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Women’s problem areas:The tummy

This is the third and most interesting chapter of our healthy guide handling ladies’ problematic areas. We talked about the upper body, toning muscles without bulking up and losing femininity, with a 20 minute workout. We followed with an article about the lower body and hips, with another workout. Now, with the following workout for the torso and middle area, we have a full hour of exercises to achieve the body you dream of.

But first, remember not to do tummy exercises if you recently had a baby, are pregnant or think you could be. Talk to your doctor before beginning. We will soon provide a full article on fitness during pregnancy, so stay tuned.

The most amazing, toned tummies in town are not built simply by crunches alone. Cardiovascular exercises are the secret ingredient that must be added to an ab workout for best results. A lot of cardio will help burn fat from your tummy area before starting crunches. Remember, abs actually hide under bellies, we must also be running, jogging, aerobics or cycling.

Here is a tip: Start your workout with a five minute treadmill run, then do the abs workout before going back to the treadmill for half an hour. If you do the full cardio program first you may be too tired to work your abs.

The most effective ab exercises start with the bicycle, targeting the rectus abdominis (i.e., the 'six pack'). Notice, however, that this exercise puts a lot pressure on your back, so if you have any back problems, it is not advisable.

Lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground. Put your hands beside your head. Bring knees up to about 45 degree angle and slowly go through a bicycle pedal motion. Touch your left elbow to your right knee, then your right elbow to your left knee. Keep breathing even and relaxed throughout. Continue alternating sides for 1-3 sets of 12-16 repetitions.

The exercise ball is excellent for strengthening abs. What makes it more effective than floor crunches is that leg muscles are often involved when in floor crunches, while on the ball the abs do more work.

Lie on the ball, positioning it under the lower back. Place hands behind your head to support it. Contract your abs to lift your torso off the ball, pulling the bottom of your ribcage down toward your hips. As you curl up, keep the ball stable (it shouldn't roll). Lower yourself again, feeling your abs stretch, and do 1-3 sets of 12-16 reps. You need a lot of balance, but this exercise is extremely helpful and actually lots of fun.

The reverse crunch, with a focus on the rectus abdominis, can be felt in the lower part of your abs, although the entire muscle is working.

Lie on the floor and place hands on the floor or behind the head. Bring the knees in towards the chest until they're bent 90 degrees, with feet together or crossed. Contract the abs to curl the hips off the floor, reaching legs up towards the ceiling. Lower and repeat for 1-3 sets of 12-16 reps. It's a very small movement, so try to use your abs to lift your hips rather than swinging your legs to create momentum.

If you remember nothing else, remember that a flat stomach comes with total body fitness, not just stomach crunches.

Finally, here is a quick guide to follow to help this three part body workout keep fat away from your body:

1. Walk/jog for at least 30 minutes three times per week to boost your metabolism.

2. Eat a small handful of almonds (at least six) every morning. Almonds are one of the healthiest snacks and the protein is good for burning fat. Don’t overdo it, though–a handful is more than enough.

3. Pilates is a great workout two or three times per week. It tones your entire body, concentrating on the powerhouse (middle section), and it improves flexibility.  

4. Perform proper crunches at least three times per week. Avoid sit-ups because they really do very little to firm your stomach, affecting hip flexors more than anything else.

5. Drink plenty of water–six to eight glasses per day. Not only will this help fill you up so you eat less, it will aid digestion.

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