Weak stomach muscles can make you too embarrassed to show off your belly at the beach or cringe when someone has his arms around your not-so-sexy waist. Exercise all of the muscles in your stomach for a strong, lean waistline that will leave your friends feeling envious and asking you for your secret. You can't spot-reduce any body part, but you can target these muscles with strength-training exercises to work your way toward the stomach you want.
Major Muscle Groups
Three muscle groups in your stomach make or break how lean and strong your torso is -- the obliques, the rectus abdominis and the transverse abdominis. The obliques make up the sides of your waist, while the rectus and transverse muscles sit on the front of your stomach. Together, these muscles help you bend, twist and crunch, and they support your organs, protect your back when you are lifting objects and help you to maintain your posture. Train all of these muscles to avoid strength imbalances.
Oblique Muscle Exercises
Anytime you twist or bend sideways during an exercise, you are targeting your oblique muscles, which are in the area often referred to as the muffin top. Do side bends with or without free weights. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms at your sides. Keep your lower body still, bend at your waist and drop the right side of your upper body toward your right foot. Slowly stand up, pause for a moment and repeat on the left side. Continue for 12 to 15 repetitions. Other helpful exercises include bicycle crunches, trunk rotations and side crunches.
Transverse and Rectus Muscle Exercise
Both of these muscle groups run along the front of your midsection and are usually thought of as the upper and lower abs. Any activity with crunching or leg-lifting movements targets both of these muscles and helps turn your stomach into a natural girdle, pulling in your waistline for a smaller pants size. This includes crunches, flutter kicks, hanging leg raises and floor toe touches. To perform the hanging leg raises, hold on to a pullup bar with your body hanging in a straight line. Keep your stomach muscles tightened and use these muscles to power your movements. Slowly raise your legs straight out in front of your body as high as you can, lower back down and repeat the exercise up to 15 times.
Rest Your Muscles
Resting your muscles is just as important as training them, and your body will thank you for taking a day off. During strength-training exercises, tiny tears occur in the muscle fibers -- this is why you feel sore after a strenuous workout anytime you bend, sneeze or laugh. When you rest, these tears are repaired and your muscles gain power and strength. Take a day off in between stomach exercises to avoid overtraining and to keep this healthy process on track. If you still feel sore after 48 hours of rest, don't fret, just wait an additional day.
Ashley Farley has been a certified personal trainer since 2008. She is also a writer specializing in healthy living, fitness and nutrition topics. Farley has an Associate of Science in mental health services from the Community College of the Air Force and is pursuing her B.A. in English at Wright State University.