Crunches are the most basic and popular ab exercise, but they only target a small portion of your stomach muscles. If you are trying to develop a six-pack or tone up your midsection it's important to exercise all of the muscle groups for a balanced appearance. Consider adding variety to your workouts to continually see results.
Your abs are made up of three distinct muscle groups -- the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis and the obliques. The rectus abdominis muscles run vertically along the front of your stomach from your lower pelvis up to your ribcage. The transverse abs run horizontally beneath the rectus muscles are responsible for supporting your internal organs. The obliques run along the sides of your abs from the upper portion to the lower portion. Together all of these muscles help you bend, twist and support your posture.
Exercising often has it's benefits but overdoing it can lead to extreme muscle fatigue and even injury. Start with at least two days a week of ab exercises and build up to three or four times a week as you gain strength. Rest your muscles for a full 48 hours in between each workout to allow enough recovery time.
You don't have to perform countless repetitions to get results from ab exercises. According to ACE Fitness, one set of eight to 12 repetitions should be enough to fatigue your muscles. If the exercise is too easy try a more advanced version or increase the weight you are using. It's also important to perform each exercise in a slow and controlled motion. Each direction of an exercise should take about three seconds to perform. For example, if you are doing crunches, it should take three seconds to lift your body upwards and another three seconds to lower your body back down.
Fingers to Toes Crunches
This exercise isolates the middle and upper portion of your transverse and rectus abdominal muscles. Lie flat on your back with your arms straight overhead and your legs together. Lift your arms and legs upward at the same time and touch your fingers to your toes. Keep your arms and legs straight throughout the entire movement. Focus on squeezing your ab muscles to power the movement. Other exercises that help isolate this same area of your abs include abdominal butt raises, crunches on an exercise ball and overhead crunches.
Flutter kicks target your obliques and lower portion of your abdominal muscles. Start on your back with your arms at your sides and head raised off the floor. Lift both legs about 6 inches from the ground and alternate lifting one leg higher than the other. When done correctly your legs will move in a fluttering motion as if you are swimming. Decline crunches, reverse crunches and hanging knee to chin crunches also isolate the lower abs.
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.