If the thought of a toned, flat tummy puts a smile on your face, make abdominal exercises part of your workout routine. When paired with a sensible diet and regular cardio and strength training, your strong abs, which are part of your core, can improve your posture and stability, ease daily activities and relieve lower-back pain. No two abdominal exercises are the same -- some are more effective than others. By doing the most effective ones with perfect form on three nonconsecutive days of the week, you can have a tight, well-defined tummy in no time.
To really engage the front and sides of your waistline, do bicycle crunches or elbow-to-knee crunches. According to the American Council on Exercise, this is one of the most effective abdominal exercises. It can be done right at home while lying on your back with your legs extended and elevated to a 45-degree angle. With your fingertips on the sides of your head and your elbows pointing out, crunch up and twist to your left side while pulling your left knee in to meet your right elbow. Return to the starting point and repeat this on your other side, completing eight to 12 repetitions and three sets.
Vertical Leg Raises
The vertical leg raise is an effective abdominal-tightening exercise that is done using a captain's chair apparatus. During this exercise you engage your hip flexor muscles and use your obliques and rectus abdominis to stabilize your body. With your back against the backrest and your forearms on the designated pads, hold onto the handles and let your legs hang. Brace your core and bend your knees, bringing them up toward your chest. After a short pause, slowly lower your legs and without losing abdominal engagement, immediately go into the next repetition. Aim to do three sets of eight to 12 repetitions.
Stability Ball Crunches
Stability ball exercises can effectively help tighten your abdominal muscles. The soft, unstable surface of the ball is easy on your back and spine, and really challenges your smaller stabilizer muscles so you don't fall on the floor during the range of motion. Try doing standard crunches in which you raise your torso no more than 45 degrees off the ball. Keep your feet together during the crunches to activate your obliques in addition to your rectus abdominis. Do eight to 12 repetitions and three sets.
Vertical Leg Crunches
You don't need fancy equipment to do vertical leg crunches. The exercise is done similar to a basic crunch only your legs are held perpendicular to the floor. Both your rectus abdominis and your obliques are engaged. Start by lying on your back with your feet up toward the ceiling and your fingertips on the sides of your head. With your knees slightly bent, use your abdominals to raise your head and shoulder blades off the floor. Imagine bringing your nose closer toward your toes. If easier, extend your arms forward and reach for your toes on the way up. Do three sets of eight to 12 repetitions.
Kimberly Caines is a well traveled model, writer and licensed physical fitness trainer who was first published in 1997. Her work has appeared in the Dutch newspaper "De Overschiese Krant" and on various websites. Caines holds a degree in journalism from Mercurius College in Holland and is writing her first novel.