muscles grow and fat shrinks, this is called body recomposition, and it’s what you want.

So instead of weighing yourself, start tracking your body fat percentage (and maybe your circumference measurements). Estimating body fat over time is the best way to know if you’re gaining lean muscle mass as opposed to gaining fat. And remember that how your clothes fit and what you see in the mirror tell most of the story.

Training Update

I’m feeling a bit stronger in my walks and have started lower body training back up (with physical therapy strengthening again in a week or two). But I am very tight in my pectorals and right rhomboid because I simply cannot stretch much – it causes sharp pain where they had to do an extra incision during my last surgery. This has complicated my recovery, but it’ll get better eventually. I hope to be back in the gym in July! Gotta have f*cking goals, right?

This article originally appeared on

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