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Tighten and Define Your Abs

Tighten and Define Your Abs

Now we're really getting down to the bottom line – you want to know how to get tight abs that are flat, toned and sexy! The fat’s melting off and now the abs are ready for sculpting.


You can't just do some crunches and expect the results you're looking for. You have to follow a different formula - one that involves the right eating choices, fat burning exercise and finally, methods to shape up your belly.


At some time in your past, you might have thought that all it would take to get toned abs is a ton of crunches a day, or maybe the use of one of those abdominal machines you've seen on the infomercials. It doesn't work like that.


Here's an important tip to keep in mind when you're working out - either by doing your core workout, or your cardio workout: Remember to breathe. Especially when you're doing your core workout, there might be a temptation to hold your breath. But don't let yourself do that. Just keep breathing.


When you’re doing crunches, exhale when you come up, and inhale on the way back down. The same goes for pushups. Your exhale falls on the part that causes you to expend the most energy or that is hardest to do.


When you're doing an exercise that requires you to stay in one position for several seconds, just remember to keep breathing steadily.


The Core and Why You Have to Work All of It


You're working on burning fat and blasting your belly into top shape, so your focus is probably on your abdominals. That makes sense. But before you begin, you need to understand what's in the belly area that you have to work, because it's more than just the ab muscles that are in the front.


The way to get toned abs is to work the entire group of core muscles, the ones that wrap all around your midsection. Yes, it's the toned abdominal muscles that create a six-pack, but it's the core muscles that make that six pack look right. You can't have just your rectus abdominis muscles (the ones in the front) looking great because by themselves, they will look funny.


The core muscles are the muscles that stabilize the trunk part of your body and help keep you straight. They protect your back and internal organs and they make you look much more attractive when they are fit.


The core muscles include not only the muscles in your abdominal area, but your back, your pelvic floor and your hips. There are even core muscles, such as the transverse abdominis, that are hidden behind other muscles, but that are essential for the “whole package” to look good and function correctly.


So when you think about working on your abs, you should really be thinking about working on your core. Having a core that is strong and in top shape is going to help give you the abs you're dreaming of.


Why Can't I Just Do Crunches?


While crunches do offer benefits, you can't really only on crunches to define your abs for a few different reasons.


One of the main reasons that you don't want to do only crunches to tone and define your belly are that you might end up with abs that look pretty good from the front, but that look extended out and paunchy from the side.


This comes from focusing on your rectus abdominus muscles (the ab muscles in the front), and nothing else. To get a lean, tight, all-over look, you have to work all the muscle groups in that area including the transverse abdominus, which is a large muscle that holds the rectus abdominus, and the rest of the core muscles. 


Doing a simple crunch or sit-up doesn't fully train your abdominal muscles to do what they were designed to do, which is to keep your spine straight and your help your body movements remain stable and secure.


When your ab muscles are fully trained in the right way, they not only provide this stability and security, but also look awesome.


Along with working those groups, you can do your body good by doing exercises that you think benefit only other parts of your body. For example, pushups are good for helping you get a toned and slim waistline and belly because when you're doing the movement, you're also holding your core muscle groups taut.


It's an isometric form of exercise, meaning that is strengthens the muscle group simply by holding the muscles in a fixed position for a set amount of time.  Exercises like the pushup can be considered a full body exercise. Your arms, shoulders, core muscle group, back and legs are challenged.


You can’t get by with just doing crunches or traditional sit-ups because they only focus on one piece of the puzzle. You can do them, and you should do them. But you have to combine them with other important moves and forms of exercise to really get the kind of abs that you want.


What About That Ab Machine I Saw on the Infomercial?


Here's the lowdown on ab machines – those are the contraptions you see on the infomercials that show smiling, smoking hot models, working out on them and supposedly shedding pounds and fat, while developing abs that are incredible.


Those ab machines do work your abs. They do. But they do absolutely nothing when it comes to getting rid of the fat layer that you have over your abs that is covering up that six pack you're building. And you can get the same exact results from doing exercises at home, without a machine if you don’t have the money.


Most people purchase those fancy machines thinking that somehow if the machine is sitting in their family room staring at them, they are going to feel more motivated to work out.


Or maybe they’re thinking that somehow, someway, that machine is going to produce miracle abs and that's all they will have to do to lose weight and get in shape. Unfortunately, it's not true. And usually, the machine just collects dust.


What Forms of Exercise Help to Tone Abs?


Here's something that you'll be happy to hear – there are lots of exercises that help you tone your abs, and all of your core muscles, strengthen your back, and indeed your whole body, and give you a sexy look. Let's start with the basics. The following exercises work your core muscles and require no special equipment at all:


Abdominal Bracing – This isn't so much an exercise as it is something that you can do anywhere, anytime to help strengthen your abs. It’s simply the act of tightening the muscles in your middle section.


