Ab machines, resistance bands, dumbbells -- these cost money and clutter your home. While they are useful, you don't need any of them to slim and tighten your abs. Good old-fashion calisthenics -- those trusty exercises physical education teachers have used for years -- tone your rectus abdominis, transverse abs and internal and external obliques using your own weight for resistance. Play it safe and check with your doctor before doing any new exercises.
There's more to a taut mid-section than looking great during bikini season. Lean muscle burns calories -- even when you're not exercising -- and nothing builds muscle quicker than strength exercises, says MayoClinic.com. Although you can tone your abs with cable gym machines, equipment-free calisthenic ab exercises build lean, calorie-busting muscle without the hassle. Try exercises that use your own body weight, such as crunches, squats and opposite arm and leg raises.
Having more lean muscle around your middle won't keep your abs toned. To burn fat, you must add aerobic exercise. At least 20 minutes of constant, heart-pumping aerobic activity three to four times a week is recommended by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Walking, running and swimming can tone the abs, but won't target the abs.
If you're aiming for a slimming six-pack, do an activity that hits the rectus abdominis, transverse abs and internal and external obliques head on. Check out a local belly dancing class for a calisthenic cardio workout. Look for moves targeting the rectus abdominis -- that flat muscle running down the center of your stomach -- such as rib slides and belly rolls. Rib slides also slim your obliques.
If short and energetic describes your exercise style, then consider giving plyometric exercises a go. Fast-paced exercises go hand-in-hand with the calisthenic style. The Pilates butterfly, for example, combines flexibility with cardio, and alternate V-sit roll ups and lying bicycle crunches tone while burning calories.
Try lying bicycle crunches on the floor with your knees bent, your fingers locked behind your head and your feet raised and parallel to the floor. Lift your left shoulder, and then twist your elbow toward your right side while bringing your left knee up to meet the elbow. Take both the left shoulder and knee back, and rapidly switch sides until you feel tightness in your abs.
Complete Ab Workout
You may be tempted to stick to one type of exercise -- plyometric or aerobics -- but that can stall your progress. Confuse your muscles by varying your calisthenic workout to keep them challenged. Change your exercises on a daily or weekly basis, taking your favorites from each style for a more efficient way to tone your abs.
- MayoClinic.com: Strength Training: Get Stronger, Leaner, Healthier
- MayoClinic.com: Video: Abdominal Crunch
- MayoClinic.com: Video: Squat Exercise
- Fitness: Opposite Arm and Leg Raise
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Aerobic Exercise
- Fitness: Rib Slide
- Fitness: Belly Roll
- Fitness: Butterfly
- Fitness: Alternate V-Sit Roll
- Fitness: Supine Bicycle Crunches
- Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images