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Top 10 Firm Belly Tips (of All Time!)

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Get the tight abs you've always wanted. Our expert fitness editor shares her favorite advice.

What Works Best for My Abs

I love my butt -- and my tummy's not too shabby either. I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out. I'm 42, I had a baby this year, and my lower half is basically cellulite free. No, it's not just good genes: I've been a fitness editor and exercise physiologist for 17 years, and I just wrote my 34th get-a-better-butt story. I've also written 29 features on getting fab abs. I've gotten some great advice, and I took it to heart; now I want to share it with you. Here are my favorite strategies, culled from interviews with top trainers, instructors, and sports-medicine doctors.

1. Choose Variety Over Reps

I try to mix up my ab-toning moves each workout, and I change my routine every three to four weeks. "Alternating your workout is more important than cranking out 100 crunches every day," says Michele Olson, PhD, professor of exercise science at Auburn University Montgomery. "Perform 15 to 20 reps of each exercise, then move on."

2. Forget the "Upper Vs. Lower Abs" Idea

It's all one sheath of muscle: the rectus abdominus. "If you feel the upper abs working, it doesn't mean the lower abs aren't engaged," says Alycea Ungaro, owner of Real Pilates in New York City and author of The Pilates Promise. Where you feel it depends on the move's anchor point. For example, leg lifts engage more of the lower section since your upper body is against the floor. To truly tone, try a mix of ab-sculpting moves that vary positions.

3. Engage Your Pelvic Floor

To target your abs more effectively, strengthen your pelvic-floor muscles. "These muscles assist your deepest abs in doing exercises correctly," says Olson. Actively engage them by gently pulling your belly button toward your back. Place one hand on your abdomen; if you feel your stomach pushing out while you do sit-ups, you're pushing the pelvis down rather than pulling muscles up and in, cheating your abs of the full workout. Keep muscles contracted when working abs. Strong pelvic-floor muscles also help tone your abs post-pregnancy (it helped me after my son was born).

4. Work Your Abs, Not Your Neck

I can do 50 crunches without my abs aching, but if my neck starts killing me after 10, I'm done. I often pretend I have an orange tucked under my chin to release the tension. Or I press my fingertips into the base of my neck and give myself a nice neck massage while curling up. Another strategy: To stop neck muscles from tensing, place your tongue firmly on the roof of your mouth as you crunch.

5. Fight Flab with Cardio

One thing I've learned for sure: All the exercises in the world mean nothing if there's a layer of fat over my abs. So I do about 45 minutes of calorie-blasting cardio, three to five times a week. "You need to burn body fat through regular aerobic exercise to see strong abs," says Olson.

6. Make Abs Your Transition Workout

On those rare occasions when I have time to do strength training and cardio in one workout, I sandwich 10 minutes of ab work in between. After I cool down from cardio, I hit the mat for stretches, reverse curls, and crunches. This is a great way to shift my focus from cardio to strength training; it helps me zero in on my abs and core strength as I lift.

7. Know When to Rest

I can tell I've worked my abs well when they're sore the next day. Like other muscles, the abs respond best to intense training every two days. Work them too hard, too often, and you'll see minimal progress, says Holland.

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sbot wrote:

ive been working my abs and legs everyday since last xmas and my body feels sort of firm and its slightly toned but im sure by now my body should be completely toned and firm-is it not that way because i strain myself practically everyday?

6/24/2010 04:26:43 PM Report Abuse
donna.p2 wrote:

fab - fabulous or flat all mean the same, great abs

6/3/2010 01:52:45 PM Report Abuse
Trish475 wrote:

I just had to comment on the following line "I've been a fitness editor and exercise physiologist for 17 years, and I just wrote my 34th get-a-better-butt story. I've also written 29 features on getting fab abs." The second last word here is the "fab" short for fabulous or is it a typo for "flat" - I couldn't really figure this out?

6/2/2010 05:38:29 PM Report Abuse
anonymous wrote:

Try keeping your abs muscles tight all day, even when you're not exercising. Sit up straight, walk straight, talk, everything while contracting your abs. I also do stretching exercises, these really help!

6/2/2010 10:46:01 AM Report Abuse
lburnette3 wrote:

I get terrible muscle spasms after exercising my abs. I don't do that many when I can feel the turning beginning. What am I doing wrong?

6/1/2010 11:08:36 AM Report Abuse

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