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You don't require a lot of fancy gear to get the abs you've always dreamed of. A simple scarf will provide all you need to sculpt a sexy, strong midsection, says Leisa Hart, creator of the Sexy Abs workout DVD. "It tones your abs in all the right places by adding resistance to even basic exercises."
Hart's workout fuses elements of yoga, ballet, and Pilates to target the deep (transverse abdominis) and the "six-pack" (rectus abdominis) abdominal muscles, as well as the obliques. You can use any long (about 3 feet) scarf, necktie, or towel folded lengthwise. Try these moves three times a week and you'll see a flatter, firmer middle in one month!
Target: Warms Up Core Muscles; Works Obliques
Target: Works Rectus Abdominis and Transverse Abdominis
Target: Works Obliques, Lower Back, Glutes, ThighsSide Crunch A
Target: Works Obliques and Rectus Abdominis
Target: Works Obliques, Rectus Abdominis, and Transverse Abdominis
Target: Works Rectus Abdominis and Transverse Abdominis; Stretches Hamstrings
It depends on your fitness level. Full horizontal-to-vertical sit-ups engage more of the abdominals, but they can cause back strain, making them more appropriate for advanced exercisers who already have a firm core. They also tighten the already overworked hip flexors, which can cause additional back pain. Crunches are a safer choice for most of us. "They provide plenty of ab-toning benefits while keeping the back supported," explains Peter Francis, PhD, a professor emeritus at San Diego State University who specializes in exercise biomechanics.
Sexy Abs with Leisa Hart
You'll get innovative ab-toning moves that you can do with a scarf as well as with a chair. (33 minutes; $14.95)
Crunch: Fat-Burning Ab Attack
Catherine Chiarelli uses standing and floor exercises to attack your abs from multiple directions while toning your legs and raising your heart rate. (30 minutes; $14.95)
Core Secrets: Upper Body Challenge
Celeb trainer Gunnar Peterson works your back, arms, and abs with the help of a stability ball and dumbbells. He places an emphasis on everyday moves to keep you strong and injury-free. (29 minutes; $19.95)
Tom Holland's Total Ab Workouts
This longer, nonstop workout from an exercise physiologist varies between cardio intervals and upper-body, lower-body, and core exercises to blast calories and sculpt more than just your abs. The basic choreography and fast pacing keep you motivated from start to finish. (43 minutes; $14.95)
All DVDs are available at collagevideo.com.
Late-night TV, home gyms, and health clubs are filled with gadgets meant to sculpt your abs in no time. Here's what gets our approval (or scorn).Thumbs Up: Stability Ball
"It's a great way to challenge your core and can be adapted for any fitness level," says Peter Francis, PhD, of San Diego State University. For beginners, keep your feet wide for support. As you get stronger, bring your feet closer together to challenge the obliques. Advanced exercisers can lift one foot off the floor.Thumbs Up: The "Captain's Chair"
This machine is the most effective ab-toning machine at the gym, according to research done by Francis. Lean against it with your forearms and upper body supported. Let your legs hang below you. Pull your knees toward your chest to challenge all of your abdominal muscles as you work against gravity.Thumbs Down: Wheel-Based Rollers
Wheel gadgets that have you rolling from kneeling to an extended position and back again are a big no-no, cautions Francis. "This type of movement is just not safe for your back, which is already prone to injury," he notes.
Originally published in Fitness magazine, February 2006.