Grab an exercise mat and some running shoes if you’re interested in tightening up your stomach. To develop tone in your abs, you’re going to need to consistently participate in both an ab strength-training program and a rigorous cardiovascular regimen. The ab workouts will develop tone and firm up the area, while the cardio workouts will lower your body fat percentage so that your toned tummy is even visible.
Schedule your abdominal strength-training workouts two days per week with two days of rest in between. It could be a Monday and Thursday routine, for example. You’re going to overload your abdominals and obliques by performing a high number of exercises, sets and repetitions during each workout. They’re going to need 72 hours of rest to fully recover. Don’t think you’re doing extra by fitting in extra ab workouts. The rest periods between workouts are when your abs and obliques will develop tone, so taking time off is just as important as going hard during your workouts. Four days per week you’ll fit in your cardio workouts. If they fall on the same day as your ab sessions, that’s fine. Pick any four days of the week that fit best in your schedule.
To most effectively target your abs and obliques, have each of your workouts feature the bicycle crunch, straight leg crunch, reverse crunch and exercise ball crunch. These are the exercises that are amongst the most effective for recruiting your abs and oblique muscles, notes a 2001 study by the American Council on Exercise. The bicycle, straight leg and reverse crunch exercises are all done while lying on your back on a mat. The bicycle crunch involves crunching and twisting so that you bring one elbow across your torso to meet the opposite knee, and then switching back and forth. The straight leg crunch is done by holding your legs straight up toward the ceiling and crunching up, trying to reach your toes with each rep. The reverse crunch involves keeping your shoulders down and instead lifting your hips off the floor. The exercise ball crunch is done while lying on your back on the ball with your feet on the floor and knees bent, then crunching straight up.
The type of cardio you do should depend on what you enjoy. Running is the most effective at burning calories, notes the Mayo Clinic. But if you hate running, it’s likely you won’t be consistent if you try to force yourself. Pick a type of aerobic activity that you’ll stick with. Being consistent with your training is the most important element to lowering your body fat percentage.
To stimulate muscle tone, perform each of the four ab exercises at a volume of three sets each. The number of reps that should comprise each set will depend on your strength and the weight of your body. It’s likely to vary between individuals and exercises. Complete each set until near exhaustion. Rest 60 seconds and then go right into the next set. For your cardio workouts, each of your four weekly sessions should be done at a relatively high intensity and last for about 30 minutes, as recommended by the Mayo Clinic.
Kim Nunley has been screenwriting and working as an online health and fitness writer since 2005. She’s had multiple short screenplays produced and her feature scripts have placed at the Austin Film Festival. Prior to writing full-time, she worked as a strength coach, athletic coach and college instructor. She holds a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton.