Building Firmer Abs

What you can do to achieve the American dream of a six-pack set of abdominal muscles.

You've been doing sit-ups and crunches for the past three decades, and they're just not doing the trick any more. So what can you do to get back your six-pack today? You're about to find out.

Lose the First Layer

You may have heard the notion that a killer set of abdominal muscles is hiding just out of sight, tucked away neatly behind a layer of fat on your stomach. In case you thought this was a quack idea dreamed up by people who wanted an excuse for their beer bellies, you may be surprised to find out this claim is true.

Before you can firm up your abs, you have to get rid of that first little layer of flab. Of course, you can do thousands of sit-ups and relish the knowledge that a fabulous six-pack rests beneath a protective shield of fat, but wouldn't you rather show off the abs you're working so hard to accomplish? To do this, you'll need to either reduce the calories you eat or burn off more calories each day. Regardless, a full-body workout is the only way to lose weight and begin to see your rock-hard abdominal muscles peak out.

Get on the Ball

To help your abs get the biggest impact without too much extra effort, try taking your workout on top of an exercise ball. As any exercise on a ball requires additional balance, you'll strengthen your core and your abs during any exercise.

In addition to sit-ups and other abdominal-specific exercises on the ball, do any other exercise activities you can think of using your exercise ball. To get a good work out when you're not working out, keep an exercise ball at your office desk. Every other hour, swap your regular desk chair for your exercise ball. Getting used to sitting on an oversized bouncy ball will take some time, but the effort will be well worth it, as your abdominals reap the tight, muscular rewards.

Keep Them Off Balance

Want those regular old abs to turn into washboards that could be used for cleaning clothes if needed? You're not going to get there if you only push your abs with one or two specific exercises. In order to drive your abs to their muscular limit, add plenty of variety into your abdominal routine.

Since you may not know many abdominal exercises beyond the traditional sit-ups and crunches, consult a personal trainer to learn what unique exercises you could perform to get maximum performance out of your abs. A few good exercises to help your abs shape up include a Pilates zip-up, canoe twist, and cat kick*. Sound fun? Then what are you waiting for? Stronger, better-looking abs await!

Odd Names, Great Results

Not sure whether you want to get involved in exercises with strange names, such as the canoe twist? Fortunately, you can learn the movements at home, so you don't have to ask the fitness pro at the gym about the cat kick. Here are three abdominal exercises that will give your midsection a solid, ripped appearance. And unlike the ab-enhancing work out you're use to, these all take place while you're planted firmly on your feet.

Pilates Zip-Up - To perform this exercise, stand straight with your heels touching, your toes turned outward just a bit. Raise your arms up beneath your chin, as if you are about to row a boat. Press your arms directly down, hands and arms remaining very close to your body, and breathe out. At the same time, raise yourself up until you're standing on your toes. Hold the position for a couple seconds and return to your starting position, repeating 20 times.

Canoe Twist - With your feet apart, interlace your fingers into a tight grip. Pretending you're standing in a canoe, swing your hands, arms, shoulders, and chest to the right in order to row your imaginary canoe. At the same time, raise your right knee up and toward the left. Inhale, go back to your starting position, exhale, and perform the rowing movement on the other side. Give each side 20 repetitions.

Cat Kick - When you want to perform this well-named exercise, put your feet together and extend your arms out on either side, as if trying to make a perfect "T" with your body. As you breathe out, lift your left leg up and forward, while rotating your arms forward (keeping them level with your shoulders) until you wind up in a cat-like position. If done right, you'll feel as if your belly button is nearly touching your spine. Slowly return to the starting position, swap sides, and perform 20 times on each side.


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