Stretching your abdominal muscles feels good and gets them prepped for performing abdominal exercises and tasks that require a stable core. If it's a flat, swimsuit-ready middle you desire, abdominal-specific moves -- stretches or strengtheners -- alone will not get you there. A portion-controlled, whole-foods diet along with regular cardio and strength-training are the strategies to follow to achieve a flat stomach. The only time stretching could help bring about a flat tummy is when you're bloated due to diet or hormones.
Why Stretches Won't Work
Stretching your abdomen promotes greater range of motion, loosens up stiff muscles and joints, promotes better posture and reduces tension. What stretching can't do is burn a ton of calories like cardio or stimulate fat loss like strength training. You may feel like you're working and targeting the area from which you want to reduce excess poundage, but your body doesn't lose fat that way.
Even if you do all the "right" things to lose fat, you're not guaranteed to get a completely flat stomach, either. Fat is gained and lost throughout your body -- not just in one particular area. Some areas tend to be stubborn when it comes to losing pounds, and for many people the stomach is one of them. To get a stomach that's completely flat, you may have to sustain extremely diligent dietary and fitness habits. Remember, you can be of a healthy weight and body fat level without swimsuit-perfect abs.
Lose Fat To Flatten Your Stomach
Losing excess fat padding your belly is the first step in achieving a flat stomach. Aim to burn more calories than you consume daily to create an energy deficit, so your body uses up fat stores and you eventually slim down. You create such a deficit by using more calories through physical activity and eating fewer calories.
Cardiovascular exercise that burns calories, such as jogging, cycling or dancing, will help. Make a few of those cardio workouts consist of high-intensity intervals -- alternating short bursts of all-out effort with periods of rest -- to really get results. This type of training burns fat, including belly fat, more effectively than steady-paced workouts, showed research published in 2011 in Journal of Obesity.
Total-body strength training is also important to fat loss as it changes the proportion of lean mass to fat on your frame. Muscle takes more calories to sustain than fat tissue, so this change makes you burn more calories all day long. Changing the appearance of your stomach may be your goal, but this can only happen with a total-body intervention.
To trim calories, cut back on sugar, saturated fats, refined grains and processed foods. You can only cut calories so much, however. You need at least 1,200 calories per day if you're a woman and 1,800 per day as a man, and more if you're active.
If you've beaten belly fat, bloating can make an otherwise flat stomach distended and puffy. Recognize that certain foods, hormones, gum chewing, carbonated drinks and smoking can also cause bloating that rounds your tummy.
Avoid gas-producing foods, including onions, broccoli, beans and pears. Dairy can cause bloating and gas in people sensitive to lactose, a naturally occurring sugar. Wheat, sorbitol -- a sugar alcohol used to sweeten some sugar-free products -- and soda can be an issue for some people too. Foods high in sodium may cause you to retain water, which contributes to bloating. Women's monthly hormones do as well -- you can't control them, but know that monthly bloating due to the menstrual cycle usually passes in a few days.
When bloating is keeping your stomach from being as flat as possible, some stretches could help. Yoga poses such as Downward Dog, Triangle, Supine Twist and Bridge may help alleviate gas symptoms, including a rounded tummy. Even just lying on your back and pulling a knee or both knees in toward your chest with your arms and holding for several full breaths can help you feel better.