8 Exercises for Abs: The Pros Share Their Favorites
Start easy with ab exercises, which can leave you in a world of hurt if you do too many too soon. Over time, you'll want to aim for 15-20 repetitions for most of these, with 3-5 sets.
- Crunch. "The ab exercise that all other ab exercises are measured against is the simple crunch," Weil says. To perform the tried-and-true crunch, lie on your back, knees bent, feet on floor, hands supporting your neck, and slowly crunch up enough to get your shoulders off the floor. Want to make them tougher? Lift your feet in the air, knees at 90 degrees, and pull knees to chest as you crunch up.
- The plank. There are a couple ways to perform the plank, an ab buster favored by Frediani, some tougher than others. For the American Council on Exercise's version, lay belly-down on the floor, resting your upper body on forearms that are flat against the floor. Contract your butt and your gut to prevent your back from arching, and slowly lift your torso from the ground. Hold the position for five seconds, then lower yourself back to your starting position.
- Bicycle maneuver. To do the bicycle maneuver, start on the floor, Weil says, lower back pressed to the ground, hands behind your neck (but don't pull on your neck). Bring yo ur knees up to about 45 degrees and slowly pedal. Touch your left elbow to your right knee, then your right elbow to your left knee. Keep your breathing relaxed.
- Captain's chair. Sitting in a chair, press your back against the chair's back. Stabilize yourself by holding the chair's handrests, then slowly lift your knees toward your chest, then return them to the starting position, keeping "the motion controlled and deliberate" through the whole exercise, Weil suggests.
- Back extensions. Back extensions can be done on the floor or with a Roman chair at the gym. To do the floor version, lie facedown on the floor, arms straight out in front of you, palm s down, legs behind you. Slowly lift your right arm and left leg off the floor, hold them for several seconds an inch or two off the ground, then lower and repeat with the opposite arm and leg.
- Crunches on an exercise ball. Sit on an exercise ball, feet flat on the floor. Let the ball roll back until you're lying on it, thighs and torso parallel to the floor. Cross your arms over your chest and tuck your chin. Contract your abdominals raising your torso to no more than 45 degrees. For better balance, spread your feet wider. Want to challenge the obliques (the muscles on either side of your abs)? Weil recommends making the exercise less stable and more intense by moving your feet closer together. Exhale as you contract; inhale as you return to the starting position.
- Vertical leg crunches. Lie on the floor, lower back pressed to the ground, hands behind your head. Extend your legs straight up, crossed at the ankles, slightly bent at the knee. Contract your abdominal muscles by lifting your torso toward your knees. "Make sure to keep your chin off your chest with each contraction," Weil says, and exhale as you contract upward, inhale as you return to the starting position.
- Reverse crunches. Lie on the floor, lower back pressed to the ground. Put your hands beside your head or extend them out flat to your sides -- whatever feels most comfortable, Weil suggests. Crossing your feet at the ankles, lift your feet off the ground, knees bent, until your calves are parallel to the floor. Once in this position, press your lower back on the floor as you contract your abdominal muscles. Your hips will slightly rotate and your legs will reach toward the ceiling with each contraction. Exhale as you contract; inhale as you return to the starting position.
Abs in 4 Weeks: This Deal Includes Diet
Ab exercises aren't the A to Z of a buff belly. Diet also plays a part. "Trying to achieve [toned] abs by performing exercises and ignoring nutrition is like trying to bail out a sinking ship with a colander," Frediani says.