It's bad enough that excess belly fat rolls over the waistband of your jeans, but it's also unhealthy. Carrying extra weight in your midsection increases your risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer, all of which can be fatal. Unfortunately, it doesn't matter how many ab crunches you do, it won't get rid of fat. To get a flat stomach, you need a workout plan that includes cardiovascular exercise and ab-toning moves. Having a healthy, lean diet doesn't hurt either.
If you want to get rid of fat, you have to get moving. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 to 300 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a week. The best exercise is any that gets your heart rate up and that you'll stick to. But some exercises such as rowing, kickboxing and boot-camp-style programs burn fat and tone abs.
Developed as a rehabilitation program, Pilates focuses on strengthening the core including the abdominals. Better yet, studies suggest that Pilates is more effective than traditional crunch exercises in toning the abs. The IDEA Health and Fitness Association reports that the best Pilates moves for abs are the hundred, the roll-up, the double leg stretch, the criss cross and the teaser.
Few exercises beat the bicycle for strengthening and toning the abs. The American Council on Exercise ranks it number one for the rectus abdominis, which are the muscles on the front of your belly. It ranks number two for the obliques, which run along your sides. The bicycle involves lying on your back and pedaling your legs as you reach your elbow to the opposite knee. Many people do the exercise quickly, as if they are in a bike race. But the move is most challenging and effective when done slowly and by extending the legs parallel to the floor.
Planks give you a lot of bang for your exercise buck. They are challenging and work nearly the entire body including the abs, back, glutes and shoulders. There are many variations of planks to modify the difficulty, as well as to avoid getting bored. The basic plank is done with your forearms on the floor, shoulders over your elbows and lifting your torso and thighs off the floor so you're supported by your forearms and toes. To increase the difficulty, you can perform the plank by lifting one arm and the opposite leg. Another option is to do a side plank in which you are positioned on your side and balanced on one forearm and one foot. The goal in doing planks is to hold the position for as long as possible, ideally 30 to 60 seconds.
- MayoClinic.com: Belly Fat In Women: Taking — and Keeping — It Off
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?
- IDEA: Pilates Exercise: Lessons From the Lab
- American Council on Exercise: ACE FitnessMatters: New Study Puts the Crunch on Ineffective Ab Exercises
- ExRx.net: Front Plank
- ExRx.net: Side Plank
Leslie Truex has been telecommuting and freelancing since 1994. She wrote the "The Work-At-Home Success Bible" and is a career/business and writing instructor at Piedmont Virginia Community College. Truex has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Willamette University and a Master of Social Work from California State University-Sacramento. She has been an Aerobics and Fitness Association of America certified fitness instructor since 2001.