Bloated Abs: Causes and Prevention Tactics (2022)

Bloated Abs: Causes and Prevention Tactics (1)Share on Pinterest

We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.

Identifying bulging abdominal muscles can be a bit tricky at first glance, especially since it’s easy to blame your belly pooch for bloating after eating a large meal.

However, there are key distinguishing factors between both conditions, as both belly bloat and bulging abs are caused by very different things.

For starters, belly bloat tends to be more of a gastrointestinal issue caused by a buildup of gas in the abdomen, according to Harvard Medical School. This, in turn, gives your abs a puffy or distended appearance.

Belly bloat can also be triggered by food and sensory responses, and by underlying gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease.

Causes of bulging abs, on the other hand, tend to vary. For example, pregnancy and workout injuries are among some of the biggest influencing factors.

To identify and treat bulging abs accordingly, we tapped two licensed physical therapists and a personal trainer to break down everything you need to know about bloated abs before you proceed to book that doctor’s appointment.

From ab-flattening exercises you can try at home to when you should actually see a doctor, read their expert advice ahead.

Unlike belly bloat, which is usually caused by gastrointestinal distress, or underlying medical conditions, bulging abdominal muscles can be the result of a variety of different contributing factors, according to physical therapist Theresa Marko, PT, DPT, MS, CEIS.

These include:

  • poor lifting practices
  • tears in the abdominal muscles during pregnancy
  • incorrect breathing techniques

Poor lifting practices

It’s true that exercise can cause the abdominal muscles to bulge. Geoff Tripp, head of fitness science at Trainiac, suggests that lifting heavy loads, with poor abdominal bracing, can cause this condition.

“Oftentimes, it’s not a single exercise that creates this, but rather a period of time where poor lifting practices lead to the development of the diastasis recti,” Tripp said. “Excessive weight gain also stretches the abdominal muscles and the linea alba.”

Diastasis recti during pregnancy

Tears in the diastasis rectus abdominis muscles (aka diastasis recti) can occur during pregnancy, as the abdomen expands to support the growing baby, Marko says.

And while women typically don’t feel these tears (they happen slowly as the baby grows), Marko explains that you may feel pressure in the abdominal area and that your belly is stretching out too much.

To avoid any unwanted discomfort, Marko recommends investing in a pregnancy belt to help hold you in throughout your pregnancy.

Shop for a pregnancy belt online.

(Video) How to Reduce Bloating Quickly - Causes of Bloating and Tips to Debloat Fast!!

Diastasis recti in infancy

Diastasis recti can also occur in newborns. According to board certified physical therapist Kristen Gasnick, PT, DPT, infants can be born with the condition if they’re preterm and the abdominal muscles haven’t fully fused.

However, there’s no real need to worry, as this condition will generally correct itself with normal growth and development, she explains.

In order to flatten bulging abdominal abs safely, Tripp says that pelvic floor exercises, isometric exercise, and abdominal wall bracing drills are worth trying. These exercises engage the abdominal muscles and help strengthen and stabilize your core, he adds.

“A stable core is a strong core, just like a stable leg is able to handle more load,” he explained. “Without a stable core, it is harder to build strength across all of your lifts.”

To send that bulge packing, try three of Tripp’s safe core-strengthening exercises below:

1. Pelvic floor exercises, such as Kegels

Kegel exercises are a good pelvic floor exercise to add to your daily workout routine, Tripp says, as they can be done sitting (on a chair or exercise ball), lying down, or standing up.

To perform this exercise correctly, remember to engage and hold your deep pelvic floor muscles. Since your deep pelvic floor muscles need practice, Tripp suggests that high reps are usually required for Kegel exercises.


  1. Identify the pelvic floor muscles — the easiest way to do this is to stop peeing midstream.
  2. Contract your pelvic floor muscles and hold for 1 to 2 seconds.
  3. Do 10 to 20 reps each session, and repeat 2 to 3 times per day.
Bloated Abs: Causes and Prevention Tactics (2)Share on Pinterest

2. Isometric exercises, such as planks

Tripp says that planks (and their many variations) are a great example of isometric exercises, as they’re an easy way to help bring your abs together.


