March is the time of year when we really start to believe summer will come again. Clothing stores are full of sundresses and shorts, tank tops, and of course, bathing suits of all shapes and sizes. You’ve been imagining basking in the sun or taking a dip in the pool, but heavenly daydreams are cut short when you remember the toll the winter has taken on your midriff. Flabby might be the word to describe it. Soft. Squishy. Are those rolls?
Now is the time to whip those abs in to shape. Whether you just want cut down a waist size or two or boast beach-ready abs this summer, you will need plan that focuses on weight loss, and toning and building muscle in your core.
Are Crunches Effective?
Many believe that hundreds of crunches are the path to a six pack. The crunch is a basic exercise that can be done anywhere, but it won’t give you a six pack. The crunch targets your upper abdominals, the rectus abdominal muscle and the obliques. To target all of the muscles in your abdomen, you need a comprehensive plan. And that comprehensive plan starts with… cardio.
Lots of Cardio is the Way to Lose Belly Fat
Yes, cardio! Because you can build muscle that hides behind layers of fat. Before you achieve that six pack, you need to remove the fat. Running, cycling, swimming, aerobics, kickboxing, even sports like racquetball and basketball- these are all examples of cardio (aerobic) exercise that help you rid of subcutaneous fat. How much cardio do you NEED to do in order to lose belly fat? It depends on time and intensity. Walking will burn fewer calories than running the same distance. In order to burn fat, you need to regularly expend more calories than you take in. In fact, if time is a factor and you can only do one exercise, choose cardio.
Working Your Core = Beach-Ready Abs
That being said, working your core muscles will help you get that toned, sleek look you want for the beach. (Unfortunately, it will not get rid of extra skin, stretch marks, or scars that have resulted from weight loss, surgery, or pregnancy.) Another misconception about working out your abdominals is that you need exercises that focus only on specific muscle groups. In fact, there are great ways to work out your entire core, which extends beyond your abs. Your core also includes pelvic muscle, back muscles, your diaphragm, and your hips. Building a strong core not only gives you that beach-ready look, but helps with balance, stability, range of motion, posture, and strengthening those back muscles.
Exercises that Target Your Core Muscles
Belong to a gym? Take a Pilates class or even a yoga class. (Pilates is the exercise behind Kate Hudson’s amazing abs.) A Pilates instructor will take you through a routine that will work out all of your core muscles. Pilates also focuses on mindfulness; mental acuity and body awareness are additional benefits of Pilates. A good instructor will give you modifications if you are unable to perform more advanced exercises. Local recreation programs and studios also often offer Pilates.
Four Abdominal Exercises that Work Your Core
If a full abdominal workout doesn’t fit your schedule, here are four core-strength exercises that will help whittle your waste and give your body definition.
There are several varieties of the plank. After you’ve conquered the basic plank position, you can up the ante by lifting an arm, a leg, or performing a side plank.
The basic position is simple, but if you’re not in the shape you’d like to be in, it will be a challenge.
- Get in a push-up position on the floor, toes on the floor and hands directly beneath your shoulders. Beginners can perform the plank by resting their weight on their forearms. Your body should form a straight line, your head in line with your back. Beginners can also modify this position by resting their knees on the floor instead of their toes
- Hold the body in the plank position. Squeeze your glutes to stabilize your core. Take deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth.
- Hold the body in place for as long as you can. Try to sustain it for at least 20 seconds. The stronger you become, the longer you will be able to hold yourself up.
A twist on the basic crunch. This exercise work a slew of abdominal muscles, and is great for beginners.
- Lie flat on the floor with your back pressed into the ground.
- Get into a “crunch position” with your knees bent at a 45 degrees angle and your hands just touching both sides of your head. (DO NOT lock fingers behind the head.)
- Lift your legs and slowly make a cycling motion, as if you were pedaling a bicycle.
- Take turns touch each elbow to the opposite knee, twisting your core back and forth, making sure not to strain the neck.
Jackknife Sit Up
While you’re down there on the floor, try this challenging, core-building move.
- Get into the following position, back pressed into the floor, legs straight in front of you, arms extended fully behind your head.
- Use those abdominal muscles to bend the waist as you raise your legs and arms to meet in a jackknife position over your torso.
- Lower your arms and legs back to the starting position and repeat.
For an extra challenge, add weights or a medicine ball between your ankles or hands.
Want Superman’s abs? Do the Superman.
Complete the routine by turning over and lying face down on the floor.
- Lie straight on the floor with your arms fully extended in front of you.
- Simultaneously raise your arms, legs, and your chest off the floor and hold for 3 seconds.
- Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.
Remember to perform these exercises BEFORE you do your cardio, when you have plenty of energy and can really challenge yourself.
Aerobic exercise plus some core exercises will help you gain those beach-ready abs. Be faithful about your practice, watch your calories consumed, make sure you are consuming enough protein, and go ahead and get that bathing suit shopping for inspiration.