People do this when preparing to lift something heavy because it helps to protect the back. If you consciously do this as you go through your day, it acts as a kind of constant ab exercise.


The Basic Crunch – Even though crunches won't do it all, the crunch is still a useful exercise for strengthening and toning those abs. When doing crunches, pay close attention to form to be sure to protect your lower back and neck.


To do a basic crunch, lay flat on your back with your knees bent, feet on the ground and your hands at the side of your head. Now gently pull your abdominal muscles in and curl up.


Relax down. Be careful to not pull your head up with your hands. You can also do a crunch with your arms crossed over your chest and tucking in your chin – some prefer this position.


Work up to 100 crunches per workout. You don't have to do them all at once. You can do some in the beginning, then the middle and the end if you like.


Pushups – While pushups are thought of as an exercise for the upper body, they engage the abs and core and also the legs, so they accomplish many purposes.


To do a push up, you begin with your hands on the floor under your shoulders, body straight from head to your toes (which are on the floor) and stomach pulled in. Bend your elbows and lower yourself down to about 6 inches from the floor, and then back up.


Pushups are not easy to do, but with time, you'll gain strength and be able to do more. If straight pushups are too difficult at first, you can do them with your knees on the floor, still holding your body straight. Whether you're doing full pushups or beginner pushups, work up to three sets of 20 if you can.


The Plank – The Plank is a great way to get your abs and core in shape, but you have to do them correctly to get the most benefit.


You begin your plank in a similar position to the beginning of a pushup, except with your elbows on the floor instead of your hands. Lift your body off the floor, with only your forearms and toes touching the floor.


Keep your body in a straight line with your tummy pulled in and hold this straight position with only your elbows, forearms, hands and toes touching the floor. Hold for 20 – 45 seconds.


If you are unable to hold for at least 20 seconds, you can switch to an easier version of the Plank, which allows you to put your knees on the floor. Work up to the more advanced Plank. Try to do three sets on each side.


The Side Plank – This also works your core. Lie down on your side on the floor with your elbow under your shoulder, forearm flat on the ground. Your feet can be in one of two positions – the first is with your feet about 1.5 feet apart, one in front of the other, and the second is with your feet together.


The second position is more difficult than the first. Align your body into a straight line from your feet to your shoulders, pull in your belly and then lift yourself up off the floor. Hold for ten seconds and then lower. Switch to the other side. Try to do three sets on each side.


Lunges – Lunges help define your abs because they engage your abdominal muscles to help keep you balanced when you're performing the lunge.


To do a lunge, start out by standing tall with your tummy pulled in and your back straight. Simply step forward and bend your back knee down and your front knee forward (be sure it doesn't travel any further forward than in a line with your toes). Push back up with the strength of your legs. Repeat several times and then switch to the other side.


Your goal should be to do a least 20 – 30 repetitions on each leg.


Hip Lifts – This exercise works the muscles in the abdominal region, the back and also in your butt area.


To do a hip lift, lie on your back with your arms at your side, knees bent and feet about hips width apart. Slowly raise your hips off the floor, keeping your belly in. Be careful not of arch your back when you do this – keep it straight.


Hold for a few seconds, flattening your tummy, and then lower your back down to the floor slowly from the top of the back to your butt. Repeat this move several times.  Try to work up to at least 20 hip lifts per workout.


V-sits – This is a more advance exercise for your ab area, and it's very effective. Even if you can only do one to begin with, stick with it and work up to more and more repetitions.


To do a V-sit, begin by sitting on the floor or your mat with your arms slightly behind you, hands flat on the ground and fingers pointing toward your feet. Your elbows should be slightly bent.


Your legs will be bent at the knee with your feet on the floor. Now slowly lean back on your hands, bending your elbows and as you do that, extend your legs out from your body.


Then lean forward and bring your legs back toward your chest, knees bent, and keeping your feet off the floor now. Stretch out and back in several times. Overtime, you should be able to do about 100 V-sits.


Squats – Squats work your lower body, and your core muscles. Squats are easy to do, and work well.


To do a squat, stand straight with your feet about shoulder width apart and your toes pointing slightly outward. Sit back, as if you're sitting down in a chair with your butt out. As you “sit” keep your tummy in, arms out in front for balance and your back straight, even though you'll be leaning slightly forward (remember that your butt is out as if you're getting ready to sit). Stand back up.


You should work up to a total of up to 100 squats.


Back Extensions – As you might guess, this is great for your back, but it also works other core muscles including your abs. To do the back extension, lie on the floor face down, legs straight and feet pointed.


Roll your shoulders back and extend your arms along your sides, towards your feet. Now lift your feet, head and shoulders off the floor or mat while pulling your abdominal muscles in. Hold for a few seconds and then relax down. You should work up to 10 – 12 repetitions of this exercise.


