You want four to eight key moves in each workout. Be sure to target the upper and lower abs, the oblique muscles along your sides, and the back. The "bicycle" is one of the best. Lie on your back and "pedal" in the air. Raise one shoulder as if trying to touch the opposite knee. Repeat on the opposite side for two sets of 12 reps. Keep your elbows back, and your lower back on the floor.
The crunch is a classic because it works. Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Put your hands behind your head, elbows facing out. With your low back on the floor, use your ab muscles to lift your upper body as far as you can. Hold the pose, then slowly return to the floor. Do three sets of 10-12 reps. Rest for 30 seconds in between all ab exercises.
The reverse crunch targets the lower abs, which are tough to tone. Keep your arms at your sides, palms down. Use the abs to lift the legs, bringing the knees directly over the hips. Contract the abs further, and raise your hips and lower back off the mat, knees toward your face. Hold briefly before lowering back to the mat. Don't let your feet touch the floor. Do three sets of 10-12 reps.
Grab a dumbbell, medicine ball, or cable weight system. Choose enough weight to work the muscle to fatigue within 12 reps. Kneel on one knee with the other foot forward. Use both hands to lift the weight up over your shoulder, on the foot-forward side. Don't turn your torso. Slowly lower the weight to opposite hip. Head, hips, and torso should face forward at all times. Do eight to 12 reps before switching sides.
Choose a medicine ball or dumbbell. In a sitting position, lean back slightly and engage the abs, with your knees bent and heels touching the floor. Hold the weight close to your body, and slowly twist your torso to one side. Pause briefly before rotating to the opposite side. Contract the abs deeply as you twist. Work up to three sets of 12 reps.
Abs and Pecs: Dumbbell Fly
To look good shirtless, you'll want chiseled pecs along with flat abs. Here's a move that targets both areas. Sit on a stability ball holding dumbbells. Walk your feet forward and lie back until your head and upper back rest on the ball. Hold the dumbbells directly above your elbows. Tighten the abs and push the dumbbells straight up. Slowly swing the arms out and in -- extended but not locked. Do three sets of 8-12 reps.
Abs and Back: Front Plank
As you build steely abs, be sure your back keeps pace. The plank gets the job done. Lie on your stomach with your forearms on the floor. Keep the elbows bent and under your shoulders. Use your core muscles to lift your torso and thighs off the floor, tightly contracting your butt and your abs. Hold for 5 and work up to 30 to 60 seconds before lowering to the floor. Do three sets, resting 20 to 30 seconds in between. Stop immediately if you feel any lower back pain.
Abs and Back: Bird-Dog
Kneel on your hands and knees, with your fingers facing forward. Tighten the core muscles, and raise the right leg until it is parallel with the floor, not higher than the hip. At the same time, raise the left arm until it is parallel to the floor. Hold briefly. Then lower to starting position, and repeat on the other side. One rep includes a full cycle of both sides. Do three sets of 8-12 reps.
Abs and Legs: Knee Tucks
This move starts with your stomach on a stability ball, hands and feet on the floor. Engage the abs. Now walk your hands forward until you form a rigid plank, ankles resting on the ball. Don't let the low back sag. Slowly, tuck your knees into your chest. Hold briefly, then slowly return to a plank position. Expect the ball to roll forward and back with your moves.
Abs and Butt: Glute Bridge
If you'd like your rear view to be as buff as your abs, try this move for sculpting the gluteal muscles. Lie on your back, with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart. Contract your abs and glutes as you raise your hips off the ground. Press your heels into the floor, and avoid arching your back. Inhale and slowly lower yourself to the ground. Repeat for 12 to 15 reps.
Abs and Butt: Frankensteins
Stand with your arms at your sides, feet hip-width apart. Tighten your abs, and raise your right knee up toward your chest. Keeping the knee high, try to cross your right leg over the left. Avoid rotating the left hip. Now bring your right leg back toward the right side of the room, opening the right hip. Return to starting position. Do five to 10 reps on each side.
Abs and Butt: Side Plank
Side plank is a great way to work both the obliques and the glutes. Lie on your right side, placing the right elbow on the floor directly under the shoulder. Keep the legs straight, with the left leg resting directly on top of the right. As you contract your waist and glutes, raise your hips and knees. Keep the right foot in contact with the floor. Hold for 5 to 20 seconds. Rest for 30 seconds and repeat. Then switch sides.
Abs and Legs: Lunge
The lunge is a great multitasking move -- it targets the abs, butt, quads, and hamstrings all at once. With feet together, slowly lift the right leg and step forward, placing your right foot firmly on the floor. Lower the hips until your right thigh is parallel with the floor. Make sure your right knee doesn’t push forward in front of your toes. Slowly return to standing. Aim for eight to 12 reps, and repeat on the other side.
Creating an Ab Routine That Works
For best results, do a targeted ab routine two or three times per week, resting at least one full day between workouts. Don't try to do all the moves in this slideshow in one workout. Pick four to eight moves for each session, and spread the work across different muscle groups. To keep your muscles challenged, mix up the moves every few days or weeks. If you're 45 or older or have a medical condition, check with your doctor first.
Cardio for Flat Abs
If you can’t see your abs for your belly, you need more than an ab workout. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio on most days of the week. Crunched for time? Switch to vigorous aerobic activity -- for 75 minutes each week. Besides burning fat, regular cardio protects against heart disease, depression, and certain types of cancer.
Food for Flat Abs: Lean Protein
To trim enough belly fat to reveal your developing abs, you'll probably need to cut back on calories. But that doesn't have to mean giving up meat. Lean cuts of pork, lamb, and beef are loaded with protein to help you stay full longer. Fish, beans, and nuts are also good protein sources. A healthy portion is about the size of your fist.
There's good evidence for swapping refined grains for whole grains. The fiber in whole grains helps you have a healthy body weight. Get more whole grains by stirring shredded wheat into your favorite cereal, by making your sandwiches with whole-grain bread, or by ordering your sushi with brown rice.
In one study, dieters who ate nonfat yogurt lost almost twice as much belly fat as those who didn't eat yogurt. If you find ordinary yogurt isn't a satisfying snack, try the Greek variety -- it’s thicker and has more protein.
Fat is not off the menu when you’re trying to lose weight. You need some fat to help you build muscles. Just make sure it’s the right kind. Sources of good fats include avocado, nuts, olive oil, and fatty fish, such as salmon.
Fruits and vegetables should take up half your plate. Aim for a wide range of colors to nourish your body with an assortment of plant-based nutrients. These phytochemicals are good for your heart and fight some types of cancer. Plus, filling up on veggies will help you cut back on higher-calorie foods.
Why Focus on Flat Abs?
Yes, you want a six-pack. But that’s not all you get when working on your abs. The abs are some of the core muscles that support all of your body's motions. Firm abs will raise your overall fitness level and help your athletic performance. What's more, reducing your waist size may cut your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
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Tony Blair, Synergy Performance Training owner.
American Council on Exercise: "Core Workout," "Supine Bicycle Crunches," "Bent-Knee Sit-Ups/Crunches," "Supine Reverse Crunches," "Half-Kneeling Wood Chop," "Seated Medicine Ball Trunk Rotations," "Stability Ball Dumbbell Fly," "Front Plank," "Bird Dog," "Cobra," "Glute Bridge," "Standing Gate Openers (Frankensteins)," "Side Plank with Straight Leg," "Lunge."
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USDA Nutrition Evidence Library: "Grains, Whole."
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans."
Zemel, M. International Journal of Obesity, April 2005.
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