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7 ab exercises that tone your entire midsection

This floor routine targets your upper abs, lower abs and obliques for a full core burn.

Losing belly fat and toning the stomach is one of the most common goals I hear from my weight-loss clients.

In addition to cardio, ab exercises can help you start getting rid of excess belly fat 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.

Many people's first instinct is to drop down and start crunching. While there is a place for crunches in a core routine, they only target one muscle group in the abdominal region. To really see results, it's important to incorporate exercises that target all of the muscle groups that make up your core.

What muscles make up your abs?

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 toward your hips by engaging your upper abs. Place your arms on the mat and reach your fingers toward 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.

Toe reach

Lying down on your back, reach your legs straight up so your feet are reaching toward 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 toward your toes. Repeat 20 times.

Internal & External Oblique Exercises

Bicycle crunch

Lie 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 toward 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 situp

Keep your feet flat on the ground with your knees bent, and roll down on to your back. Place your hands behind your head and pull your naval in toward 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 to 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.)

Side planks

Lie 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

Mountain climber

Start this exercise in a plank position. Pull your right knee toward 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 toward 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 toward the ceiling. Lift your head, neck and chest off the ground as you exhale and draw your naval in toward your spine. Pull your right leg toward your head, lightly grabbing the right thigh, and lower the left leg down toward 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.