How to Have a STRONGER, More FLAT Stomach!

Regardless of your background (surgeries, pregnancies, age, etc.) you CAN obtain flatter, stronger abs. It’s NOT about your six-pack, and it IS all about connecting to your deep core that is often overlooked or ignored by most fitness professionals. When I graduated from Oregon State with a degree in Exercise and Sport Science, I was pretty dang sure that I had been taught everything there was to know about how to get anyone into great shape. Perhaps I knew a lot at the time, but that was back in 2001, and the thing about working in the fitness and wellness industry is that THINGS CHANGE! Real professionals will keep reading and keep researching, and I’m thankful I did just that.

Can you do this without your gut bulging? Can you do it and hold your navel down to the floor. If not, don't do it! -
Can you do this without your gut bulging? Can you do it and hold your navel down to the floor. If not, don’t do it!

To be perfectly candid, I was misled and mistaught to believe that bigger is always better, and that if you want a strong core and a thinner belly, you need to build up the six-pack (rectus abdominus) and the obliques with things like crunches, situps & planks. The more, the better, right? WRONG! The pages in my certifying manual for AFAA are now dog-eared where the information on abdominals is clearly misstated, and my college notes have been highlighted with notations leading to research that totally contradicts what I was taught and what is STILL being taught (such as this terrible article with loads of misinformation on Mercola about how crunches are still the best sit up… what?)

Since college, and since subjecting my core to pregnancy and birth, I have learned the secret to a flat stomach and a rock-solid core – a core that lets you jump on the trampoline without peeing your pants, a core that pulls back in after having a baby, a core that is there for you when you need to lift something heavy like a four year old kid, a core that heals completely after abdominal surgery. And that secret is so simple, and it resides in your God-given girdle: your transverse abdominus (TVA).

Transverse means this abdominal muscle crosses all the way around your whole middle. It wraps around you and hugs you together! When people think of  “abs” they usually think of the rippling, bulging six-pack, but that is only one part of a set of three muscles that make up your abdominal wall… and do you really want a BULGING six-pack? Because I have news for you: A bulging belly (outside of pregnancy) is the sign of a weak core, not a strong core! Now, while the transverse is my favorite core muscle, I’m well aware it’s not alone. Your six-pack is actually the “rectus” and we think of it as being on the outside, and most fit pros would have you believe that it’s job is to pull your ribs toward your pubic bone in that crunching motion. But when in life do you ever have cause to do a repetitive crunching motion? There are so many better ways to recruit the rectus abs (RA) through functional movements that involve other body parts.


Now, notice how our obliques which run criss-cross applesauce, literally surround the Rectus Abdominus, letting you twist and turn and wiggle your hips! Then, below those other two more commonly known abs, you’ll find your transverse abdominus (TA) which is like a corset, circling your entire middle from your spine all the way around to your navel. Know what’s really cool? Your diaphragm, pelvic floor, multifidus and TA are all interconnected and work together to help you breathe, stabilize your spine, and so much more!

Okay, when am I going to tell you how to have a flat stomach? Not until I remind you that bellies are a nice side effect of a healthy gut, and that “flat” is a very subjective term into today’s world, and Not until I tell you why you DON’T have a flat stomach! There are two main reasons hinging on hundreds of personal history factors why your stomach doesn’t get flatter no matter how much core work and dieting you’ve done. First, you are likely dealing with some extra intra-abdominal pressure thanks to your alignment, exercise choices, foods that are bloating you, pregnancy and/or the job you work that has you bending over a lot, etc.

Second, your abs are unlike any other muscle in the body because they don’t entirely connect just bone to bone; your abs are joined together by a thick band of connective tissue called the “linea alba” that runs down your middle. Many personal trainers and well educated fitness professionals have been taught how to ISOLATE each muscle in the body in order to focus upon and build up every weak area, but the ABS ARE NOT ISOLATED. The Abs are CONNECTED, conjoined triplets if you will. They are anatomically and physiologically JOINED by the fascia of your linea alba in a normal, healthy set of abs.

How to get a flat stomach WITHOUT doing crunches or "criss cross" -
The Pilates move “Criss Cross” is very hard on the linea alba fascia of the abs, forcing the obliques to pull on it from both sides and keeping diastasis recti open longer than normal.

HERE IT IS: You do not have a flat stomach because of pressure. Something in your life – be it your eating style, alignment, choice of exercise, abdominal trauma, obesity – has created a permanent outward push that has disrupted your core’s ability to hold itself where it belongs. Often {not always} this causes a diastasis recti where your linea alba has been stretched out and thinned and injured by chronic intra-abdominal pressure. Pregnancy increases that pressure. Crunches increase that pressure. Poor posture increases that pressure. Situps definitely increase that pressure. Planks can also increase that pressure if you don’t “blow before you go” as Julie Wiebe puts it.

