A bit of anatomy
Theabdominals consist of 4 pairs of muscles: the internal and external obliques, the transversus abdominis and the rectus abdominis. The obliques and the rectus abdominus link the trunk to the lower body, are important for posture and support the head, shoulders and arms. They're the muscles you work on in crunches and sit-ups. The rectus abdomonis is the muscle to work if you want a six-pack! The transversus abdominis runs horizontally around your abdomen and abdominal organs.
- Crunches to tone your abs
Lying on your back with your knees flexed 90° and your hands on either side of your head, lift your shoulders and the top of your back off the floor towards your chest and knees. Breathe out fully as you lift and in as you lower. Repeat 15 times.
- Stretches to tone your waist
Standing with your legs slightly flexed, your hands on your shoulders, your stomach pulled in and your back straight but not arching your trunk, stretch your right arm upwards and then, breathing in, lean to the left. Exhale as you straighten up again and repeat on the left side. Repeat 20 times.
- Lifts to tone your abdominal belt
Lie on your stomach with your forearms on the floor by your chest. Lift your body, pushing off only from the tips of your toes and forearms. Clench your buttocks and pull your stomach into line with your thighs, head and back.
The abdominals are linked to the back, so if you don’t perform these exercises correctly it can cause pain in the lumbar spine. To get a flat stomach, you need to work your muscles lengthways, not crush them. Note the following basic rules:
- pull in your stomach before and during the exercise, and don’t let go until you’ve finished.
- never lock your legs under a bed, chair or ab trainer.
- never exercise with your legs straight if there is a wide angle between your trunk and legs. Cycle or scissor kick with your legs.
- place your hands on your temples or cross them over your chest. Never clasp your hands behind your head: this creates tension in the cervical spine next to the skull.
- don’t hold your breath: exhale gently through your mouth as you lift and raise your chest, and breathe in to lower.
Daily habits to help tone your abs
-Breathe into your stomach. Abdominal breathing works your abs in exactly the same way as exercises. Do it anywhere (while you’re walking, waiting for the bus, in between meetings...). Standing up straight with your feet flat on the ground, your knees slightly flexed, your buttocks clenched and your shoulders back, lift your head and look straight in front of you. Breathe in slowly through your nose, filling your stomach, then breathe out through your mouth, pulling your stomach in without rounding your back.
- Pull your stomach in. Your abdominals help you hold your body straight and are used in all your movements! So if you’re reaching to grab something, first hold your stomach in and then move your legs to reach it. When getting up, pull your stomach in and then push hard with your legs to lift yourself up, without leaning forward.
- Hold yourself straight. To stop your abs from losing tone, always hold your shoulders back and keep yourself as straight as possible, with your eyes straight ahead. Good posture helps the toning process.
Sport to tone your abs
Any will do! Any form of exercise engages the stomach muscles and helps tone and maintain fab abs.