Tight abs don't just look good, they're beneficial to your health. A toned midsection improves your balance, stability and posture. While you can still get a good abs workout with nothing more than a mat and your body weight, there's a variety of equipment available, both for the gym and at home, when you're ready to take your workout up a notch.
The stability ball is a great piece of equipment for tightening your stomach while strengthening other muscles in your core. Despite the name, it's the instability of the ball that forces you to work your abdominal muscles in order to stabilize it. Crunches and lifts done with a stability ball will improve your balance and flexibility and may also help eliminate back pain in addition to tightening your abs. While sitting upright on the properly inflated ball, your hips should be slightly higher than your knees when your feet are flat on the ground. A firmer ball makes the exercise more difficult. Performing standards like crunches and crunch twists on a ball can be much more effective than on the floor.
The medicine ball adds resistance to your stomach workout to improve muscular strength, coordination and balance. Unlike some equipment, the medicine ball allows you to perform twisting and bending movements that benefit your obliques. The weight of the ball should be enough to slow down your motions but not be too heavy to control. Medicine ball exercises can be performed sitting or standing or on a stability ball. For the best effect, maintain proper posture with your head, back and pelvis aligned.
The captain's chair, a free standing piece of equipment found in many gyms, helps you maintain proper form when doing vertical leg-hip raises -- an advanced ab exercise. Because of its height that allows you to start with your legs fully extended, you are able to work against your body weight. In order for this exercise to be effective, you must keep your back pressed against the pad with your arms resting along the arms of the chair. Start by bending your knees while flexing your hips until both joints are flexed at 90 degrees. For this exercise to work your abs, you need to continue raising your knees, getting them as close to your chest as possible. Each motion should be carefully controlled. As you perform each repetition, you should try to avoid swinging your legs. A more advanced form of this exercise is done with your arms placed in hanging straps.
By allowing you to set the cable at different heights and resistance levels, the cable machine at your gym allows you to work different muscles, including your obliques. Side bends, pulling the cable up from a low position; side crunches, pulling the cable down from a high position or the standing twist, pulling the cable at chest level with extended arms while rotating your torso are just a few.
Mary Pruett holds a Master of Education with an emphasis in English/language arts from Rockhurst University. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in journalism at Southern Methodist University, where she contributed to "The Daily Campus" newspaper and "Criteria," a required text for freshmen English majors. Pruett's work has also appeared in "D Magazine" and various trade magazines.