If you anticipate wearing a swimsuit this summer, chances are you’ve already begun tailoring your workouts for weight loss and muscle toning. Maybe you’ve shed the winter weight from your midsection and are looking to show off the six-pack that’s been hiding underneath. But if, like many people, you’re not getting the results you want, it might be time to mix up your core workout.
If your ab routine still consists of hundreds of crunches, it’s time to update your program. Remember that crunches only target one major muscle group, and they certainly don’t burn fat. Proper nutrition, fat-burning aerobic exercise, and full-body strength training are the key to losing fat from your abdomen, which you must do to reveal the muscle beneath it. Supplement these with a core-training session like the one below that hits all the abdominal muscles to get the best results.
Five Exercises to Tone the Abdominals
The muscle groups you’ll be targeting are the rectus abdominus (“six-pack”), which curl your spine, the external and internal obliques, which twist your waist and bend it sideways, and the transverse abdominus, which draws in your abdomen and stabilizes your spine when lifting heavy objects. Collectively, the exercises below work all four groups:
Plank Hold with Knee Tucks—Get into a raised push-up position on hands and toes with hands directly under shoulders and body in a straight line. Holding this pose (don’t lift hips), pull one knee toward your chest while exhaling and contracting abdominals; inhale and replace toe on floor. Alternate legs for 10—15 reps each leg.
Standing Side Crunch—Stand with feet apart holding one heavy dumbbell (10+ lbs) in left hand at your side. Inhale and bend sideways from the waist to the left (don’t move hips), sliding dumbbell down your left leg and stretching your waist on the right side. Exhale and straighten back upright by squeezing the abdominals on your right side. Perform 12—15 reps and repeat on other side.
Cable Torso Twists—Adjust the pulley on a cable column to chest height and attach a loop handle. Starting with light weight (15+ lbs), stand a few feet back from pulley, facing sideways, with the handle in both hands. Arms should be straight and locked in front of chest. Slowly rotate your spine and pull the weight horizontally, using abs and not arms, as far as you can without turning hips. Twist back the other direction, inhaling and controlling the movement on the return motion. Do 12—15 reps and repeat on other side.
Stability Ball Crunches—Lie on your back on a stability ball with hips slightly lower than shoulders. Your tailbone should be in contact with the ball and knees bent 90 degrees with feet planted on floor. Place hands behind your head with elbows wide, look straight up at ceiling, and slowly curl shoulder blades off the ball without pulling forward on head or neck. Ball should not move. Exhale as you lift; then inhale and lower until your abs stretch slightly. Perform 15 reps.
Stability Ball Passes—Lie on your back on the floor with legs and arms straight up in the air and small stability ball in hands. Keeping low back in contact with the floor at all times, inhale and lower arms and legs toward ground, taking ball behind your head. Exhale and raise arms and legs to starting position, passing the ball from hands to feet at the top. Lower arms and legs again, this time with ball between your feet, and pass it back to your hands at the top. Keep passing back and forth for 10—15 total reps.
While performing these exercises, don’t forget to draw in your abdominals and hold them in to strengthen your transverse abdominus and protect your spine. Complete this routine twice weekly, following your strength workout with fat-blasting cardio intervals for best results.