Twenty minutes of regular ab exercises five days a week can get you powerful results. Ab exercises will strengthen your upper and lower abdominal muscles as well as your entire core which supports the spine. A strong core is important for balance, posture and long-term health. While an ab routine will create a strong middle it does not reduce stomach fat -- combine your routine with cardio to burn fat and show off your new ab muscles.
The crunch is a highly effective exercise for strengthening the abs -- take advantage of the different adaptations to emphasize the upper or lower abdominals. Start a standard crunch lying on your back with your knees bent and hands resting lightly on the back of your neck. Lift your shoulders off of the ground, pause and lower. The lift should come from your upper torso and don't be concerned if you only raise a couple of inches in the beginning. Repeat this exercise for 20 repetitions.
Variations on the Crunch: Double Crunch, Reverse Crunch and Bicycle Crunch
Target your upper and lower abdominals with the double crunch -- as you lift your shoulders bring your knees up and towards your center as well. For the reverse crunch, leave your upper torso on the floor while you lift your knees up and towards your middle. You will feel this in your lower abdomen. The bicycle crunch is like the double crunch except that there is an extra extension at the top of each repetition -- extend the left knee and right elbow as if to meet in the middle, lower and repeat. Do 20 repetitions of each.
Extended Crunches and Heel Push
There are two styles of extended crunches. Do the straight arm crunch by holding your arms straight above your head and performing the double crunch, be sure to not shrug your shoulders here. The vertical leg crunch is the double crunch except your knees have only a very slight bend in them. The heel push is a standard crunch except with your toes lifted and heels touching the floor, crunch with your upper torso while digging your heels into the floor. Repeat each of these exercises for 20 repetitions.
The Plank and The Side Plank
The plank works your entire core. Start in a pushup then lower to balance on your forearms and toes. Form a straight line not dropping at the hips or raising your rear. Hold 60 seconds, rest and repeat three times. If 60 seconds is not possible then attempt 30. The side plank starts on your left side in the same straight line, balancing on your left forearm with your feet stacked, abs supporting your middle. Hold for 30 seconds, and switch to the right side. Repeat this three times.
The back extension strengthens your sides and core. Lie flat on your stomach with your feet hip-width apart and hands gently placed behind your neck. Lift your head, neck and shoulders off of the ground a few inches. Take care not to pull your head straight back, instead keep it inline with your entire upper torso which will lift only a few inches off of the ground. Hold this for 30 seconds, rest and repeat three times.
As with any new exercise routine, listen to your body's signals and don't go further than it allows. If you are new to ab exercises then these moves could be difficult and you may have soreness the next day -- slight soreness is normal. To prevent strain only do as many reps as your body allows. If 10 is highly challenging, repeat with 10 repetitions before working up to 20. During crunches be sure the work is coming from your upper torso, not the neck. Your hands are lightly touching your neck for support only.
Grace Bordelon is a public relations professional, teacher and writer. She owns her own boutique public relations firm that specializes in the advertising, gaming and software industries. She also teaches at a major design school for fine artists, commercial artists and graphic designers. Bordelon holds a B.A. in international economics and an M.A. in English from Bard College.