Here are nine great exercises for toning your midsection. Remember, the ol’ Pilates trick of pulling the belly button in ensures that you’re working the deepest ab muscle (known as the transverse), which helps create a sleek midriff.
The exercises are divided into three sections: upper abs, obliques, and lower abs. You can approach this workout three different ways: pick one exercise from each section and perform two to three sets, pick two exercises from each section and do one to two sets, or for the ultimate boredom buster, do one set of all nine exercises.
Combining these exercises with regular cardio and clean eating and incorporating these flat-belly foods into your diet will help you keep flat abs throughout the year.
Upper Abs: Crunches on Exercise Ball
Sit on a well-inflated exercise ball. For information on what diameter ball to use, read “Ball Size Matters.”
Place your hands behind your head, and walk your feet away from the ball so your torso starts to roll onto the ball. The ball should support your hips and the curve of your lower back. Your legs should form a bridge with your knees bent at right angles.
Exhale and lift your upper body by about 45 degrees, pulling the deep abs in toward the spine, and return to starting position. Don’t yank your neck! Do 25 reps.
Upper Abs: Pilates 100s
Start lying on your back with your legs in tabletop position (hips and knees at right angles). Engage your deep abs to round your lower spine into the floor. Make sure you are not “pooching” your abs, which means you are just working the top layer of abs, which is a Pilates no-no.
Exhale and lift your upper back off the floor, until the bottom tips of your shoulder blades skim the floor. Straighten your legs to a 45-degree angle (but make sure your low back is staying connected to the floor). Reach your arms toward your feet. Your arms will be about two inches off the floor.
Pump your arms up and down with a small range of motion, keeping your elbows straight. Inhale for five arm pumps, and exhale for five pumps. That completes one set or cycle. Repeat the cycle nine more times for a total of 100 pumps.
Keep your upper body stable while your arms pump.
All Abs: Elbow Plank
Start on the floor resting on your forearms and knees.
Step your feet out one at a time, coming into a plank position.
Contract your abs to prevent your booty from sticking up or sinking. Your spine should be parallel to the floor, with your abs pulling toward the ceiling.
Hold 30 seconds, and work your way up to one minute as you get stronger.
If you’re bored with static plank, you can always take them for a walk to challenge your abs even more.
Obliques: Bicycle Crunches
Considered one of the most effective ab exercises, this move really works the obliques.
Lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground (pull your abs down to also target your deep abs). Interlace your fingers, and put your hands behind your head.
Bring your knees in toward your chest, and lift your shoulder blades off the ground.
Straighten your right leg out to about a 45-degree angle to the ground while turning your upper body to the left, bringing your right elbow toward the left knee. Make sure your rib cage is moving and not just your elbows.
Now switch sides and do the same motion on the other side to complete one rep (and to create the “pedaling” motion). Do this exercise with slow and controlled motion.
Do 10 to 20 reps.
Obliques: Twisting Side Plank
Come into a side plank on your right side, with your feet stacked one on top of the other and your weight on your right elbow with your fingers reaching away from your body, palm down.
Place your left arm behind your head, and inhale to prepare.
Exhale and pull your navel to your spine to engage your deep abs, and rotate your left rib cage toward the floor. Stay there for a second, and deepen your abdominal connection by pulling your navel in toward your spine even more.
Return to starting position, and repeat seven more times for a total of eight reps, then switch sides. Repeat series again on both sides.
Obliques: Seated Russian Twist
Sit on the ground with your knees bent and your heels about a foot from your bum.
Lean slightly back without rounding your spine at all. It is really important, and difficult, to keep your back straight, but don’t let it curve.
Place your arms straight out in front of you with your hands one on top of the other. Your hands should be level with the bottom of your rib cage.
Pull your navel to your spine, and twist slowly to the left. The movement is not large and comes from the ribs rotating, not from your arms swinging. Inhale through center, and rotate to the right. This completes one rep.
Do 16 full rotations.
To increase the difficulty of this exercise, hold a five-pound medicine ball or dumbbell at chest height.
Lower Abs: Resistance Band Flutter Kicks
Sit on a mat or carpeted floor. Loop one handle of the resistance band on either foot. Hold onto the middle of the tube with both hands, and lie on your back.
Draw your navel toward your spine, and press your low spine into the floor to protect your lower back, then lift both legs up so they are almost pointing straight up toward the ceiling.
Holding the band securely, scissor your legs up and down one at a time, starting with the left leg. Move slowly, and point your toes. Each time your right foot lowers down counts as one set. Complete 10 to 15 sets.
To make this move more difficult, lower your legs so they are about six to 10 inches above the floor — illustrated in the lower image. Make sure to keep your abs scooped when you work with your legs close to the ground. Scissor your legs for another 10 to 15 sets.
Lower Abs: Double Crunch
Lie on your back on the floor, raising your arms and legs to a 90-degree angle.
Engage your abs to lift both your shoulders and pelvis off the ground. Touch your fingers to your toes.
Keeping your core engaged the entire time, slowly lower them back to the starting position to complete one rep.
Do 20 reps