Doing a plank with poor form, without the proper breathing and transverse recruitment, will increase pressure in your core canister, not helping your abs at all.  During pregnancy, a baby causes intra-abdominal pressure (hello, the precious wee one grows in there and pushes out on your abdominal wall!) and that separation is thought of as “normal” and expected, but it’s not supposed to stay that way, and I’ve had clients improve their DR during pregnancy with my routines!

However, many things besides pregnancy can raise your internal pressure and push out your abs and pelvic floor: Intrabdominal fat takes up space and raises pressure… Bending over a lot without aligning and activating your core… Sitting at a desk job for hours a day and just “letting it all hang out”…Playing sports or dancing or gymnastics where the ribs flare and the spine extends a lot and stretches the abs out… Surgery where the abs have been sliced through so “the flex” doesn’t even work right anymore….

[kleo_button url=”” size=”standard” round=”radius” icon=”film,before” target=”_self”] Click for a GRAPHIC video of the pelvic floor during crunches  [/kleo_button]

Warning: That last button linking to the graphic video is indeed graphic. Total crotch shot, so you can really see how crunching pushes things OUT of your bum which is NOT a good thing. If it doesn’t show, then you might need to temporarily disable any internet filters you’re using to guard against adult content, and I am not responsible for any nastiness that youtube puts on the sidebar videos. Just watch the video of what happens to your vagina (guys it affects your junk too) during crunches, and don’t click anything else youtube correlates to it. One more note: At the end of the video is says “Avoid abdominal exercises.” It’s talking about crunches and situps which we don’t do on Fit2B because we utilize other moves.

Anyway… If that last link wasn’t convincing enough, please go back and look at that anatomy picture and visualize those two red rectus sections pulling apart when the linea alba separates during overstretching and overworking during sports or pregnancy or just the daily grind of a job that has you bent forward a lot so you belly hangs down. Imagine how the core connection gets totally sliced during surgery! The nerves are cut! And when people see that they have a pooch, they’ve been programmed and brainwashed to believe that crunches are the thing to do to get rid of that pooch.

It’s not that I want you to walk around “sucking it in.” Nooooo! God forbid! That really messes up your internal pressures! The type of core activation I teach in our videos will fire up your whole core safely and effectively while also working the whole body. If you aren’t in the right alignment, your transverse abs simply cannot do their job correctly, and your belly will pooch out rather than stay in. Fit2B teaches proper alignment and complete core recruitment with each motion.

[kleo_button url=”” size=”standard” round=”radius” icon=”film,before” target=”_self”] Click for a FREE video that tests your TRUE core strength! [/kleo_button]

I’m sure you’ve heard someone say to a pouting child, “Be careful, if you make that face too much, it will stick that way.” That is how your abs are. If you carry a baby for 9 months, or your belly is pressured outward by always leaning forward, or your muscles have been surgically sliced so you couldn’t pull your belly in if someone paid you, then your abs have become stuck: Your transverse is weak and deflated and has trouble responding and going the right way when you do a belly breath. Your linea alba (that line of fascia that holds the two sides of your abs together) is stretched and thinned. And all the crunches in the world won’t make it better, because crunches take us out of alignment and usually increase intra abdominal pressure!!!

The Solution: You can get a flatter stomach by changing your alignment, strengthening your transverse abdominus, focusing on movements where you DO have core control, learning how to align and recruit your core to minimize pressure in more challenging movements  and – of course – eating foods that don’t make you bloat.

Crunches take you out of alignment. Planks are very hard to do with good alignment, but they have functional value, so I teach you how to progress back into them on Fit2B when you’re ready.

Hold on? You don’t believe me that crunches and planks really aren’t the best thing for your bulging belly? That’s prolly because you’ve been brainwashed. I mean, I was. Just think for a second about the main picture on most abdominal articles: It’s usually a crunch or sit-up, right? But see for yourself: Get on the floor and do a crunch! What does you gut do: stay in or stick out? Do you want it to stay that way? Every thoroughly trained personal trainer knows (but has perhaps forgetten) that “Form Follows Function.” Do you want the form of your stomach to follow the function of crunches?