  1. A typical plank position is prone on your elbows and toes. If you’re a beginner and think this may be too difficult to start with, begin by performing planks on your knees and keeping your body in a straight line.
  2. To perform planks correctly, be sure to engage your transverse abdominal muscles and obliques. “The easiest way to think about this is to pull your rib cage down and then pull your pelvis up,” Tripp said.
  3. Aim to perform 2 to 3 reps, hold for 15 to 30 seconds, and repeat 1 to 3 times a day.
Bloated Abs: Causes and Prevention Tactics (3)Share on Pinterest

3. Abdominal wall bracing exercises, such as the dead bug

Abdominal wall bracing drills, such as the dead bug, are another good exercise. Tripp says they’re isometric in nature, but you can add small movements (with your arm or leg) to challenge your core strength and stability.

“The nice thing about these drills (which can be done standing alone or right before a lift in the gym) is that they also transfer into your lifts, so you know heading into a heavy lift how to properly brace your core,” he added.


  1. Start by lying flat on your back, pulling your knees to your chest, bending your knees to 90 degrees, and reaching your hands into the air.
  2. Next, begin to engage your core by pulling your rib cage down and pelvis up. This will push your back into the ground. Do your best not to arch your back off of the ground.
  3. Then, in a controlled manner, reach one arm down toward the ground, reaching up above your head, as you lower the opposite leg. Always be sure to alternate sides one at a time, as this helps maintain core stability.
  4. Aim to perform 2 sets of 6 to 10 repetitions, 1 to 3 times per day.

To keep your abs in tip-top shape this summer, Tripp suggests there are other flat-ab training tips to keep in mind, aside from working out. These include:

  • breathing
  • stretching
  • maintaining appropriate hydration levels
  • proper nutrition


Although breathing is involuntarily fundamental to living, breathing properly during exercise is essential for growth and development, according to Tripp.

(Video) 4 Ways to Battle Bloating

“When we’re working out, our muscles require a greater amount of oxygen to function effectively,” he said. “By breathing incorrectly, or holding your breath at the wrong times, you’re depleting your muscles and brain of oxygen, and upping your risk for potential injuries.”

To avoid any potential abdominal injuries while working out, Tripp recommends breathing out as you exert yourself, especially when you’re lifting something heavy.

Having a wide stance with your legs also helps ensure that your spine is neutral, as you don’t want your back to be arched. Otherwise, you’ll have a difficult time stabilizing your pelvis and spine, as your abdominals will expand and stretch out.


Stretching is another key component in abdominal growth and development, Tripp explains.

“Stretching lengthens muscle tissue and increases flexibility, allowing for both increased performance, and creating a greater range of motion and recovery,” he said.


Even staying hydrated is another key component to flattening your abs for several reasons, Tripp explains.

“Staying hydrated increases metabolism, decreases appetite, and in turn helps lose stomach fat,” he said.

To stay hydrated throughout your workouts, Tripp suggests that a good hydration rule to remember is to consume half of your body weight in fluid ounces per day.

When exercising, he advises increasing that amount by 12 to 24 ounces per hour depending on demands.

“A more demanding longer workout in the heat will require more fluid, as well as replacement of electrolytes, so muscle contraction can take place,” he added. “A drop of 1 to 3 percent hydration will drastically affect your performance, so it is important to stay hydrated throughout the day and during exercise, with moderate fluid replenishment.”


While exercise is crucial in maintaining adequate physical health, Marko says that there are times when situps and ab crunches aren’t enough.

Working out, and not making appropriate dietary changes, for example, can spell trouble for your waistline, she explains, as it allows muscle to be created on an already large abdominal area.

