Slender, toned abs and back muscles do more than make you look gorgeous in that dress or skirt outfit you've been dying to wear; they also help support your posture and movement. Your abs and lower to middle back muscles, also referred to as "the core muscles," come into play every time you bend down, pick something up or stand straight and tall. Engage your core muscles during cardio and strength training workouts to feel stronger, and look lean and sexy.
Shedding Fat with Cardio
No amount of strength training will help you blast abdominal and back fat. Exercising one area to lose the flab, or spot-reducing, is nothing more than a myth. Your ab and back workout plans will be more effective if you include heart-pumping cardio to get rid of the fat hiding the muscles you're working to develop. Burn 250 to 500 calories per day with cardio exercises to lose one-half to 1 pound each week. Thirty minutes spent rowing, playing tennis, swimming or jogging will help you burn 250 calories while engaging your abs and back muscles. Double your aerobic workout time and you'll burn around 500 calories each day.
The abs and midsection can be a problem area for many women. As you burn fat to lose a muffin top or belly pouch, you should also tone your abs and obliques for a stronger, flatter belly. Front and side planks are two very effective exercises for toning your abs and obliques, the muscles along your sides. A ball squat/knee lift combo will also help you get tight, toned abs. Stand with your feet hip width apart while holding a medicine ball or dumbbell in your hands at chest level. Squat down until your legs are bent at a 90-degree angle, while keeping the weight at chest level. Straighten your legs almost completely as you lift your right knee toward your middle and extend your arms overhead. Repeat the move again, this time lifting your left knee toward your middle. This completes one full rep; do eight to 24 reps total.
There's no need to resign yourself to lower back pain due to carrying the baby or standing all day at work. By strengthening your back muscles, you provide your body the muscle strength needed to support you through these every day activities. Modified or regular pushups, and dumbbell rows can help strengthen and tone your back muscles. You can also do the Cobra exercise to build strength in your lower back. Lie on your stomach with your hands positioned just beneath your shoulders. Push up with your hands to arch your back. Lift as much of your upper body as possible off the floor and look straight ahead. Keep your legs together and your hips on the floor. Hold the pose for a count of 20.
Things to Think About
Strength training exercises should be performed no more than every other day to prevent injury to your muscles caused by overtraining. In addition to doing cardio and weight-bearing exercises, it's also important to stretch your core muscles after your workouts. Stand straight and reach for the sky to elongate and stretch your back, oblique and ab muscles. Bring your arms back down and rotate to the left and hold for five counts, then rotate to the right and hold for five. Bend at the waist and reach for the floor to feel the stretch along your back.
- Mayo Clinic: Core Muscle Strength--Why it's Important to Maintain
- Ask the Trainer: Posture Problems
- American Council on Exercise: Why is the Concept of Spot Reduction Considered a Myth?
- Harvard Medical School: The Real World Benefits of Strengthening Your Core
- Georgia State University: Physical Activity
- Fitness Magazine: 5-Minute Core Workout--Strong Abs and Back
Mary Ylisela is a former teacher with a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education and mathematics. She has been a writer since 1996, specializing in business, fitness and education. Prior to teaching, Ylisela worked as a certified fitness instructor and a small-business owner.