Ab Exercises That Won't Push Your Stomach Out

Proper breathing will pull your stomach in rather than push it out.
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If you've been working hard at toning your abs, it may not be going as planned. You may have gone from doing situps and crunches on the mat to using a stability ball, an inflatable balance trainer or even a declined bench. So why is your stomach round rather than flat? You may be doing the wrong exercise or doing the right exercises in the wrong way.

Transverse Abdominis

Most ab exercises, when done correctly, will work the rectus abdominis. This is the washboard, or six-pack, muscle that runs down your middle. However, a deeper muscle -- the transverse abdominis -- acts as an inner corset, wrapping your middle. Exercises that target the transverse abdominis will pull your stomach in, rather than push it out.

Hollowing or Vacuum

The first step is learning how, exactly, to target your transverse abdominis. You can do this with an exercise known as hollowing or creating an abdominal vacuum. These can be done in a kneeling position, but it will be easier to keep your back and pelvis aligned if you lie on a mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Press your back into the mat and take a deep breath, expanding your abdomen rather than your chest. Slowly exhale while contracting your ab muscles so that your stomach deflates. Then continue past the neutral position, trying to pull your navel toward your backbone. That pulling in your midsection is what you want to achieve with all your ab work. Do a few of these before each ab session as a reminder.

Crunch and Jackknife

Without a strong transverse abdominis, that staple of ab workouts, the situp, can push your stomach out during execution. In the beginning, skip the situp and go for exercises that draw in your middle. These would be crunches and twist crunches, sometimes called curls, because you curl your upper body off the mat while simultaneously tilting your pelvis. A more advanced exercise is the jackknife, for which you lift your torso off the mat, keeping your neck back and pelvis aligned, while simultaneously pulling your knees in.

Execution Over Speed

Not only is there no real benefit to pumping out fast ab exercises, momentum will carry you through much of the move, making it less effective. A slow and controlled motion will help you concentrate on the right muscles and breathing techniques so you won't push your stomach out. It will also challenge your muscles more. You're likely to find that you can do far fewer crunches when you do them slowly, but each crunch will be more effective at pulling your stomach in rather than pushing it out.

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