“If someone just did crunches, and didn’t do anything to lose weight, they can appear to increase their belly size and increase their pooch,” Marko explains. “To decrease the size of your abdomen, one would need to lose weight, as it works to reduce belly size in inches.”

Focus on eating a balanced diet to fuel your exercise routine and avoid foods that cause gas, such as vegetables in the cabbage family, dried beans, and lentils.

Although Gasnick suggests that bulging abdominal muscles caused by incorrect breathing during exercise are usually more aesthetically unappealing rather than actually painful, there are instances when this condition can actually be something more serious.

For example, Marko suggests that you should see a medical doctor (or a doctor of physical therapy) if you:

  • experience pain in your abdominal wall
  • feel it hurts when moving or lifting something
  • feel you can’t control your midsection during everyday activities

Similarly, Gasnick adds that you’ll also want to contact a doctor if the pain in your abdominal area is spreading to the areas of the lower back, groin, buttocks, and legs, and is accompanied by increased heart rate, lightheadedness, confusion, nausea, anxiety, and vomiting.

(Video) Ab Workout Mistake (BLOATED ABS!!)

These could be warning signs of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, she adds, which is a very serious and potentially life threatening condition if rupture occurs.

To gain a further understanding of the causes behind bulging abs, it’s important to understand what the different kinds of abdominal muscles are and what role they play in the human body.

To start, abdominal muscles are a part of the body’s core or midsection. They typically feature a top and bottom, front and back, and two sides.

This makes it helpful to look at your abdominal muscles like a box, Marko explains, as it contains different sides of muscles that help secure the midsection.

At top of the box is the diaphragm, which is a huge muscle that has a lot of responsibility.

Although the diaphragm is technically not classified as an abdominal muscle, it does play an important role in core stabilization, by providing essential postural support.

“The abdominals and diaphragm work in synchronicity with the pelvic floor to keep an ideal level of intra-abdominal pressure, and to keep the lumbar spine adequately stabilized,” Gasnick explained.

Conversely, at the bottom of the box is your pelvic floor. These are the muscles that control urination, the vaginal wall, and some of the hip muscles (adductors and internal rotators).

Since the pelvic floor area is often neglected, Marko stresses the importance of addressing any dysfunction here with the help of a physical therapist. Otherwise, you won’t truly have power in your core, she warns.

“Ideally, you want all the sides of that box to be strong in order to give you the ultimate power to function at your best,” Marko said. “If sex is painful, or if you urinate when you laugh or sneeze, you may have an issue that you need to see a physical therapist for.”

Among one the most commonly known abdominal muscles in the core area are the rectus abdominis, which are the front abdominal muscles.

This group of muscles is also known as the area of the six-pack, and helps to flex and bend our midsection forward.

“The rectus abdominis (aka the six-pack) is one of the more common abdominal muscles that people are aware of,” Marko said. “They run vertically from the base of your chest bone (sternum) to the top of your pubic bone.”

(Video) Why Your Protruding Belly Might Not Be Fat - The Fix

At the sides of the body are the external and internal oblique muscles, which help perform various kinds of movement in the body. This includes helping with forwarding bending or crunching movements.

“The internal and external obliques attach from the bottom of the rib cage to the top of the pelvis, and mesh together in an X-shaped fashion,” Gasnick explained. “When contracted, these muscles allow the torso to side bend, rotate, and twist, as well as assist the rectus abdominis in performing a forward bending or crunching movement.”

Then, there’s the transversus abdominis, which is a muscle that wraps from the back to the front in a circular motion.

This muscle also acts as a large stabilizer, as the hugging motion of this muscle helps to control our midsection and provides the spine with stability.

While belly bloat is caused by gastrointestinal distress or underlying medical conditions, bulging abdominal muscles can be the result of a variety of different factors, including diastasis recti, weightlifting, and incorrect breathing during exercise.

And while there are many things you can do to flatten your bulge (stretching and performing core-strengthening exercises) on your own, there are times when bulging abs can be the result of something more serious.

