Every girl in the gym wants a toned, flat stomach -- it's one of those fitness must-haves. But getting washboard abs isn't as easy as you might hope. Abdominal exercises won't directly reduce fat from your stomach, since spot reduction isn't possible, but they will help build muscle and make your midsection stronger. If you've moved past beginner ab exercises such as situps and crunches, it's time to take your training to the next level with advanced abdominal exercises.
The true function of your abdominals is to stabilize your midsection, not to provide movement, according to Tony Gentilcore, head trainer at Cressey Performance in Boston. You're probably familiar with the basic plank, which is the queen of stabilization exercises, so you can skip that one and head straight to tougher plank variations. Try planks with your feet on a Swiss ball, or the hand-to-elbow plank, where you maneuver from a plank position to a pushup position and back down again while squeezing your abs as tight as you can. Front squat holds also place a huge emphasis on your core stabilizing muscles. Load up a barbell and hold it in the front squat position, with the bar resting across your collarbone, supported by your hands. Stand upright for as long as you can while keeping your core strong. This may sound simple, but if you use enough weight and really focus on keeping your core tight, it's incredibly challenging.
The love handles -- or to give them their proper name, your obliques -- are one area that many women look to target and strengthen. In "The New Rules of Lifting for Women," trainer Cassandra Forsythe recommends including heavy cable rotations and kettlebell windmills in your routine. For kettlebell windmills, hold a kettlebell in one hand above your head and bend down to your opposite side until your hand touches the floor. This takes some practice to get right, and you may struggle with mobility at first, but keep practicing and you'll get there. Simple rotational movements such as Russian twists can be advanced by lifting your feet off the floor while doing them.
Ditch your situps and crunches and step up your game with advanced flexion movements. Pikes are a highly effective, but very difficult, core movement. Assume a pushup position with your feet on a Swiss ball or in the handles of a suspension trainer and your legs toward you by contracting your abdominals. Rollouts with your hands on a ball or an ab wheel are also extremely challenging, and just a few reps will leave your abs sore for days.
You should be competent with basic ab movements before attempting any of these exercises. If you're not sure of the correct techniques, ask a trainer for assistance. Train your abs twice per week at the end of your weights or cardio workout. Pick one exercise from each category and perform three sets of 10 to 15 reps on each, or go for maximum time on the stabilization exercises. Aim to use more weight or increase your reps or time each session. Check with your doctor before starting any new exercise regime, too.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.