Reader’s Request: I have a little jiggle around the middle. Can you suggest some exercises that I could do to tone up my abs?
Ah, yes, the love handles. I think most people feel as though they could tighten and tone that area. And as we gain weight around our middle, our rate for type 2 diabetes and other weight-onset diseases increase. It’s important to work on this area for our health reasons alone, not including the “muffin-top” that can pop up over our jeans.
Our core in made up our pelvic and hip complex, including our gluteal muscles, our abdominal muscles and the muscles supporting our spine. We cannot just do a million crunches and build a strong core. We must build all the muscles of the core to have the best benefit. Core exercise is really important because it not only helps us with achieving our ideal shape, but it is the absolute center of all movement for our body. Everyday movements involve the core. A weak core means everyday activities can be a chore—or worse—cause injury.
It’s important to note that “spot reducing” for fat loss does not work. Doing 1,000 crunches a day will not create a flat, washboard stomach. You must, and I repeat, you must incorporate a cardiovascular element in your routine. I suggest moderate to high intensity, 30-60 minutes a day, most days a week for the best results.
Ok, as for exercises, there are a few tried and true exercises that I believe help build the core fast. The first is the “Prone Iso-Ab” a.k.a. “The Plank.” Lie down flat, facing the floor. Now, bending your elbows and placing your forearms and palms flat on the floor, lift your whole body off the floor, so that you are resting only your forearms and toes. Hold this position, engaging your core muscles. Hold from 20-30 seconds as a beginner, 30-60 seconds as an intermediate or advanced exerciser.
Another great exercise is the Ball Crunch. Grab a large yoga ball and with your feet on the floor, rest your mid-back on the ball. Engage your gluteals and abdominals by imagining pressing your navel to your back. Your head and shoulders will be somewhat draped over the ball. Raise your head and shoulders off the ball. To avoid straining your neck, cross your arms on your chest rather than locking them behind your head and look toward the ceiling. Hold for three deep breaths. Return to the start position and repeat.
Lastly, I suggest at least one back exercise to help build that strong core. I personally find the Prone Cobra one of the easiest and comprehensive exercises for strengthening the back. Lie down flat on your stomach, toes pointed downward with palms toward the ceiling at your sides. Engage your glutes and slowly lift your torso off of the floor using your back muscles while lifting your arms away from the floor. Keep your hips and pelvis down on the floor, and hold for 10 seconds. Slowly, release and lower your body onto the floor. Work up to 10-15 reps, with one to two sets a day for beginners, two to three sets for intermediate and advanced exercisers. And as always, if you feel any pain at all, stop what you are doing and rest. For best results, do these exercises three times a week, along with a quality cardiovascular and strength training routine.
These are just a few exercises to help build a strong core. Hopefully it will help you whittle your middle, as well as keep your body strong and capable for every day activities for the rest of your life.
Sarah Martin is a certified fitness trainer. She lives in Aptos with her husband and 1-year-old son. Visit smartfitnesssc.com