(Video) Simple Solution to Bloating? FACT or CAP? #shorts #bellybloat

See a doctor if any pain in the abdominal area doesn’t resolve, spreads to other parts of the body, or is accompanied by other symptoms such as increased heart rate, nausea, and vomiting.


How do I stop my abs from bloating? ›

In order to flatten bulging abdominal abs safely, Tripp says that pelvic floor exercises, isometric exercise, and abdominal wall bracing drills are worth trying. These exercises engage the abdominal muscles and help strengthen and stabilize your core, he adds.

Does having abs prevent bloating? ›

Regular exercise, for instance, including strengthening your abdominal muscles, can aid in digestion and ease both gas and bloating.

What causes abdominal bloating? ›

Upper abdominal bloating may be related to slow movement of the intestine called gastroparesis, swallowing air while eating, an infection, or overeating. Lower abdominal bloating can be from constipation, IBS, gas caused by food intolerance, or fluid retention.

What causes lower ab bloating? ›

Swallowing excess air, eating high-fat foods that delay stomach emptying, and even stress can contribute to abdominal bloating and lower abdominal pain. Intestinal and stomach-related conditions that cause these symptoms include: constipation. an intolerance to certain ingredients, such as lactose or gluten.

How do I keep my abs from showing? ›

The key is consistency. It may take months or even years to uncover your abs, but if you stick to being smart in the kitchen, you'll eventually see results. The only way to strip the fat from your abs is by slowly and gradually burning it off from your entire body through cardio, nutrition, and resistance training.

Will drinking water give abs? ›

While the evidence is mixed as to whether drinking more water in general aids weight loss, recent research supports the conclusion that replacing sugary drinks with water can aid weight loss, potentially helping you burn fat and reveal your abdominals ( 15 ).

Why are my abs not flat? ›

Genetics. Genetics are the most likely cause of uneven abs, which are also referred to as staggered abs. With staggered abs, both sides of the rectus abdominis muscle are the same size, but the three segments on each side that make up the six-pack don't line up, creating an uneven effect.

Is belly fat or bloating? ›

One easy way to tell the difference between bloat and belly fat is to note belly fat does not cause your stomach to expand wildly throughout the course of a day; bloat does. One other way to tell the difference between bloat and belly fat is you can physically grasp belly fat with your hand, you cannot with bloat.

What is the most common cause of bloating? ›

Dietary intolerances are the most common cause of bloating, especially dairy and gluten — found in wheat, rye and barley,” explains Dr. Smith. However, you can be intolerant to pretty much anything you consume.

Why does my stomach look pregnant? ›

Many people who experience endo belly say they “look pregnant,” even though they're not. Endo belly is just one symptom of endometriosis. Those who experience endo belly often have other gastrointestinal symptoms, such as: gas pain.

What are the first signs of abs? ›

Your pants and/or shorts are looser in the waistline.

It is the easiest and most effortless way to notice your progress on the journey to a washboard stomach. If your pants are fitting more loosely or if you have to tighten your belt, then you are losing fat around your stomach.

Do abs come naturally? ›

Many of us believe that six pack abs are only meant for the genetically blessed. But the truth is, everyone is technically capable of getting abs because we all have ab muscles naturally, it just requires time, discipline, and hard work to reveal them.

When do your abs show the most? ›

Abs only become visible once a low enough body fat is achieved to reveal them. For men, your abs will typically start to become visible at around 15%. But at 12% is when you start to really see some good definition with your six-pack. And at 10%, your six-pack is clearly visible and well defined.

What drinks to avoid for abs? ›

Sugar-sweetened drinks

Sugary drinks like soda, sports drinks, and juice can increase body fat and stall progress on getting abs. These drinks are not only high in calories but also packed with sugar.

Is banana good for abs? ›

Bananas are great for gaining weight, building muscles and for getting six-pack abs. They are packed with potassium that cuts down water retention from the body.

