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Strengthen Your Core for Bikini Season

By Jodi Helmer
WebMD Magazine - Feature

Before slipping into your bathing suit, consider trying a tummy-toning fitness regimen, recommends Jennifer Cohen, a Los Angeles-based personal trainer. "When we're showing skin, we want to be as toned as possible," says Cohen, co-author of Strong Is the New Skinny: How to Eat, Live, and Move to Maximize Your Power (out in September). "A combination of cardio and strength training is essential to burn fat and calories and build muscle."

These three moves, done at least three times a week along with calorie-burning cardio, will help you look sleeker and stronger in your swimsuit.

Basic Crunch With Leg Extensions

This exercise is "an easy move that has more impact than a basic crunch," Cohen says.

1. Lie on the floor with your fingertips behind your head (don't pull on your head) and your feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart.

2. Exhale, lift your shoulder blades off the ground, straighten your right leg, and lift it as high as possible, keeping your left foot on the floor.

3. Inhale and return to starting position.

4. Repeat with the left leg.

5. Do 12 to 15 reps.

Leg Drops

"This move forces you to engage your abs," Cohen says. "It works the lower abdominals to help tighten a tummy bulge."

1. Lie on floor with your legs straight, feet together, and arms at your sides with palms facing down.

2. Keeping your back flat on the floor, engage your abs, and raise your legs to a 90-degree angle so the bottoms of your feet are facing the ceiling. (If you can't raise your legs this high, get them as high as possible.)

3. Lower your legs, letting them hover about an inch off the ground, and hold for 5 seconds.

4. Raise your legs back toward the ceiling.

5. Do 12 to 15 reps.

Standing Crunches

Adding weights to this move amps up the muscle-toning benefits, Cohen says. 

1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes facing forward.

2. Hold a 3- to 5-pound dumbbell in each hand.

3. Extend your right arm above your head.

4. Raise your right knee toward your chest while bending your right arm and bringing your elbow down to meet your knee. Hold for 5 seconds.

5. Return to starting position.

6. Do 12 to 15 reps.

7. Repeat on the left side.

Expert Q&A

Q: "I've heard a lot about stand-up paddling, a cross between kayaking and surfing. What do I need to know before I try it?" Sonia McCutcheon, 46, stay-at-home mom, Charleston, S.C.

A: "Stand-up paddling is simple: You stand on the board and use a paddle to propel yourself through the water. The resistance of the water combined with the need to balance on the board helps build core strength, tones arm and leg muscles, and improves balance. Classes taught by certified instructors will teach you how to balance on the board and hold your paddle, how to go forward and turn, and what to do if you fall. Learning proper paddling techniques also reduces the risk of injury. A life jacket is as important as the paddle. It's also a good idea to paddle with another person." -- Brody Welte, paddle coach, owner of PaddleFit, and board member of the Stand Up Paddle Industry Association

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine."

Reviewed on April 16, 2014

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