9 Ab Exercises for a Flat Belly

  • Tummy Toning Moves

    We live in an age where rock-hard, six-pack abdominal muscles are the goal. We all want that washboard look, but which ab exercises actually work? There are two sets of muscles to target: the rectus abdominis muscles (the ones you engage in regular sit-ups) and the transverse abdominis (the ones that hold in the other muscles).

    However, it’s important to remember that you can’t spot train just your abdominals—you have to be fit all over for your abs to show through. Cardio workouts and a good diet are key to success.

    Try these nine ab exercises along with your total fitness regimen.

  • Pilates

    Pilates targets your core muscles, working your abdominals in repetitive exercises like “the 100” (which is like a modified crunch that you hold for 100 counts). There are also machines like the reformer that strengthen and stretch your deep stomach muscles.

    If all the funky-looking equipment intimidates you, many gyms now offer Pilates mat classes. Pilates is low impact, so it’s a great choice if you’re looking for a gentler workout.

  • Plank Poses

    Whether you do these types of exercises in a yoga class or as part of your gym workout, they’re very effective at trimming your tummy. The classic plank pose involves lying down on your stomach, then raising all your body weight up on your toes and forearms into a “plank” position. You then hold the pose for as long as you can. You can change it up by doing a side plank (put all your weight on one forearm and the sides of your feet), or by doing back leg lifts while in the traditional plank pose.

  • Get in the Ring

    The sparring and jabbing you do when boxing engages both sets of ab muscles. Boxing is a solid option for all-over fitness. When you focus on getting your form right, your mid-section will transform. Many gyms offer boxing fitness classes, or your local boxing ring may have private coaches for one-on-one training.

  • Stability Boards and Balls

    Both balls and boards offer a way to further engage both sets of ab muscles, while doing simple exercises such as push-ups and squats. As with most core exercises, proper form is paramount when using these exercise balls and balance boards. Most gyms offer classes, so take advantage of professional instruction if you can.

  • Get Moving

    To get your abs to show through, you need to add some fat-burning cardio into your routine. Pick an activity that interests and motivates you: running, walking, swimming, or spinning. Aim for either 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic exercise, per the CDC.

  • Bicycle Crunches

    The bicycle motion works both sets of ab muscles. When this exercise is done with proper form, it can help carve out a toned midsection. Be careful not to strain your neck when doing it.

    Lie down on a mat and place your hands behind your head, gently supporting your head with your fingers. Bring your knee up to your chest, while rotating your upper body to meet your knee with the elbow of your opposite arm (see photo). Do one to three sets of 12 to 16 repetitions each.

  • Captain's Chair

    The traditional crunch largely has been maligned as an ineffective ab exercise and a cause for back pain. However, the pull-up motion done in a captain’s chair is still considered a highly effective way to tone your midsection.

    This tried-and-true exercise involves hanging from an elevated pull-up chair (or captain’s chair), and raising your legs in front of you, bending at the hips. Be mindful to always use proper form. Lower your shoulders and lengthen your neck as your starting position.

  • Torso Twist

    This ab exercise is done standing up. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, with your hands on your hips. Twist your upper body to the right side, then go back to center; repeat on the left side, then go back to center. Work up to three sets of 15 reps.

    If you want to add a little more to this simple exercise, grab some small hand weights and place your arms out to the side while doing the twists.

  • Lunges

    You probably don't think of lunges as targeting your abs, but these exercises are very effective all-over body toners, especially for your "core" muscles. To perform a safe and effective lunge, stand with your feet hip-width apart, then step forward into a lunge position. Make sure to keep your back knee about 3 inches off the ground. You can add small dumbbells for a little more intensity.

  • All-Over Body Health

    Remember that it's not all about spot training when it comes to your abs. Keep your calories in check and work frequent cardio workouts into your routine. Keep your whole body in mind while working toward an enviable midsection.

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