Why are my abs so tight? ›

A feeling of tightness in a person's abdomen is usually the result of digestive or hormonal issues. The sensation often goes away on its own, but it can signal an underlying health issue.

Should I workout my abs if I have belly fat? ›

Final Thoughts: Should You Workout Your Abs If You Have Belly Fat? Yes you should because your abs play several important roles and strong abs are essential even if they are hidden underneath the belly fat.

How long does it take to flatten abs? ›

Losing belly fat and getting a flat stomach is done through achieving a caloric deficit by eating less, exercising more, and doing that for at least 6-12 weeks. The more stubborn your belly fat is, the more strict and consistent you need to be with your diet and exercises regimen throughout that period.

Why do I have a big stomach but I'm not fat? ›

The most common causes are trapped gas or eating too much in a short time. The sensation of bloating can cause abdominal distention, which is a visible swelling or extension of your belly.

What does bloat look like? ›

The classic sign of bloat is unproductive retching (it looks like your dog has to throw up but nothing comes out). The abdomen appears to be swollen and firm to the touch. Breathing may also appear to be labored and they may have a hard time getting up or even collapse.

Can water make you bloated? ›

When water builds up in the body, it can cause bloating and puffiness, especially in the abdomen, legs, and arms. Water levels can make a person's weight fluctuate by as much as 2 to 4 pounds in a single day.

What keeps you from bloating? ›

Not only does fibrous produce help aid digestion, but foods like potassium-rich bananas and high-water-content fruits, like watermelon, help flush out belly-bloating sodium. Papaya contains high levels of essential digestive enzymes that break down protein to aid digestion – so you look and feel less full.

Does coffee cause bloating? ›

Coffee does cause bloating. It's temporary and doesn't happen to everyone, but for some, that belly bloat results from coffee, and more specifically, caffeine. When you consume caffeine, it may stimulate your gut and lead to spasms that cause bloating.

What foods to avoid to stop bloating? ›

Foods to avoid if suffering from bloating
  • FATTY FOODS. Foods which are fried or particularly greasy add strain to your digestive system, also increasing the risk of heartburn and stomach aches.
  • SALTY FOODS. They encourage the body to retain more water. ...

Do eggs cause bloating? ›

You might have an intolerance to the egg white, egg yolks, or both. Such an intolerance most commonly leads to gastrointestinal upset, such as abdominal bloating or diarrhea. In some cases, an intolerance can last for years, while others have trouble with eggs for life. It can also occur at any age.

What is a hormonal belly? ›

Sometimes, excess fat around the belly is due to hormones. Hormones help regulate many bodily functions, including metabolism, stress, hunger, and sex drive. If a person has a deficiency in certain hormones, it may result in weight gain around the abdomen, which is known as a hormonal belly.

How do I get rid of hormonal belly fat? ›

Before you rush to your doctor to get a prescription for your hormonal belly, there are natural ways to readjust your levels. Reducing sugar intake, eliminating processed foods from your diet, and avoiding things like dairy, alcohol, and caffeine can all help reset your blood sugar and insulin levels.

What is a stressed out belly? ›

Stress belly is the extra abdominal fat that accumulates as the result of chronic or prolonged stress. Although stress belly is not a medical diagnosis, it is a term used to describe the way that stress and stress hormones impact your midsection.

Does having abs make your stomach flat? ›

Evidence shows that you can't lose belly fat by exercising your abs alone. For total-body fat loss, use a combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training, such as lifting weights. In addition, eat a healthy diet with plenty of protein, fiber and portion control — all of which are proven to help reduce body fat.

Is it normal to be bloated after abs? ›

The short answer: Yes, it's normal to feel bloated after a workout. Why? Well, you may feel bloated after a workout if you've been breathing hard or gulping too much water, which may cause you to swallow air.

Do abs make your stomach flatter? ›

In addition to cardio, ab exercises can help you start getting rid of excess belly fat and flatten and tone the stomach area.

