Abs and Core Workouts
Workouts targeting the abs and core muscles aren't solely about trying to obtain the highly coveted "six-pack abs." Instead, strengthening the core assists the body in multiple ways including increased balance, stability, and reduced risk of injury. Include these workouts in your exercise rotation at least twice a week if you can.
Even though traditional abdominal crunches are the typical go-to for targeting abs, they aren't always the best choice. There are other exercises with higher intensity that do a more effective job of targeting the abdominal muscles and the rest of the core.
Targeting the Core
Core training targets the core - basically, any muscle that comes into contact with the spine. The core isn't just the abs - it's also the back muscles and the muscles on the side of your body. When you target the core, you target the muscles responsible for your body's stability and balance. When your core is strong and stable, you are much less likely to experience the typical aches and pains of people living a sedentary lifestyle.
Whenever you target a specific muscle, it's important to also work the opposing muscle. For example, the opposing muscles to the rectus abdominis (the so-called "six pack" muscles) is the erector spinae, which are located in the back. Working opposing muscles contributes greatly to overall strength and balances out the workout to the benefit of the body.
Some of the best abs and core exercises use only body weight and require no equipment, such as the plank. But adding the right equipment to your workout can push your strength to the next level. For example, a BOSU balance trainer is designed to decrease stability, forcing the body to stabilize (which recruits core muscles). Medicine balls and resistance bands increase the intensity of core workouts and the captain's chair utilizes body weight and gravity to make an ab workout more intense.
Flatter abs can indeed be a product of lifestyle changes, but perhaps not the lifestyle changes you expect. Doing sit-ups until your abs ache is less likely to get you the abs you want than dietary changes will. Reduced bloat is the product of the food you put into your mouth and less about targeted exercise. The good news is that once your stomach area sheds some fat, the ab strengthening exercises you've been doing will help reveal strong, impressive abs.