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Like the quest for the Holy Grail, many people are on a mission to improve their abs. What does it take to get there? These 9 simple exercises and lifestyle tips can start you in the right direction.
No. 1: Improve Your Posture
Slouch and your stomach pooches. So straighten up, and you've done your abs a favor without breaking a sweat! For better posture while standing, align your ears over your shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over knees, and knees over ankles. Keep the fronts of the shoulders open like a shirt on a hanger, instead of a shirt on a peg. Draw your navel to your spine and keep your weight even on the balls of your feet and your heels.
No. 2: Think Whole-Body Exercise
Don't get so into your abs that you overlook your other muscles. Your core muscles also include your glutes and back muscles, for instance. Pilates is one way to work all of the core muscles, plus the arms and legs, for a whole-body workout that does strengthens the abs -- and more.
No. 3: Try the Canoe Twist
Stand upright, feet apart. Interlace your fingers to create a solid grip. Exhale, and sweep the interlocked hands, arms, shoulders, and chest to the left, as if "rowing a canoe." Simultaneously lift the left knee up and to the right. Inhale and return to the starting position. Exhale and perform the movement to the right. Alternate for 20 repetitions.
No. 4: Do the Cat Kick
Stand with feet together, arms extended like airplane wings. Exhale, and lift the right leg forward and up. At the same time, sweep the arms forward at shoulder level and round your spine, like a cat. The navel should feel as though it's pressing toward the spine. Inhale, and open back up and return to the starting position. Repeat with the left leg, alternating for 20 repetitions.
No. 5: Practice the Pilates Zip Up
Stand upright with heels together, toes slightly turned out. Bring your arms up, hands joined underneath the chin. Exhale, press your arms down, keeping hands and arms very close to the body. Simultaneously, lift your heels off the ground onto your tiptoes. Hold for two seconds at the "top," inhale and return to the starting position. The abs go "in and up" and the arms go down. Perform 20 repetitions.
No. 6: Examine Your Diet
You can do ab exercises until the cows come home, but if you've got extra belly fat, your strong abs won't show. To budge the belly fat, you have to look at what you eat and how active you are. In other words, eat less and move more, and spend your calorie budget wisely.
No. 7: Props Are Optional
Stability and Bosu balls, straps and bands, and gym memberships can be wonderful, but they aren't necessary for stronger abs. Even in your everyday life -- while taking a walk, standing in line at the grocery store, or socializing at a cocktail party -- you can engage your abs by standing straight and exhaling to draw the navel to the spine.
No. 8: Set Realistic Goals
Your genes may play a role in your body's shape, but don't make that an excuse to give up and head for the cookie jar. Your goals should be realistic and focused on your body, not on some idealized image. Beyonce's abs may motivate you, but you shouldn't expect to mimic them.
No. 9: Take Things Slow
There are no fast fixes. Even the promised quick fixes end up being temporary. Plan on slow and steady progression, and prepare for setbacks and even frustration. Rewards come with time and consistency.
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