The Russian Twist – This exercise targets the side oblique muscle group, so you get trimmer and more toned at the sides of your midsection. This is an advanced move, but is worth working up to. Eventually, you should do three sets, which 10 – 12 repetitions for each set. Even if you only start with 8 – 10 repetitions and only one set, these will do your belly good.


To do the Russian Twist, lay flat on the floor or a mat with your knees bent, feet on the ground.        


Hold your arms straight out in front of you, with your palms together. Now sit up so that your body and bent legs form a “V” shape. Twist to one side and then the other at the waist, still holding your arms straight out. Lie back down. That's one Russian Twist.


NOTE:  Don’t strain yourself doing these exercises. If at any time you feel pain beyond the kind that comes from raising your heart rate, breathing a little harder and challenging your muscles, stop and make sure you are in correct position. If you're a beginner, you should use the beginner positions when they are suggested until you are familiar and comfortable with the exercise.


As always, if you have any worries, have had previous injuries that could be negatively affected by doing any of these exercises, or questions, consult with your doctor.


Toning, Tightening and Defining Your Abs in 30 Minutes a Day


You know the truth about getting great abs. Exercises are a part of it, but nutrition is going to make a big difference too. After all, you can exercise your core every day and night, but if you still have a big roll of flab covering them up, it won't matter.


As long as you're practicing good nutrition and working on your weight loss, you can work on those abs and feel comfortable in the knowledge that you're going to be showing of a great midsection soon.


So, let's look at what your ab building plan is going to look like:


First, you need to incorporate each of the ab, core and whole-body exercises that have been listed and described for you in this chapter into your workout routine 3 to 4 times per week. You can do it every other day if you like, giving those muscles a rest in between (the in between days is when you'll do your fat burning cardio workouts).


You should be able to fit an entire series of ab and core exercises in to about one-half hour. If you start doing lots and lots of repetitions, you might go over the half hour a little bit, but not much because you'll be doing the exercises in a series where you go from one to the next with little or no break between. 


On the other hand, if you are just beginning and not able to accomplish all the repetitions and sets of each exercise, you might fall short of a full half hour. If this happens, take the last few minutes that you have left and go for a quick walk, or dance in your living room, or walk in place – find some activity with which to spend the rest of your half hour working your body.


When you do your exercises in a continuous manner like this, you'll find that you actually get a bit of a cardio workout too, so that's a bonus to your fat burning efforts.


Here's what your ab workout is going to look like:


On an “ab” day, you'll not be doing your cardio workout. It's best to try to workout at the same time every day, just so that you don't forget to do it. It will become habit if you have a certain time scheduled. If you can't do it that way, keep a calendar or other way to remind yourself to do your ab workout routine.


You can use a mat for your workouts or just the floor – either is fine. Dress comfortably in clothes that are loose fitting so you can move. You’ll want to warm your body up a little by walking in place or even dancing for 2 or 3 minutes. Just to get all your muscles warmed up and loose.


Now start into your routine. You can follow the exercises just they are listed or create your own sequence to follow. Just as long as you do them, it doesn't matter what order you do them in.


Follow your workout with a few minutes of stretching – this will help relax your muscles and balance the tension in them and it also feels great.


As a beginner, you might only be able to do a few repetitions of each move. Don't worry. Do as much as you can, then take a break and start again – you should feel that you've worked yourself and challenged yourself each time you do any exercise, but you don't need to do it until you feel completely exhausted and in pain. Although again, you need to have the feeling that you've worked that muscle group.


If you want to be able to show of a great set of abs, you need to commit yourself to 3 – 4 days per week of ab exercises – one full half hour. If you can do this, you'll see results. As you lose weight and burn fat through your healthy diet and your fat burning workouts, the abs you're building will start to reveal themselves.


If the ab exercise routine begins to get too easy, you can add intensity by using dumbbells with certain moves, such as your lunges and squats, and even make your crunches more intense by holding a lightweight dumbbell across your chest or behind your head.


You will want to switch up your routine a bit, to keep your muscles guessing as to what's coming next. This is important because if you do the exact same thing over and over, you won't get the same benefit as if you switch things up a bit.


You may also want to add intensity on alternating days. As a beginner, you can do still add intensity, but just at a lower level than you will when you are more advanced. You can hold light weights when doing lunges and squats or even crunches, if you want, to add intensity.


