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I've (F22, BMI=22.1) been doing a 10 min flat ab and slim waist workout I found on youtube, every day, for the past month. Although it has proven to be effective and I have lost a significant amount of fat weight, I felt it no longer challenged me. Hence I shifted to a more intense ab workout part of a 28-day ab challenge.

I'm one week into the workout, however, I am worried as I no longer feel the burn in my core? Initially, I thought it was that I had the wrong form while doing the reps but I've asked other friends that go to the gym (I don't gym) and they said that I was doing what needs to be done.

Then I thought it was because my body built up some strength so I needed to add more reps to my workout. But even after additional reps I still couldn't feel the burn, I just felt more tired.

I then thought I might have overworked the muscles, so I shifted to HIIT and cardio for 2 days. Disappointingly, even after two days I only felt a minor burn at the beginning of the workout?

I then returned to the old workout but still felt nothing.

I'm scared that I might be doing the workout in vain? Why do I no longer feel like I'm working out my core muscles even if I am?

Would you also recommend doing the same core exercise routine or shifting every 2-3 days? I have also gained a bit more weight since beginning the challenge and I do feel like my core is more "swollen" but not "toned". I'm also more bloated and feel heavier and chunkier yet my diet has remained the same as well as my daily calorie intake (I track my macros).

What do I do? I don't really want to bulk up, I just want my core area to be more toned.

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    "I don't really want to bulk up, I just want my core area to be more toned." -- let me tell you, as someone who is actively trying to bulk up, it won't happen accidentally. Are your ab workouts all bodyweight or have you added any weight? – C. Lange Sep 9 at 21:18
  • All body weight. The programs I follow on youtube do not include weights. Should I include weights?... Although ngl not quite sure how to do that. – ceci cela Sep 10 at 8:36
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Just to get this out of the way

Probably one of the most commonly uttered phrases around here, but it can't be said often enough: A flat belly is made in the kitchen, not in the gym. It doesn't matter how strong your core is; if it's covered in a thick layer of fat, no one will see it.

And ab workouts do NOT burn belly-fat specifically. See: Is spot reduction necessarily a myth?

Pain as a measurement

The two most common and harmless types of exercise-related pains are "the burn" which you seem familiar with, and DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness). The latter is the one you get 1-2 days after exercising.

Neither of these should be used as an indicator of the quality of your training. You can have a fantastic workout and not feel either of them, and you can have a god-awful session, and have to suffer both.

The burn

You ask specifically about the burn. It's the one that we feel when we do an exercise with lighter weights, but we throw a lot of reps into it. Usually when the muscle is getting tired, but since the exercise is so easy, we can keep doing it over and over. The burning feeling is caused by lactic acid building up and entering the bloodstream faster than your liver can convert it to glucose, which is also why it stops burning as soon as you stop repping.

Core training fundamentals

If you want to really build your core strength, you shouldn't always go for the "easy exercise, many reps" approach. Your core muscles, like all the other muscles, respond to multiple types of overloading. Repping out is one of them, but you have to also challenge them by making them do heavy things. This can be done as simply as adding weight to an exercise you're already doing, or by finding a variation of the exercises you're already doing, that adds more of a challenge, and is inherently heavier.

Variety

Would you also recommend doing the same core exercise routine or shifting every 2-3 days?

As with any workout regimen, variety is key. A proper program should ideally contain both light exercises, heavy exercises, explosive exercises, and functional exercises. If it doesn't, find a set of programs that collectively fulfill these criteria, and jump between them frequently.

Also, something to look out for, is training in all three planes of movement. Your core does a lot more than just contract your torso. Your core can also move side-to-side, and perform twisting motions. It can crunch your upper torso down towards your legs, and it can lift your legs up towards your torso. It can also do this from the side, from the back, and while twisting. All of which should be trained.

This is why functional training is such a staple. If you find an activity that requires you to manipulate and move your body in various ways without even having to think about it as a primary goal, then you don't have to worry about every combination of light/heavy/explosive with top-down/bottom-up/side-to-side/twisting.

Personally, I'm partial to climbing, be it bouldering, lead climbing, or trad climbing. But I'm sure people in the comments will think of some other good examples too.

Anecdotally...

Someone once told me they had spent the better part of a decade doing a bunch of "core training" in the gym, but as soon as they had to actually put it to use, it was completely useless. He was able to hold a plank or do situps not until he became tired, but until he was bored of it. But ask him to climb a tree, and he was as useless as an untrained person. Point being, functional training needs to be part of a proper core workout regimen.

What good is a "strong" core, if it's only strong within the strict confines of a handful of very specific movements?

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  • Oh wowza! Thanks for the explanation. Ill try an educate myself a bit more and try new things. Ive never been a gym rat but have always been quite active. I swim competitively with uni, dive and surf frequently. The only times I hit the gym are for yoga and Pilate classes. Do you follow any gym routines I could possibly follow online or fitness programs you'd recommend yourself ? Youtube vids? Fitness gurus? – ceci cela Sep 10 at 20:37
  • I don't have a particular program. I train climbing pretty actively, and finish off the workouts with some compound lifts like squat/bench/deadlift, just to make sure I don't neglect any body parts. I recommend checking out Athlean-X on Youtube. Search his videos for "abs". Here's a nifty google search to get you started. I generally try to stay away from the "gurus" of Youtube, but this guy (Jeff) actually has a degree, and will often explain WHY he does what he does. That understanding helps you make decisions too. – Alec Sep 10 at 20:49

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