Flat, sculpted abs are not only physically appealing, but may also be a sign of good health. A flat, flab-free belly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers. But obtaining flat abs isn't about crunches -- you can't spot-reduce trouble spots, so targeted exercises won't do much to trim your tummy. The best exercises for a flat stomach burn fat overall, though you will want to do toning exercises to define and sculpt the ab muscles once you banish your belly.
Cardiovascular exercise is crucial to burning the fat that tends to accumulate in the belly area. To maximize your cardio workout, do activities that also engage the core. Exercises that involve bending, twisting or the entire body use core muscles to help stabilize and support the body. Trail running, hiking, swimming, rowing and kickboxing all provide a cardiovascular workout with additional work to the abs. Aim for a moderate- to high-intensity when doing cardio; incorporating bursts of intense exercise will boost the fat burn even more. For example, if you are jogging, sprint hard for 60 seconds, then return to your jog for 60 seconds. Continue to alternate throughout your workout.
Once the fat is lost through cardio work, you can concentrate on toning and tightening the abs to enhance the flatness of your stomach. In a study by the American Council on Exercise, the bicycle was ranked No. 1 in toning the rectus abdominus and No. 2 for obliques. Lie prone on the floor with both knees up. Put your hands behind your head to support your head and neck. Pedal your feet by extending one leg out parallel to the floor while simultaneously pulling the other knee in. At the same time, lift your head and shoulders, twisting your body to touch your elbow to the opposite knee. Don't pull on your head as you twist and lift. Instead let your abs do the work. If you can't keep your lower back on the floor or you have back pain, pedal your feet toward the ceiling.
Planks are one of the best total body toning exercises and is recommended by ACE not only to help flatten abs, but also strengthen the back, chest and glutes. The basic plank is a push-up position that is held for 15 to 60 seconds. Your hands should be directly under your shoulders, and your body should be straight from your shoulders to your feet. Don't let your bottom poke up or your belly sag to the floor. To modify the exercise, you can drop your knees to the floor, keeping your body straight from your shoulders to your knees. There are many variations of planks, including forearm planks, which are like the basic plank, but your forearms are on the floor with your shoulders over your elbows. Side planks are done on one hand or forearm on the floor, with the body turned sideways. In side planks, the hips should be stacked, and your body should be straight from your shoulders to your feet.
Sitting or lying on the stability ball automatically engages core muscles. While the basic crunch isn't effective, a crunch on the ball ranked the third-best crunch exercise with the American Council on Exercise. Sit on the ball with your feet on the floor. Slowly walk your feet forward until your lower back is on the ball. Carefully lie back on the ball until your torso is parallel to the floor. Don't allow your back to arch over the ball. You can put your arms behind your head to support your neck. Keep your elbows winged out, and don't pull your head with your hands. Contracting the abs, lift your head and shoulders up about 45 degrees, then release down. If you feel you might fall off the ball, widen your feet. Or for greater challenge and increased core work, move your feet closer together.
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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.