Amazing abs are much easier to envy than to come by—and it's no secret that perfect abs take a whole lot of work. To get the core you want, just follow the daily practices of women with the strongest, flattest abs:
Carmel Rodriguez, Personal Trainer and Fitness Model
1. They try new workouts. "Our bodies are so amazing and they adapt super quick, so we need to change up the routine. It's why I rarely do the same workout more than twice."
2. They set realistic goals. "Instead of going to the gym thinking about my abs, I go to the gym thinking about getting an extra 10 seconds in my plank or lasting an extra five minutes in my run," Carmel says.
3. They focus on form instead of reps. When working on her core, Carmel doesn't focus on cranking out a certain number of reps, which can result in improper form that makes many exercises less effective. Instead, she slows down and focuses on her form. "I feel the difference immediately and my results show up faster," she says.
4. They use gym time wisely. Carmel is a mom, so she relies on efficient workouts to stay in shape. That means doing full-body, high-intensity interval training workouts, which burn tons of calories while building strength. (After all, you can have abs for days—but you'll never see them if they're covered by fat from calories that are stored instead of burned.)
5. They actually eat. You can't build muscle—abs included—unless you eat proper food, says Carmel, who doesn't weigh or measure food, and instead relies on her body to let her know when her stomach is full.
6. They opt for lean meats and smart carbs. "I'm a meat-eater, but I try to stick to leaner meats like chicken and fish—even though I also love my steak," she says. She's not afraid of starchy veggies or carbs either: Yams, sweet potatoes, rice, quinoa, and whole-grain breads are all part of her diet—but baked goods and processed foods don't make the cut.
7. They eat their water. Fruits and vegetables that are rich in water, including cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and broccoli top Carmel's shopping list.
8. They cheat—but only every now and then. "As a mom with two kids (three if you include my husband), I can't always eat perfectly," she says. "I believe in eating everything in moderation—even pizza, which is a family favorite—and that the body needs a bit of 'bad' food for it to truly make use of the 'good' food," she adds.
Amanda Lee, Instagram Fitness Star and Certified Personal Trainer
9. They drink like it's their job—but stick to h20. Amanda says she drinks about 3 to 4 liters of water per day and avoids binge-drinking alcohol. "I drink wine, but not excessively," she says.
10. They say no to white foods. "I don't believe in dieting, but I do believe in limiting white carbs with added sugars," Amanda says—likely because white sugars and carbs (like white flour) tend to make up many processed foods. Processed food also tends to lack fiber—which Amanda likes to fill up on. "I eat mostly clean foods like protein, veggies, and brown rice," she says.
11. They do planks instead of sit-ups. "Planks are my favorite abs exercise because they're way more effective for targeting your core than a classic sit-up and are proven to engage more of your abdominal muscles," Amanda says.
Kira Stokes, Certified Trainer and Creator of the Stoked Fitness Method
12. They eat complex carbs in the morning. Kira eats oatmeal with walnuts and almonds, or quinoa with mixed veggie for breakfast, but tapers off carbs after her pre-workout snack (cucumber avocado maki made with brown rice) Later on, she sticks to lean protein and veggies.
13. They avoid sodium. It's how Kira makes her abs look their best—particularly when she's doing a photo shoot or has another reason to expose her abs.
14. They eat asparagus and cantaloupe. Asparagus is a natural diuretic, which helps get rid of excess water or bloat, and cantaloupe is also a great flat-belly food, according to Kira.
15. They do cardio. There's no way to get around it if you want amazing abs: "Cardio is key to keeping my six-pack looking solid," she says. Kira runs four or five days a week, varying speed and intensity to keep her body guessing. On non-running days, she does indoor cycling, swimming, or uses the elliptical.
16. They jump rope. Done correctly with abs engaged as you jump, it sneakily works your core—one reason Kira swears by jumping.
Astrid Swan McGuire, Personal Trainer and Fitness Model
17. They engage their cores—always. Astrid says she draws her naval inward and "locks" her rib cage when she's working out, standing in line at the grocery store, and driving. "It makes all the difference in the world," she says.
Gaby Diaz, Winner of So You Think You Can Dance Season 12
18. They drink water before every meal. Because it's easy to confuse thirst and hunger, and water fills you up, Gaby says that water doesn't just hydrate her—it helps her eat more balanced meals. And everybody knows that abs—even dancers' abs—are made in the kitchen.
19. They plan mobile workouts. Gabby does 100 crunches and holds a one-minute plank every day. "It's a no-excuse daily routine I can do just about anywhere," she says.
20. They snack constantly. "Instead of eating three heavy meals a day, I make sure to eat little snacks throughout the day," Gaby says. "It keeps my metabolism moving."
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.