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The 5 Best Ab Exercises You Need in Your Life

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    Best Ab Exercises: Belly Breathing

    Wait, you can breathe your way to a tighter core? Yep. "The first, most basic move that many people neglect is effective breathing, which works your deep core muscles," says Heather Milton, MS, senior exercise physiologist at the NYU Langone Sports Performance Center. Your plan: Inhale so that air inflates your lower abdomen (your belly should expand). When you exhale, tighten your core, contracting your muscles all the way up from the pubic bone (think Kegels, ladies!), explains Milton.

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    Best Ab Exercises: Crunch

    In a study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise, researchers from the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse studied 15 different ab exercises and found that none of them activated the rectus abdominis (the muscle group that makes up six packs) and the external obliques as well as the traditional crunch. Now, that's assuming you're using proper form: Don't bend your back or curl your shoulders, says Stuart M. McGill, PhD, director of the Spine Biomechanics Laboratory at the University of Waterloo. If you do, you'll end up just crunching like you're hunched over a desk chair, which won't do much for your abs and can hurt your spine.

    If you've had back problems in the past, try this variation: Lie down, one knee bent, and position your hands beneath your lower back for support, says McGill. Gently lift your head and shoulders (only about an inch), hold for 10 seconds, and relax back down.

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    Best Ab Exercises: Plank

    Planks target your transverse abdominis (a large, flat muscle that wraps around the front and sides or your torso), and improve overall athletic performance—whether you're running, twisting, or jumping, says Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise. While strengthening any core muscle is going to result in some improvements in performance, your transverse abdominis is your innermost "ab" muscle and does the most to keep your core erect and transfer power between your lower and upper body. Once you master traditional planks, try different variations to throw off your balance and challenge your deep stabilizing muscles, Bryant says.

  • Best Ab Exercises: Side Plank

    You probably don't work your internal obliques (the muscles responsible for helping your torso twist and bend from side to side) much if you're trapped at a desk all day. That makes side planks all the more important, especially if you play sports like soccer, tennis, or basketball. "Your internal obliques are vital to performance, especially in sports that have you moving in more than a straight line," Bryant says. If side planks get easy for you (which will take awhile), consider upping the load placed on your internal obliques through simple variations, he says. Try lifting your top foot off of the ground or even placing your feet on a short box or step.

  • Best Ab Exercises: Bird Dog

    "There are more to abs than the ones you see in the mirror," Bryant says. This move targets the erector spinae and multifidi muscles, which wrap around the spine and hook into the back of your pelvis. Vital to the strength both of your overall spine and lower back in particular, they help improve your posture in daily life (the straighter you stand, the better you look) and in the gym (straight spines make better runners!).