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Best Ab Workouts

Learn the best ab workouts to create a strong core, an attractive figure, and tone and define your midsection.

Abdominal and core muscles must be kept tone. [©Shutterstock 2010]
©Shutterstock 2010
Abdominal and core muscles must be kept tone.

The best ab workouts are essential for slimming down the tummy and toning the middle. Abdominal workouts often are called "core exercises" because they work out the "core" part of the body -- the chest, stomach muscles and pelvis. People with weak core muscles are more likely to suffer from lower back pain, muscle injuries and poor posture.

Maintaining proper form when exercising core muscles is key to preventing injuries. Make sure to follow all exercise directions carefully and keep the hip out of anterior rotation. When doing any abdominal exercise, it is important to keep the stomach drawn in, which stabilizes the trunk, keeping muscles in proper alignment and helping to prevent injuries. Experts stress that quality of strength-building exercises is more important than quantity. If it's difficult to maintain proper form, rest, then try again.

Isometric and Plank Exercises

Isometric contraction is an effective and convenient ab. This exercise is done by simply tightening the abdominal muscles themselves while sitting, standing, or lying with the back flat on the ground, holding the muscle contraction for as long as possible. The muscle grows stronger with each contraction and the body becomes more accustomed to holding the abdominal muscles in an increasingly tightened state.

Plank and abdominal crunches are another common core exercise. The plank is performed by lying stomach downward on the floor, resting weight on the forearms with palms flat. Next, lift the hips and knees, leaving only the forearms, elbows and balls of the feet on the floor, forming a straight line from head to feet. The position should be held for 20 to 60 seconds before the body is lowered. As this motion is repeated, it is crucial to maintain proper position by keeping the core stabilized (i.e. keeping the abdominals sucked in and contracted) and keeping the body straight.

Crunch Exercises

A common misconception is that sit-ups can tone the abdominal muscles. Sit-ups primarily strengthen the psoas muscles, which connect the lower back to the upper leg. The crunch is a much better exercise to tone the abdominal muscles. Crunches are done by lying with the back flat against the floor. Legs should be bent at the knee at approximately a 90-degree angle with feet placed together and flat on the floor. Once the arms are crossed over the chest, crunches are done by bringing the upper chest toward the knees, while keeping the lower to mid-back on the floor. A more difficult version of crunches can be performed by holding the feet in the air, or keeping the arms behind the head instead of crossed over the chest.

Reverse crunches are another common ab workout. Start with the back flat on the floor. The hips should be bent at a 90-degree angle, so that the thighs are perpendicular to the floor. The knees also should be bent at a 90-degree angle, so that the shins are parallel to the floor. The hands should be out to the sides, with hands against the floor. Using the lower abs, the knees are then pulled toward the chest, raising the hips about two inches off the ground. It is important to keep the chin aimed at the ceiling rather than the knees during this exercise to prevent neck strain. After slowly returning to the starting position, the process can be repeated.

Fitness Ball Ab Workouts

Another great way to work out the abdominals is to use an inflatable fitness ball. While sitting on a fitness ball, exercisers can simply bounce up and down -- this will strengthen the abdominals and thigh muscles. Crunches can also be formed on a fitness ball by sitting on the ball with the feet flat on the floor, keeping the back straight, and leaning backward until the contraction of the abdominal muscles can be felt. This position should be held for three breaths before returning to the beginning position and repeating.

It is important that abdominal workouts are supplemented by other exercises, including cardio activity, for optimum health. Remember to consult a physician before beginning any exercise program.

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