So long, muffin top

A fat-burning, belly-toning routine that’s guaranteed to whittle down your middle.
© MSN Healthy Living // © MSN Health

By Martica Heaner, M.A., M.Ed., for MSN Healthy Living

Are you noticing more ab flab with each passing year? An estimated 50 to 60 percent of the amount of fat in your midsection is said to be genetically inherited, but your lifestyle also plays a major role. Hormonal fluctuations, too much stress, too little sleep and too many calories all contribute to belly bulge.

But before you drop to the floor to perform crunches and other core exercises, realize that a bigger belly is caused from excess fat in the area, not weak muscles. So pummeling away at abdominal muscles won’t have the flattening effect you think it will.

Our workout has a fat-zapping effect because it includes high-intensity cardio bursts to help you burn more calories in between each of six super core-conditioning moves. For a maximum belly blast, complete the entire routine once through, then repeat two more circuits.

You’ll need supportive sneakers for the cardio burst, and a 3- to 8-pound weight for move No. 4. If your shoulders feel fatigued during this move, lighten the weight. Do this workout four to six times a week, alternating two-minute cardio bursts with each core move.

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Cardio burst: March in place for two minutes while moving your arms in opposite directions.

Strength move: Abs Squeeze

Start: Lie on your back with your left knee bent, foot flat and your right leg extended straight. Slide both hands underneath your lower back to prevent it from flattening to the floor. Tighten your core muscles, but without pulling your bellybutton in and pressing your back against your hands.

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Finish: Continue to “brace” your core muscles by tightening as much ab muscle as you can without sucking in. At the same time, press your elbows up creating more resistance as your arms are held up and your core muscles are tightening.

Safety tip: Think of this contraction as a squeeze without any movement in your torso.

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Cardio burst: For two minutes, alternate stepping side to side in place with taking four steps walking forward, backwards and sideways while moving your arms.

Strength move: Core Toe Tap

Start: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat. Place a small, rolled-up towel underneath the natural curve of your lower back—if it feels like a big lump under your spine, unroll it a bit to make it smaller. Tighten your abs slightly, then lift one knee at a time up over your hips. Hold your bent legs close together with your calves parallel to the floor. Rest your hands beneath your head.

Technique tip: Tighten your abs to prevent your lower back from arching; if your back still feels too raised, then rest your hands by your sides on the floor.

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Finish: Keeping your core muscles tightened, slowly lower your right leg and tap your right toe on the floor. Keep the abs tight as you raise the leg back up. Then lower the other leg and tap the floor. Repeat, alternating legs.

Safety tip: If your torso does not stay stable as you perform this exercise, then move your leg in a smaller range of motion, dropping the leg slightly, but without lowering your toe to the floor. As you get stronger, your torso will remain stable and you can gradually lower your foot more.

Common error: Bicycling the legs away from your body

Fit fix: Keep your thighs close and your knees bent throughout the move to avoid placing excess stress on your back by straightening your legs.

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Cardio burst:  Alternate marching and jogging in place for two minutes. If you are not used to high-intensity exercise, march more than you jog. Work up to longer periods of jogging.

Strength move: Walking Plank

Start: Lie on your stomach with your legs extended and prop yourself up on your forearms. Lower your shoulders. Pull your abs in away from the floor to engage the muscles in your entire torso, then raise your hips off the floor, then raise one knee at a time off the floor until you are in a raised plank position supported on your hands and toes. Your body should form a straight line from head to toe. Make sure that your hips don’t sag or pike up. Breathe normally. Hold, then rest and repeat.

Technique tip: Open your legs wider apart if you feel unstable.

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Finish: Without letting your torso tilt, raise one hand an inch off the floor. Then place it back flat. Then raise your other hand an inch off the floor. Continue alternating hand lifts, then drop your entire body down and rest.

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.

Common error: Struggling to lift the hand, then slamming it down when you switch sides

Fit fix: Focus on keeping your core completely stable and begin moving your hands in a very small range of motion. Aim to lift each arm with minimum movement in the rest of your body.

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Cardio burst: For two minutes, alternate marching in place with two to four small vertical jumps in place. If you are not used to high-impact exercise march more than you jump.

Strength move: Figure 8

Start: Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width and hold a light weight in both hands in front of your chest. Soften your knees and shift your body weight slightly back to your heels. Lengthen your spine and tighten your abs. Start to draw the shape of a figure 8 with the weight in the air, reaching the loops all the way to your right side. Rotate your torso to the right and as your arms roll around.

Technique tip: Hold your shoulders down and press your shoulder blades flat as you move the weight in a horizontal plane.

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Finish: Continue to loop the around from the right to the left. Keep your abs tight as you weave through the move. As you rotate your torso, hold your spine tall and move your head with your body, following the weight with your eyes. Try to increase the range of motion of each turn as you continue to circle around—but keep your core muscles tightened to support your spine in all directions.

Safety tip: Do not bend at the waist as your rotate your body to each side.

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Cardio burst: Alternate marching in place with doing four to 10 jumping jacks in place for two minutes. If you are not used to high-impact exercise march more than you jack.

Strength move: Quadruped Leg Lift

Start: Start by resting on your hands and knees. Position your hips over your knees and your shoulders over your wrists. Keep your back flat, parallel to the floor. Tighten your abs, but avoid rounding it by sucking in your bellybutton too much. Instead, maintain the natural lower back curve by pressing your chest slightly forward as you tighten the abs.

Technique tip: Do not tilt your pelvis under or let your back round. Tighten the abs without letting your back move at all.

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