Just one look at the perfect, toned tummies in a swimsuit catalog can have you flipping to the one-piece section -- or forgetting about the beach altogether. But having strong abs isn't only about getting swimsuit-ready, but also enjoying better posture and strengthening your core, too. While a million crunches won't give you the perfect abs, adding abcentric exercises to your usual workout can help you strengthen your core and see results when paired with cardio, weight training and a healthy diet. Now, which page were the bikinis on?
Crunches and Sit-Ups
When you think about abcentric exercises, you probably envision struggling on a mat on the floor. While the sit-up and her little sister, the crunch, can work your abs, they'll only work when done properly. Tugging on your head and neck while crunching reduces the impact to your abs, so focus on contracting your abdominal muscles and pushing your lower back into the floor to perfect your form. Or for an added challenge, try crunches on an exercise ball to increase your range of motion.
Usually, ab exercises target the upper-ab area. But if your trouble spot is that little pouch right above your bikini bottoms, reverse ab exercises can help target and strengthen the hard-to-reach lower-ab area. A reverse crunch, for instance, engages the lower abdominals. Lie on a mat on your back with your knees up and bent at 90 degrees and your calves parallel to the floor. Inhale and bring your knees toward your chest, lifting your bottom off of the mat. Or try a trickier reversal with an exercise ball. Get on hands and knees and place the ball under your shins. Then, walk your hands out so that you're in a plank position. Pull your knees into your chest as you roll the ball into your torso and then back out to the starting plank position to complete one rep -- yep, your abs are going to be hurting the next day.
If the idea of getting on the floor for yet another round of crunches makes you want to camp on the couch instead of exercise, try standing ab exercises. Trunk rotations can work the abs from a standing position. Grab a weight and stand with your legs shoulder-width apart. Grasp the weight with both hands by your left knee and then inhale as you twist your body to bring the weight to rest over your right shoulder. Exhale back to the starting position and repeat 12 to 15 times per set. The trick with standing ab exercises is control -- never swing your body for more momentum.
While you can add ab exercises to your workouts for a stronger core, routines and exercise classes can help you focus on your abs while also getting a full-body workout. For instance, the IDEA Health and Fitness Association suggests hula hooping with a weighted hoop to target the abs, which will also increase your heart rate for a solid cardio workout. Or try a workout like Pilates, which focuses on the core but includes strength training for arms and legs as well. Classes which require abdominal engagement, like spin or yoga, can also help you score a stronger core while including cardio and flexibility for a better-rounded workout.
- American Council on Exercise: Stability Ball Knee Tucks
- IDEA Fit: Sample Class: Abdominal/Core Circuit
- The Little Abs Workout Book; Erika Dillman
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.