Oxygen Magazine: The Ultimate Ab Workout for Sexy Summer Abs
[as originally published on oxygen.com]
We all know abs are made in the kitchen — but they’re also perfected at the gym. Nutrition and fitness are the dynamic duo you’ll need to rock a midriff-baring tank or that itsy-bitsy bikini with confidence this summer. But there’s more to having a strong core than just for vanity’s sake.
“The core determines your posture, power, alignment, balance, control and circulation so that function is optimal,” says personal trainer Jessica Schatz, widely recognized as The Core Expert, who uses her own unique methodology rooted in Pilates and the tools gained from her professional dance career to help clients like fashion mogul Ashley Olsen, NBA star Wesley Matthews of the Dallas Mavericks and members of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. “If you think of your core muscles as a sturdy central link in a chain connecting your upper and lower body, you will understand that your arms and legs will function best if core muscles are strong and flexible. Physical motion ripples upward and downward to adjoining links of the chain. When you hit a tennis ball, mop the floor, pull open a file cabinet or make any other movement, the necessary motions either originate in your core or move through it.”
Her tips for sexy summer abs include the following:
Drinking sufficient water boosts your metabolism, cleanses your body of waste and acts as an appetite suppressant — all of which promote weight loss. It also regulates your body temperature and lubricates your joints. In this way, your body performs at its optimal level so you can exercise better, smarter and longer. Plus, you’ll digest food more efficiently, eliminating pain, cramping, dizziness and other dehydration symptoms.
Pro tip: Drink a full glass of water first thing in the morning. Have aluminum or glass bottles to rinse and refill every day so they are ready to go. Keep one in your car, your purse and your gym bag, and refill whenever possible. Always have a full glass of water right before every meal. You’ll eat less, you’ll feel more satiated from what you do eat and your food will metabolize better.
When it comes to exercise for abdominals, focus on full-body weight movements (think any plank variation) rather than doing thousands of crunches. These are more efficient, burn more fat and calories, and help you stabilize all parts of your body, joints and especially spine to function better through your workouts. That is why functional fitness such as Pilates is great — it is full-body movement starting at the core. So skip the singularly focused arm or shoulder day and instead do squats or lunges while shoulder raising or overhead pressing.
HIIT it and quit it (all that cardio).
Rather than an hour of straight cardio, do high-intensity interval training — a technique in which you exert maximum effort through quick, intense bursts of exercise followed by short recovery periods. This type of training gets and keeps your heart rate up and burns more fat and calories in less time — more effectively than after a lower impact steady-state exercise such as the elliptical machine or jogging. Ultimately, you work harder, not longer, which is a great timesaver.
Always remember your core.
Besides doing regular core and abdominal exercises (which may currently be part of your workout routine), pull your navel to your spine at all times — even when you’re not exercising. Do it when you’re brushing your teeth, when you’re driving your car, in line at the store — anytime.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to breathe along the way. Every time you finish an exhale, imagine someone pulling a corset tight around your midsection. This will work the abdominal wall while creating “muscle memory.” It also helps keep your spine and posture stable.
The Ultimate Ab Workout
To feel long and lean in no time, do the following moves twice through (or three times if you’re feeling frisky), four to five times per week, along with 15 to 20 minutes of high-intensity cardio. These exercises are designed to target your full body, resulting in a toned butt and thighs, sleeker arms and swimsuit-worthy abs.
1. The Hundred
Lying on your back, lift your legs 45 degrees off the mat and lengthen your arms. Lift your head, neck and shoulders off the floor and look toward your toes. Pump your arms vigorously up and down five times on an inhalation and five times on an exhalation, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Repeat 10 times for 100 pumps. Continuously draw your navel in deep, and squeeze your glutes and thighs.
2. Double-Leg Stretch
Pull your knees into your chest, and with your elbows wide, lift your head and neck off the floor. Extend your arms overhead in line with your neck, with your legs out 45 degrees stretching in opposition while your head and neck stay lifted. Circle your arms around and pull your knees back into your chest. Repeat 10 times. Inhale when extending out, exhale when bending in. Draw your navel in deep. Be careful not to tilt your pelvis or arch your back.
3. Kneeling Side Kick
Kneel in the middle of the mat with a long waist, and position your knees hip-distance apart. Put your right hand, palm down, on the mat to support your torso while extending your left leg out to the side in line with your hip. Your left hand is behind your head, your hip over your knee and your shoulder over your wrist. Inhale and swing your leg forward and pulse, then exhale and swing your leg backward and pulse. Repeat 10 times total, or five sets front and back. Keep your pelvis pressed forward, navel to the spine and stabilize your shoulders. Repeat on your second side. Keep your spine long and stable by not rounding or arching your back.
4. Leg Pull-Down With Push-Up
Come to a full push-up position with your hands under your shoulders and draw your navel in deep. Lift and extend your left leg to hip height or slightly higher, with pointed toes. Lift and lower your leg eight times and repeat with your right leg. Lift and extend your left leg again, bend your elbows, lower your chest a few inches from the ground with your elbows in, and then straighten your arms. Do five push-ups with your left leg lifted, then five with your right. Inhale to lower and exhale to lift.
5. Forearm Plank With Side Twist
Start on your forearms and toes in a plank position (your hands can be clasped or your palms flat) and hold for 20 seconds. Rotate to the lateral edge of your left foot with your legs stacked, keeping both forearms evenly pressed on the floor. Hold for 20 seconds. Rotate to the lateral edge of your right foot with your legs stacked, keeping both forearms evenly pressed on the floor. Hold for 20 seconds. Come back to a forearm plank on your toes. Hold for 30 seconds.