Don't forget that some exercises have a beginner's position and an advanced position. If you've started out using beginner positions and they are getting easy for you, try the advanced positions and see what happens. Here is a sample workout schedule that you can use for getting those abs in top shape:


Week One:                                                  Week Two:


Sunday                                                       Monday


Basic Crunch                                               Basic Crunch

Pushups                                                      Pushups

Plank                                                          Plank

Side Plank                                                   Side Plank

Hip Lifts                                                       Hip Lifts

V-sits                                                           V-sits

Back Extensions                                            Back Extensions

Russian Twist                                                 Russian Twist

Lunges                                                         Lunges

Squats                                                         Squats


Tuesday                                                     Wednesday


Squats (add intensity with light weights)        Squats (add intensity with light weights)

Plank                                                         Plank

Pushups                                                      Pushups

Side Plank                                                  Side Plank

Back Extensions                                           Back Extensions

Lunges (add intensity with light weights)        Lunges (add intensity with light weights)

Russian Twist                                                Russian Twist

V-sits                                                           V-sits

Pushups                                                      Pushups

Crunches (add intensity with light weight)    Crunches (add intensity with light weight)


Thursday                                                     Friday


Basic Crunch                                               Basic Crunch

Pushups                                                      Pushups

Plank                                                          Plank 

Side Plank                                                   Side Plank

Hip Lifts                                                       Hip Lifts

V-sits                                                           V-sits

Back Extensions                                            Back Extensions

Russian Twist                                                Russian Twist

Lunges                                                        Lunges

Squats                                                        Squats




Squats (add intensity with light weight)



Side Plank

Back Extensions

Lunges (add intensity with light weight)

Russian Twist



Crunches (add intensity with light weight)


If you follow an ab and core workout schedule such as this, you'll be sure to get all you need in about 30 minutes a day.


On the days that you're not scheduled for working on your abs, you'll be working on fat burning and toning with cardio and other forms of exercise.


Tools You Can Use to Help Blast Those Abs into Shape


All the exercises that are listed in this chapter can be done using no extra equipment at all. They will work that way, and you'll see results. This is great for those that are on a budget or simply don't want to go to the trouble of using extra stuff.


However, if you’re interested in the type of tools that might be helpful, here are some great ideas:


Weights – I've touched briefly on this topic already. You can purchase some lightweight dumbbells (1 to 3 pounds) pretty inexpensively. These add a bit of intensity to your workout and even though they are light, can make a difference. If you don't want to spend any money, get out a couple cans of fruit, vegetables or soup and use them for a bit of added weight. You can also use a lightweight medicine ball (also known as an exercise ball or fitness ball) for the same purpose.


Mat – For those who don't like lying on the floor and want some sort of barrier, an exercise or yoga mat works nicely. The have a slightly sticky surface that helps make your moves more stable – no slipping around.


Balance Ball – Lots of people use balance balls for doing crunches, pushups and back extensions. With a balance ball, the level of intensity increases, as does the level of difficulty. If you’re just beginning, take time to learn how to use the balance ball correctly and with proper form.     


Don't forget about your exercise journal. I've suggested this as part of your motivational toolbox already and you should be tracking your ab workouts and progress in your exercise journal. This is an essential tool for motivating yourself and seeing the progress you're making.


The Home Gym


One last thing I'd like to point out in regards to both your ab and core workout and your cardio workouts – for any type of exercise you'll be doing indoors, whether it's your ab and core workout series, or an aerobics DVD for a cardio workout, you need to create a home gym.


Now don't panic! I know that most of us don't have an extra room in the house that can be just for exercise. In fact, most of us end up exercising in our family room or living room, or even the bedroom. That's fine – there's nothing wrong with that.


But you still need to make a space for yourself to move around in and to get the most from your exercises. This can be a temporary space that you set up and take down each time you work out, or it can be permanent, depending upon how much space you have available to use.


And of course, if you are lucky enough to have a room to devote to your fitness efforts, that's great!


To create your own home gym or place to work out, you simply need to make sure you have an area large enough to comfortably move around in, and then the things you need to make the workout effective.


Some people like to watch TV or listen to music when they're exercising, so you will want to be near the TV or stereo. Some prefer a quiet atmosphere, with some privacy, so in that case, the bedroom might work better for you, or you might want to schedule your exercise time when no one else is around to disturb you.


Your in-home workout area can be one where all of your DVD's, weights, mat and other workout equipment is stored together, giving you easy access to everything at a moment’s notice. You might even want to have a clean towel nearby for when you work up a sweat.


The area you use for your workouts should be pleasant and neat. This is because your surroundings will make either a positive or negative impact on your mood and motivation.


Who wants to exercise in an area that looks like a mess and feels chaotic. You'll be doing your workout and thinking about the mess you have to clean up when you're done! Or if you're a naturally messy person, you might not have enough room to move around in an unhindered manner. Needless to say, a clean, neat and comfortable setting is important.


Likewise, you may find it much easier to complete your workout if others aren't interrupting you. For this reason, it is nice to have a more private place to go to for exercise, but if that's not possible, you might want to schedule exercise sessions before everyone else wakes, or when the children are at school or down for a nap, or when your significant other is out running errands or walking the dog.

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