Slim your belly and rid yourself of the holiday bulge with just an hour of exercise four days a week. An effective workout can happen at the gym, from home, during your lunch hour, morning or night -- it is most important that you enjoy it and make it part of your routine to developing a healthier lifestyle. The key to a slimmer figure is to reduce any excess fat and build lean muscle. Reduce fat with customized cardio and healthy eating habits, and build muscle with strength training and targeted body-weight exercises.
Cardio From Home
To lose excess bulk around your middle you must burn more calories than you take in. Plan 45 minutes of cardio such as jogging or biking, and replace heavy or fatty meals with leaner options full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. If you like to work out in the morning, then try yoga to improve your flexibility, balance and stamina. Begin your yoga practice with studio classes in the morning and switch to home with a DVD after your have your primary postures down. Poses such as the Cat Cow, Cobra and Boat all stretch and work the abdominal muscles.
Cardio From the Gym
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If you prefer to sweat it out at the gym watching the TV screens or reading a magazine, then go for the elliptical machine or stationary bike. The elliptical mimics running without the heavy impact on your knees with foot pads that raise and lower and includes an upper-body workout with swinging arm bars. The stationary bike is good for those who have substantial excess weight, as you can exercise without having to support your body weight, which can lead to more endurance. With each of these cardio workouts be sure and sit up or stand up straight throughout and hold your abdomen tight for maximum benefit.
Strength-Training and Body-Weight Exercises
As you gain stamina with your cardio workout, add targeted exercise with crunches. At the gym try the weighted crunch machine where you lie on your back and lift the bars on either side of your head. This machine keeps the work in your upper abdomen and with your head on a pad, it avoids neck strain. This same benefit with less intensity can be achieved at home with a standard crunch; lie on your back with your knees bent and your fingers gently behind your neck. Lift your upper body, leading with your chest, not your neck and head. At the top of this movement pause and lower to repeat for 20 repetitions. As this becomes comfortable, add variations on the standard crunch such as the bicycle crunch, reverse crunch and double crunch to target your obliques, and upper and lower abdomen.
Safety and Tips
As with any new workout, begin slowly and listen to your body's stress signals. Get the best belly-slimming results from each of these exercises by keeping your abdomen tight throughout and by standing up tall; this works the abs and supports your back, making injury less likely. With the crunch machine, choose a weight by starting low and edging upward. The weight should be challenging but not impossible by the final repetition. If you have substantial weight to lose or health concerns, consult your doctor before beginning this routine.
Grace Bordelon is a public relations professional, teacher and writer. She owns her own boutique public relations firm that specializes in the advertising, gaming and software industries. She also teaches at a major design school for fine artists, commercial artists and graphic designers. Bordelon holds a B.A. in international economics and an M.A. in English from Bard College.