So what can you do if you think your core is messed up? First, figure out if you have a diastasis (die-ass-tuh-sees) which is what this injury is called. If you have a huge split in your abs, you’ll need to heal it because living with a fat-looking gut and weak abs when you’ve tried your hardest to get rid of it and only made it worse isn’t healthy. Plus, the transverse is tied to your pelvic health, too, and abdominal rehab could very well improve your sex life and bladder issues!!!

[kleo_button url=”” size=”standard” round=”radius” icon=”film,before” target=”_self”] Click for 2 videos showing you how to check for Diastasis [/kleo_button]

Tips to get a flat stomach -
Yoga poses can increase abdominal pressure but most of them do not directly stress the linea alba, so it is just very important to belly breathe, pulling your abs to your spine with each exhale.

Having a flat stomach is not about a pill or a diet, or a weird vibrating mechanism that you strap around your middle to make it flex all by itself. It’s about a devotion to your core health and strengthening one of the biggest muscles in your entire body: The Transversalis (another name for it). If you want a bulging belly, keep doing 300 mindless crunches a day. If you want a flat stomach that will truly hold you together and make you “fit to be” climbing mountains and playing with your kids and chasing dreams, then learn how to engage your true core {click here for that free video}. If you can’t, go do ab rehab. It’s that simple. This site offers crunch-free workouts. We work you back to planks when you’re ready. We focus on alignment, breathing, technique, and we focus on loving your body, not beating yourself up!


24 thoughts on “How to Have a STRONGER, More FLAT Stomach!

  1. Mel says:

    I wonder if this is why I always had a very flat stomach when I was thin? I used to suck my stomach in all the time because I hate doing crunches etc. Now I will be doing this again 🙂

  2. June Stoyer says:

    Excellent explanation, Bethany! I think when people workout their abs, they think the old way that the more crunches the better. It is about control just as you stated. You can really do more damage than good if the movements are not controlled and concise. It can also waste all of your valuable effort and promote back injury.

  3. Katy Waldrop says:

    Well this nearly made me cry! I was a ballet dancer growing up and try as I did, I always had a pooch! At one point I was doing 600 crunches a day- besides all the other crazy dance moves I did. Now four children and 1 C-section later I need some tummy help! So glad to have found this! Thank you!

  4. bonnie says:

    so what if you don’t have a gap, but still can never get rid of a belly? I’m thin, small in size, short waisted, and no matter what I havea rounded tummy, no matter how thin and toned I am. My waist is almost as big as my hips. I always have that slightly pregnant look. Three kids and almost 40, I’d just love to have a waistline that is proportioned to the rest of me.

  5. Sally says:

    Just watched your video, are you pregnant or did you recently have a baby? Just wondering since you don’t look as fit as you would expect a person to be that is saying everyone else is doing it wrong (your stomach isn’t flat).

    • Beth Learn
      Beth Learn says:

      Sally, if you are referring to the diastasis self check video, that is Kelly Dean who is a physical therapist specially trained in core rehabilitation. While she is a guest in some of the workouts on Fit2b, I am the main instructor and founder of Fit2B. Kelly has had 8 pregnancies, including 3 live births and 5 miscarriages. Her story is incredible: She’s gone from a 6 finger DR to a 2 finger DR and you can read more about her work on her site at … That said, this article talks about why tummies aren’t flat from the perspective of fitness and diastasis recti. Its title is “how to have a stronger, more flat stomach.” My stomach is flat, most of the month 😉 But how do you define flat? I encourage you to read more on the Fit2B blog and learn about our mission here on Fit2B which isn’t really flatness, per se, but functional strength. Our workouts are designed to help our members lose inches off their waist by realigning the spine and retraining their god-given girdle muscle: transverse abdominus. One thing this article doesn’t address is nutrition. I’d also like to add that my body has changed a lot in the 5 years that we have been filming workouts. I was 20 lbs heavier when we launched Fit2B than I am now, but I was also breastfeeding my son when we launched. I always lose the last of my weight after I conclude nursing. Thanks for your question. P.S. I don’t think “everyone else is doing it wrong.” But quite a few people aren’t reading the research 😉

  6. ajda says:

    I love your site. I am a pilates trainer and have been doing and trainer since 2000, I know everything you are speaking of and agree.
    I had my appendix burst in 2005, had emergency surgery laperscopicly. I continued shortly after.
    I have had two ambilical hernia surgeries, one in 2014 &2015. I am a very healthy eater and not over weight. In the last year I have noticed the bulge, feels like everything is being pulled forward that I can’t even pull my prolly button in.
    I came across your article and site during my research. I am writing because I have done your test and can fit 3-4 fingers in. I have never been pregnant but I’m looking for answers. thanks for your help!!

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