Spring will be here before you know it — and with it, the warmer weather that lets us shed those winter layers we’ve been bundled under. For many of us, the thought of tank tops and bathing suits means a renewed focus on toning our stomach.
Ab exercises can help you start getting rid of excess belly fat that may have accumulated during quarantine and flatten and tone the stomach area. Plus, abs are considered your body’s center of gravity and are responsible for aiding in balance and coordination. So there’s much more benefit to strengthening your abdominals beyond the aesthetic reasons.
What muscles make up your core?
What many people don’t realize is that the abs are made up of four major muscle groups: external obliques, internal obliques, rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis. And the best ab workouts target all of these areas.
The external obliques are the muscles on the sides of the upper part of your stomach, while the internal obliques are the muscles on the outer, lower part of your stomach. The rectus abdominis consists of a pair of muscles that start at the sternum and run down vertically. These are responsible for giving your core that “six-pack” look. Lastly, the transverse abdominis muscle runs from side to side, helping with balance. This muscle is directly under the belly button and is focused on heavily in Pilates.
I often get asked by clients: how do I tone my stomach? The answer is to work all of these areas. So skip the endless crunches, and try this well-rounded routine that hits all the muscle groups that make up your abdominal region.
Upper Abs Exercises
Pilates Ab Prep
This upper-ab exercise may look simple, but it’s actually quite challenging to do correctly. Start by lying on the ground with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor as wide as your hips. Breathe in to your stomach and feel the air rise into your chest, then exhale and think about tightening the upper ribs and towards your hips by engaging your upper abs. Place your arms on the mat and reach your fingers towards your toes. This is your starting position.
Breathe in again, and this time as you exhale contract your upper abs so that your head, neck, shoulder blades and arms lift off of the ground about an inch. Inhale as you lower down. Repeat 10 times.
Lying down on your back, reach your legs straight up so your feet are reaching towards the ceiling. For a modification, you can slightly bend your knees. As you exhale, tighten your upper abs and curl your head, neck and chest off the ground as you reach your arms towards your toes. Repeat 20 times.
Internal & External Oblique Exercises
Start by laying on your back with your hands behind your head. Slowly lift your shoulders off of the floor and bend your knees at a 90-degree angle, looking at your thighs. Squeeze your abs while you twist your right elbow towards your left knee, while straightening your right leg. Switch sides, twisting and reaching your left elbow to your right knee, while straightening your left leg. Alternate back and forth for 30 seconds.
Alternating Bicycle Sit Up
Keep your feet flat on the ground with your knees bent, and roll down onto your back. Place your hands behind your head, and pull your naval in towards your spine. Slowly curl up into a crunch, and then cross your right elbow to your left knee. Lift your left foot up off of the ground as you cross, and then lower the foot as you lower your upper body back down onto the ground. Repeat to the left side. Perform 5 times on each side. (For a modification, you can lower down halfway with your upper body instead of all the way down onto the ground.)
Lay on your right side, with a straight line from your head to your feet. Gently lift your upper body off the floor resting on your right forearm. Putting the weight into your feet and forearm, tighten your core and lift your hips up off the ground. Your body should look like a diagonal straight line. Make sure to breathe deeply while performing the side plank, and hold the position for as long as you're comfortable. Switch to the left side.
Lower Ab Exercises
Start this exercise in a plank position. Pull your right knee towards your chest and rest your foot on the ground for a brief moment before returning it to the starting position. Then pull your left knee to your chest. Alternate between pulling your left and right knee to your chest. For an increased workout, pick up the pace!
Pilates Scissor Kicks
Lying on your back, reach both legs straight up towards the ceiling. Lift your head, neck and chest off the ground as you exhale and draw your naval in towards your spine. Pull your right leg towards your head, lightly grabbing the right thigh, and lower the left leg down towards the ground. Scissor the legs and bring the left leg up as you release the right leg, lightly grabbing the left thigh. Repeat 10 times to each side.
You will feel this in your lower abs and upper abs; if you want to strictly isolate the transverse abdominis, try this motion with the legs while resting the head, neck and arms flat on the mat.