Before we discuss my favorite ab moves, it must be noted that you can’t simply “crunch” your way to a chiseled midsection. Numerous recent, peer-reviewed studies have confirmed that, in order to reveal tight, toned abs, one must decrease body fat through a combination of cardiovascular exercise and proper diet.
Many women tell me they can’t get the results they seek to achieve, although they spend hours each week working their abs!
I often prescribe interval training to supplement their current aerobic routine, and I help them tweak their diets, in addition to working abs properly. Interval training—specifically, High Intensity Interval Training, such as one of our HIIT classes—has been proven to be superior for reducing abdominal adiposity (belly fat!) for several reasons (Medicine Science Sports Exercise, 2011). Most notably, HIIT increases levels of HGH (human growth hormone) and fight-or-flight hormones, which have receptor sites in the ab region.
I also advise women looking to firm, tone, and decrease the midriff area to increase their cardio to 5-6 days per week. Two to three days of HIIT, such as sprints on the treadmill or a HIIT class, can be alternated with 2-3 days of Steady State Cardio (SSC). SSC can be a walk, run, bike, elliptical workout, or any of our fun, motivating, calorie-blasting cardio classes, such as Step or Zumba. Aim for a minimum of 30-45 minutes for each workout session, and you will see your hard-earned ab work begin to show within a few weeks!
Our Live Rite Shakes are made with whey protein. Whey protein has been proven to reduce abdominal fat and to increase overall thermogenesis (Nutrition Research, August, 2011). Mix our shakes with fat-free milk, and you’ll double your belly-fat-burning results! Don’t forget to include at least eight 8-oz. servings of ice cold water per day. According to German researchers, this also releases those same fat-burning fight-or flight-hormones (epinephrine, norepinephrine, adrenaline) while increasing your metabolism by a full 30%, for 90 minutes after consumption. Drink 16 oz. at a time for optimal benefits.
Complete the following core exercises 3 days per week on non-consecutive days. Your abdominals develop during your rest days! As always, check with your doctor before beginning any new fitness routine and modify exercises to suit your fitness level. Let’s get started!
According to a San Diego State University study, the bicycle crunch is the single most effective abdominal exercise! EMG (electromyography) demonstrated that it is the BEST exercise for activating both upper and lower portions of the rectus abdominus (your 8 pack) as well as the obliques, in the waistline area. This time-tested favorite always causes a “burn” in the abs—you can actually feel it working when done properly.
Lie on your back on a mat or carpet and place your hands behind your head with your knees raised to a 90-degree angle with your hips. Begin by turning opposite elbow and shoulder to opposite knee and simultaneously lowering the other leg toward the floor as you straighten it. Be sure to bring the straight leg low enough to the floor to engage the lower portion of your abs. Hold this position for one count before changing sides. Repeat, alternating sides for one count each.
Exhale as you turn to each side, as this is the exertion part of the exercise. This helps prevent lactic acid build-up and oxygenates the working muscles most efficiently. There is no need to touch the foot to the floor upon lengthening; hovering the foot above the floor creates greater overload of the ab area and prevents lower back strain.
Beginners: complete 1-2 sets of 10-15 reps.
Intermediate to Advanced: strive for 3-6 sets of 25-50 reps with a 30-60 second pause between sets. You must rest between sets to avoid putting undue stress on the spine.
2. Swiss Ball Roll-ins
This move takes balance, stability, and strength. It’s not easy, but it targets the upper and lower potions of your 8-pack as well as the obliques, transverse abdominals (your girdle muscles), and stabilizer muscles in the lumbar region. Begin by placing a Swiss ball on the floor and carefully raising yourself from a prone plank position (facing the floor) into a plank position, with your shins on top of the ball. Your hands should be directly under your shoulders. Do not lock your elbows. Exhale as you bend your knees and roll the ball inward toward your chest. Hold for one count before straightening your legs again. Try to fully engage your abdominal muscles by tightening the area during the movement and holding phases. Be sure to tilt your hips slightly up toward the ceiling. Do not allow your hips to sink between repetitions, as this will cause strain on the lower back.
Beginners: do 1-2 sets of 8-12.
Intermediate to Advanced: complete 2-4 sets of 15-25.
3. Knee to Elbow Plank
For safety and effectiveness, form is essential during execution of the plank. Begin in a basic plank position on a mat or carpet. Your elbows and forearms remain on the floor, with elbows resting just underneath the shoulders and your body prone (facing the floor).
Elevate your body onto the balls of your feet. Maintain proper alignment by imaging a straight line running from the top of your head down to your heels. Don’t lift your hips excessively toward the ceiling or let them sag. Use the strength from your entire core, particularly the abdominals, to hold a steady position. When you are ready, begin alternating your opposite knee toward opposite elbow and then back to start position after every repetition. You will feel a bit more emphasis on the obliques by angling the body slightly and twisting your hips into the movement before changing sides.
Come out of the plank by lowering both knees to the floor. Exhale as you lift and turn the knee, inhale as you return the foot to the floor. When holding the basic plank, breathe comfortably. Do not hold your breath.
Beginners: master the plank portion of this before moving on to the more advanced elbow to knee plank. When holding the basic plank, start with 10-30 seconds, increasing your time to 1-2 minutes gradually. Start with 1-2 sets of 6-10 repetitions of the elbow to knee plank.
Intermediate to Advanced: do 3-4 sets of 20-30 repetitions.
4. Swiss Ball Superman with a Twist
No ab routine is complete without strengthening the posterior (backside) area of the core to prevent lower back strain. This exercise is primarily for the spinal erectors and other back muscles that support the spine, such as the quadratus lumborum. It also emphasizes the obliques and gluteals (buttocks) and stretches the abdominals.
Place a Swiss ball on the floor directly under your hip and pelvic area. Place the balls of your feet a few inches wider than shoulder width apart on the floor; stabilize the body before beginning your repetitions. With your hands behind your head or outstretched in front of you (like superwoman), lower your upper body and chest toward the floor while inhaling. Exhale as you raise your upper body and shoulders toward the ceiling. Don’t forget to give your glutes a tight squeeze at the top of the range of motion for more emphasis on the buttocks and back of the thighs. You will feel a tightening in the muscles lining the spine on either side. This is a good thing! You are strengthening them.
Move slowly for 4 counts down and 4 counts up. Once you master the superwoman, begin adding a gentle twist at the top of the movement with the shoulder area. Do this by lifting either elbow or shoulder toward the side wall and facing it for 2 counts while holding the position. Turn back to center and lower your body, then lift and turn to the opposite side in the same manner. Remember to exhale as you lift your body and complete enough repetitions to fatigue the area without straining the lower back.
Beginners: 1-2 sets of 10-15 repetitions
Intermediate to Advanced: 2-4 sets of 15-25 repetitions
Combine this abdominal routine with 4-6 days of cardio and a sensible eating plan. Be sure to drink plenty of water and focus on having fun! Start today to achieve the abs you desire by spring!
Trainer Tip Sandra Ferrerio, certified Live Rite weight loss coach, trainer, and class instructor at Lucille Roberts in Yonkers. Read her full bio here.