Guest blogger: Bonne Marcus
A fitness industry expert for 27 years, Marcus holds numerous certifications from the Aerobic Fitness Association of America (AFAA), including Step, Spin, Bosu™, Pre/Post Natal, Youth Fitness, Aqua, and Personal Training. She has taught for New York City’s top health clubs, including Crunch, New York Health and Racquet, and Reebok Sports Club. A recognized name on Long Island, Bonne has taught at Dany Holdstein’s Two Worlds, North Shore Health Club, LA Fitness, Sport time, Equinox and currently teaches at the Sid Jacobsen JCC in Roslyn. Learn more at getfitwithbonne.com.
Clients always ask me how they can get flat, sexy abs. Most women think they'll need to do hundreds of sit-ups or crunches but in reality, achieving a toned midsection requires more than just abdominal exercises.
The abdominal muscles, along with your hips, buttocks, and back, are the muscles defined as your core. Developing your core muscles is vital to any long-term fitness program. In fact, a strong core improves your quality of life and supports the strengthening of your entire body. Strength from your core is needed in stabilizing your body during all activities and exercises — so save core-specific exercises for last.
Photo Credit: iStock
There are four major muscles that make up the abdominal wall: the Rectus Abdominus, Transverse Abdominal and the internal and external obliques. Each of these must be isolated and worked to achieve stronger, sexier abs.
The Rectus Abdominus, commonly known as the "six pack," flexes the spine and brings the rib cage closer to the pelvis. Obliques work to rotate the torso and stabilize the abdomen; having strong obliques means that your abdominal wall will be pulled flat. The Transverse Abdominal is the most important of all core muscles. It holds internal organs in place, provides balance and coordination for all daily movements, and stabilizes the lower back and torso during heavy lifting.
The bad news is, the Transverse Abdominal is only engaged during movement and few traditional exercises address the muscle. My favorite exercise to tone this area is called a Vacuum. The exercise is very simple, all you do is pull in your gut and keep it pulled in while breathing slowly. A Vacuum can be performed at any time — even while sitting in traffic!
The most effective way to sculpt the abdominal core is by using a variety of exercises. If you constantly follow the same routine your ab muscles will stop responding and you won’t get the desired results. Focus on 3-4 exercises per day and strive for quality of movement with each contraction. Slow and controlled movement is always best.
Here are a few of my favorite core-strengthening exercises:
1. Gliding Disc Tucks
Get into the plank position with your hands on the floor and both feet on top of a gliding disc as pictured. If you don’t have a gliding disc, you can use a paper plate. Bring your knees in towards your chest and then extend your legs back to the starting position. Make sure that you keep your hands directly underneath your shoulders and keep your core muscles engaged as you extend your legs so that your back does not arch. Aim for 30 repetitions.
2. Stability Ball Crunches
Lie with the middle of your back on the stability ball, feet shoulder width apart and your hands behind your head. Place your hands at the base of the skull as pictured below in a comfortable manner so you are not forcing your chin towards your chest. Keep your chin off of your chest and slowly curl forward, bringing your rib cage toward your hips. Slowly return to start position and repeat 30 times. Add a twist to target the waistline. Aim for 30-40 repetitions.
Lie on your back keeping your lower back pressed flat against the floor. Place your fingers on the side of your head just behind your ears. Bend your knees so that your thighs are at about a 90-degree angle to the floor. Simultaneously, lift your shoulders off the floor and bring your right elbow to your left knee, while extending the right leg as pictured below. Use a slow bicycle-pedaling motion as you simultaneously switch sides. Aim for 40-50 repetitions.
4. Medicine Ball Twist
Sit on the ground with your knees bent and your heels about two feet from your butt. Lean slightly back -- without rounding your spine. Holding a 6-8 pound medicine ball extend your arms straight out in front of you. Hands should be level with the bottom of your ribcage. Pull your navel in and twist to the left back to center and rotate to the right. Aim for 30 repetitions.
Photo Credit: Robert Cincinnati / Model: Maddi-Lyn Alvarez