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6 Tips for Flat Abs

Two fitness gurus offer their secrets for toning and tightening the tummy.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Like the quest for the Holy Grail, most of us are always on a mission to improve our abs.

For a while, people coveted the washboard abs gracing runways, the pages of fashion magazines, and billboards in Times Square. Now everyone is after Beyonce's flat, tight stomach.

So what does it take to get there?

WebMD talked to fitness experts Ellen Barrett and Liz Neporent to find out the best way to achieve great abs and a tighter midsection. Here are their top six tips.

Flat Ab Tip No. 1: Improve Your Posture

Poor posture is a huge issue for many people, says celebrity trainer and star of numerous exercise DVDs Ellen Barrett.

Barrett says she frequently sees people walking in Manhattan with their ears in front of their bodies and shoulders in front of their hearts.

"If people slouch, their stomachs pooch," Barrett says.

For better posture while standing, align your ears over your shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over knees, and knees over ankles. Keep the fronts of the shoulders open like a shirt on a hanger, instead of a shirt on a peg. Draw your navel to your spine and keep your weight even on the balls and heels.

The result: Without doing any abdominal exercise, you can look much leaner by simply standing up straight.

"With your shoulders back and chest up, the abs pull themselves in," Barrett tells WebMD. "Your energy level improves when you have good posture. Your lung capacity is better. You're open and more awake."

Flat Ab Tip No. 2: Think Whole-Body Exercise

When it comes to abdominal strength, you shouldn't train the body in isolation, says Liz Neporent, president of Wellness 360, a corporate wellness consulting firm in New York.

"People have this misconception that the best way to strengthen the abs is to get on the floor and do a thousand crunches," Neporent tells WebMD.

"If we could spot reduce, our jaws would be hollow," Barrett adds. "We probably work the jaw muscle in talking and eating more than any other, and none of us have hollow jaws."

"You have to see the abs as a 360-degree core," she says. "You want to develop strength and flexibility around that core."

"Fitness needs to be intelligent," says Barrett. "Do slow, high-quality exercise."

Neporent recommends Pilates "because the focus is the core, but it doesn't just work the abs in isolation," she says. That means you're using your abdominals, but you're also using your arms and legs, back muscles, and glutes.

"Crunches are fine, at first, but relatively quickly, you'll have to progress to something else to get that area worked," she says.

Pilates focuses on developing not just the rectus abdominis (top abdominal muscle layer) as a crunch does, but the internal and external obliques (the side abdominals) and the transversus abdominis (the deepest abdominal muscle).

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