Get Flat, Sexy Abs in 5 Moves

Five exercises for ab firming.
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By Martica Heaner, M.A., M.Ed., for MSN Healthy Living

A whittled-down waistline plays harder-to-get with age because, even if you don't gain more weight, more fat is stored in your middle compared to elsewhere in your body. But you can't fight the flab sitting down. Flattening your abs takes a two-pronged approach: You need to firm up weak muscles and reduce the fat that surrounds them. Our five core exercises will tighten your torso, and adding more cardio to your week will slim it down.

Research has shown that the best formula to reduce ab fat is to eat healthfully and accumulate from 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. Don't worry if that sounds like more exercise than you do in a month—even household chores count, and you can break up the minutes into shorter periods throughout the day. Do this workout four to six days per week.

Start by performing one repetition of exercises 1, 2, 4 and 5, holding each move for 5 to 10 seconds. Work up to longer holds, aiming for 30 to 60 seconds. Then work up to three sets of each hold. Rest when you feel fatigued or if your back or any other joints feel strained. For exercise 3, perform one set of six slow reps on each side and gradually work up to three sets.

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Static curl

Start: Lie on your back with a rolled-up towel tucked under the curve of your lower back. Place your hands lightly behind, or on the sides of, your head. Curl your head, neck and shoulders slightly forward to raise your shoulder blades a couple of inches off the floor. Engage your abs: Tighten the muscles on all sides of your torso, but do not suck in the gut or let the lower back flatten toward the floor. Do not move, pulse, crunch or curl farther forward, just hold the raised position and 'brace' the abs tighter. Keep your neck extended, not bent forward. Breathe normally and try to tighten as much of your torso as possible while keeping the lower back curve in place. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds. 

Technique tip: Avoid "crunching" back and forth. Just hold the position and tighten your core muscles without moving.   

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Static curl

Finish: Keeping your core muscles tight, rotate your entire torso as a unit toward the right. Hold this position with out pulsing or moving. Focus on creating a tight wall of abdominal muscle and breathe normally. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, then return to the centered position and rest. Curl up again, hold, then rotate to the left and hold. Then lower, rest and repeat, alternating sides.  

Safety tip: If your back or neck feel fatigued, rest sooner. Work up to holding each pose for one minute. 

Common error: Yanking on your head. 

Fit fix: Turn from your upper back, not your neck; open the chin slightly and keep your neck aligned with your spine. 

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Start: Start on your hands and knees. Tighten your abs, but maintain the natural lower back curve. Then raise your right leg straight up in back, stopping when your foot is hip level. Keep both hips even so that your abdomen faces down, not out to the side. Make sure that your elbows are not locked out and that your shoulders are not scrunched by your ears.

Technique tip: Look down, not up, to keep your neck aligned with your spine. 

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Finish: When you feel stable with your right leg raised, raise the left arm up in front, stopping when it is horizontal and hip level. Hold this position by tightening all the muscles in your abs, butt and back. Raise the arm high enough to feel your shoulder blade flatten closer to your ribs, but do not raise your hand above your head. Look down and tuck your chin in to your neck, but avoid dropping your head below your shoulders. Keep all body parts in a straight line. Breathe normally. Then lower and repeat. Then switch sides.

Common error: Over-arching the back when you raise your arm and leg. 

Fit fix: Avoid making a C shape with your spine when your lift your arm. Keep your abs tight and your spine stable. 

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Band-core twist

Start: Wrap a resistance band around a stable pole or sturdy piece of exercise equipment. Position it at chest height. Hold on to the handles, or if your band does not have handles, wrap the ends securely around each hand. Face the direction where the band is attached. Stand tall, but lower your center of gravity slightly by bending your knees and shifting your body weight to your heels. Hold both hands together and stretch the band, holding your hands close to your chest.

Technique tip: Step forward or back to adjust the band length. There should be no slack, but it should not be so taut that you feel pulled forward. 

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Band-core twist

Finish: Tighten your abs against the pull of the resistance band and rotate your rib cage toward the right as far as you comfortably can. Move your torso as a unit and turn your head in the direction of your chest. Hold, then keeping your core muscles tight, slowly twist back to the center starting position. Stand tall as you turn in both directions.

Safety tip: If you feel any strain in your back, move closer to the band to lighten the resistance and/or limit the range of motion of your turn. 

Common error: Leaning your body back at a diagonal. 

Fit fix: Resist the urge to let the band support your weight. Stand upright and maintain perfect posture as you turn. 

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Low-balance plank

Start: Lie on your stomach with your legs extended and prop yourself up on your forearms. Curl your toes under and raise your hips three to six inches off the floor. Hold this position, keeping your body in a straight line. Tighten your abs, breathe normally and lower your shoulders away from your ears.

Common error: Lower-back sagging. 

Fit fix: Find your neutral hip position like this: Raise your hips up so that they are slightly piked (in a V shape), then lower your hips close to the floor and hover within this range until you find the point where you feel less stress on your lower back. Your body should form a straight line from heel to hips to head. 

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Low Balance Plank

Finish: Pull your abs in away from the floor to stabilize the muscles in your entire torso, then bend your right knee to bring your calf perpendicular to the floor. Hold, then straighten your leg, lower your body and rest. Then repeat, alternating sides.

Safety tip: If your lower back hurts, build up to this exercise by first doing it resting on your knees with just your hips and torso raised and lifting each knee an inch off the floor. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds and work your way up longer holds and raising your entire body off the floor. 

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Side Bridge

Start: Lie on your right side and rest on your bottom (right) hand. Straighten your legs and shift them back so that your thighs are in line with your torso. Cross the top (left) leg over the bottom (right) leg. Hold your ribcage high away from the floor.

Technique tip: Avoid locking out your straight elbow, keep it softly bent. 

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