Should I do abs If I have a belly? ›

Final Thoughts: Should You Workout Your Abs If You Have Belly Fat? Yes you should because your abs play several important roles and strong abs are essential even if they are hidden underneath the belly fat.

What are the disadvantages of six pack? ›

The Ugly Truth About Six Pack Abs
  • Reduced bladder control.
  • Irregular bowel function.
  • Hormone imbalance.
  • Weaker immune system.
  • Muscle aches and pains.
  • Inadequate cushioning around joints and organs, which increases the risk of injury.
  • Increased fatigue, tiredness and mood swings.
31 Oct 2016

How do you lose lower ab fat? ›

There are plenty of smart strategies that can help you slim down all over and reduce the amount of fat around your lower belly.
  1. Cut your calories. ...
  2. And maybe cut your carbs too. ...
  3. Bump up your protein. ...
  4. Stop drinking your calories. ...
  5. Try intermittent fasting. ...
  6. Go for high intensity intervals. ...
  7. Try resistance training. ...
  8. Get enough sleep.
6 Oct 2020

Are abs hard or soft? ›

What are the properties of ABS? ABS is very structurally sturdy, which is why it is used in things like camera housings, protective housings, and packaging. ABS is a good choice if you need an inexpensive, strong, stiff plastic that holds up well to external impacts.

Does walking tone your stomach? ›

Walking might not be the most strenuous form of exercise, but it is an effective way to get in shape and burn fat. While you can't spot-reduce fat, walking can help reduce overall fat (including belly fat), which, despite being one of the most dangerous types of fat, is also one of the easiest to lose.

Does holding your tummy tone? ›

Suck in your stomach.

Not only will this move instantly make your stomach look flatter, but you will also be giving your abs a workout. Your deep core muscles are activated by sucking in your stomach and the longer you suck in, the more toned your core will be.

Will losing weight help with abs? ›

Visible abdominal muscles are a function of your overall body fat percentage. Diet and training programs can improve your body composition by helping you gain muscle and burn fat, leading to visible abdominals.

What exercise burns the most belly fat at home? ›

The most effective exercise to burn stomach fat is crunches. Crunches rank top when we talk of fat-burning exercises. You can start by lying down flat with your knees bent and your feet on the ground. Lift your hands and then place them behind the head.

Do abs make your stomach bigger? ›

Doing abdominal exercises does nothing to reduce your fat layer, but it also does NOT make your belly bigger. For the average person, the fat layer is so much bigger than the muscle layer that adding a little muscle has no appreciable effect on the size of your stomach.


1. Bloating | The GutDr Explains (3D Gut Animation)
(GutDr - The Gut Doctor)
2. Always Bloated? Do this in the Morning for a Flatter Belly & Better Digestion | Joanna Soh
(Joanna Soh Official)
3. Bloating After Eating? Try This Hack! 😊🤫 #shorts #bloating
4. How To Fix Bloated Abs (2 WORKOUT TIPS TO GET LEAN AND FLAT ABS) #TBT | LiveLeanTV
(Live Lean TV)
5. How To Reduce Bloating | Get Flat Stomach | 10 Reasons Why You're Bloated
(Chloe Ting)
6. Belly Breathing vs. Abdominal Opposition - BETTER Way to Breathe for Health and Performance (2021)
(Chaplin Performance)

Top Articles

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Geoffrey Lueilwitz

Last Updated: 08/28/2022

Views: 6128

Rating: 5 / 5 (60 voted)

Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Geoffrey Lueilwitz

Birthday: 1997-03-23

Address: 74183 Thomas Course, Port Micheal, OK 55446-1529

Phone: +13408645881558

Job: Global Representative

Hobby: Sailing, Vehicle restoration, Rowing, Ghost hunting, Scrapbooking, Rugby, Board sports

Introduction: My name is Geoffrey Lueilwitz, I am a zealous, encouraging, sparkling, enchanting, graceful, faithful, nice person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.