You have heard it from your gym teacher and your personal trainer -- but if the advice to "focus on form" hasn't stuck just yet, let's go over it one last time. In order to get the most from your abdominal workouts, you have to do the exercises properly. That includes squeezing your abs inward, among a few simple yet essential tricks.
Imagine your belly button is moving in toward your pelvis when you're doing abdominal exercises, advises MayoClinic.com. This helps you contract the muscles deep within your abdomen, including the transverse abdominis. Whatever abdominal exercise you're doing, creating this visualization will help keep your abdominals tighter and help you focus on isolating the muscle throughout the exercise.
Straighten your back as often as you think of it. When you work at a desk or sit in a chair all day, your back tends to curve forward, your shoulders hunch, and your neck cranes forward. Practicing better posture is not just good for your back and neck, but it can also help you gain more muscle tone in your abdominals. When you're sitting up straight, you may feel more compelling to pull the abdominals in toward your belly button. "Active sitting" in which both feet are on the floor and you're consciously pulling in your abs can be another way to help you build muscle throughout the day.
Breathe with your diaphragm throughout every exercise. Some health experts recommend you exhale during the most difficult portion of the exercise, such as during the "up" movement of a situp -- but the key really is to keep breathing. Holding your breath can cause strain and higher blood pressure. If you're focused on diaphragmatic breathing, breathing from the lower abdomen, you may find it easy to stay focused on squeezing those abs.
Work with a personal trainer or coach if you're not getting the results you want or you're concerned with form. Since improper form can play such a big part in your success or failure, having someone watch you do your exercises can help you identify areas of concern.
- While any type of abdominal crunch or situp is going to help you build muscle, you need to do fat-burning exercise and cut calories if you want to lose the fat surrounding your midsection. Aim to do 30 minutes of cardio exercise, such as running, swimming, or cycling, five days a week, and then trim calories by cutting out sweets, alcohol and excess carbs. If you're working with a trainer, she may be able to help you develop a plan that helps you work toward your fat loss goals.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.