A slim, curvy middle is not just aesthetically appealing, it can promote better health through improved posture and enhanced stability of the skeletal system. The best exercises for a lean, sexy waistline target and tone the entire abdominal region and should be augmented with cardio sessions to burn fat so that your toned muscles can shine in their full glory.
The Core: Abdominals 101
The abdominals are comprised of four distinct muscle groups -- the transversus abdominis, the internal obliques, the external obliques and the rectus abdominis. Together, these muscles work to flex the spine and provide support for the body as a whole. When designing your waistline workout make sure you choose exercises that address the abs as a cohesive unit. Often, people focus on developing the more superficially located rectus abdominis, commonly called the "six-pack." Too much training aimed solely at this part of the body can actually expand your waistline because these large muscles gain mass quickly, in the process becoming bulky and dense.
Pilates for the Abs
The best workout for the abs, bar none, is Pilates. Pilates focuses on the abdominal core muscles as a group and sculpts them without adding bulk. For beginners, try the following Pilates moves, which can be done on an exercise mat and do not require special equipment: the hundred, roll-up, single leg circles, rolling like a ball, single leg stretch and double leg stretch. As you get stronger, move on to these more advanced Pilates mat exercises: single straight leg stretch, double straight leg stretch, criss-cross, the corkscrew, swan dive, bicycle and shoulder bridge.
Cardio: A Crucial Element
A sleek midsection benefits from cardio routines that burn fat and keep your metabolism humming along at an optimal level. It makes sense -- if you have a layer of fat covering your toned abs, you won't achieve the appearance you desire. Excellent cardio options include jogging, stair climbing and stationary cycling. To get the most bang for your buck, consider high intensity interval training. HIIT involves performing a particular move -- sprinting, jumping -- long enough to raise the heart rate followed by a period of rest and recovery. HIIT is extremely effective at burning excess fat, and because it can be done in short bursts it can be incorporated into the busiest of schedules.
Before You Start
Always take the time to consult your physician before you begin a new exercise routine, even one that seems straightforward and perhaps even gentle. Once you have the green light to embark on a fitness program, stay tuned in to your body for cues that you might be pushing too hard -- sudden pain, unusual strains, fatigue not relieved by rest. Speaking of rest: Give yourself a day off once a week to allow your body to recover. If you feel restless on your day off, go on a gentle walk but refrain from intense exercise.
- Anatomy of the Moving Body; Theodore Dimon, Jr.
- MayoClinic.com: Pilates for Beginners: Explore the Core of Pilates
- The Pilates Body; Brooke Siler
- HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training
Michelle Kodis has been a writer and editor for more than two decades. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University, is the author of nine books and has contributed articles to various magazines, newspapers and blogs. She is also a certified Pilates instructor and studies canine therapeutic massage/acupressure.