Stability ball crunches can tone your abs.
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Achieving a flat stomach is an iconic goal of many exercisers. Although exercising your stomach and lower abdominal areas won't spot-reduce fat from your belly, working your midsection does offer benefits. Abdominal muscles help stabilize your body for everything from walking to athletic activities. Additionally, if you combine a sensible diet and cardio activity with abdominal exercises you can lose excess belly fat, leaving you with taut, ripped abs. Warm up with five to 10 minutes of aerobic exercise first and then work your abs at least twice per week.
Lower Abdomen and Stomach Muscles
The rectus abdominis muscle covers both the stomach area and the middle portion of your lower abdomen. The obliques and transverse abdominis muscles lie on the sides of your lower abdomen. Taken together, these muscles are involved in multiple spinal movements, including flexion -- when you bend forward from the waist -- and rotation, when you twist your torso from side to side.
A Variety of Crunches
The crunch and its numerous variations are probably the most common abdominal exercises. Perform the garden-variety crunch by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Set your fingers behind your head and point your elbows away from your sides. Exhale as you lift your head, shoulders and upper back off the floor while the rest of your body remains in place. Inhale as you return slowly to the starting position. You can also perform crunches with your back on a stability ball, while lying on a decline bench, with your feet propped up on a bench or with your legs in the air. Focus on the obliques by twisting your torso as you rise. Add intensity to crunches by holding a weight plate against your chest. Depending on the intensity of your crunches, perform 10 to 40 repetitions per set.
Leg-hip raises also feature many variations that you can perform using different tools. Do a hanging leg-hip raise by grasping a high horizontal bar, hanging with your legs straight and then flexing your hips and knees until your knees reach shoulder height. Perform the same motion while you're lying on a flat or incline bench, with your back on a stability ball or with your arms supporting you on parallel bars. If your body is vertical, you can make the exercise more challenging by holding a weight between your feet. If you're horizontal, attach a low cable to ankle cuffs and do the exercise against the cable machine's resistance. Do eight to 12 reps per set.
Hold your body as stiffly as a board to perform plank exercises. Do a basic front plank by lying face down on the floor and then rising so you're balanced on your toes and forearms, with your elbows underneath your shoulders and your legs together. Keep your body in a straight line from head to toe and hold the position for at least five seconds, but try to work up to one minute. Breathe normally while you hold the plank position. Alternatively, perform planks with your forearms on top of an exercise ball or do side planks to focus on your obliques. Make planks more intense by lifting an arm, a leg or one of each.