Practice proper posture
When you sit, stand, and walk with good posture, you’re engaging your ab muscles. WebMD.com says simply following mom's advice to sit up straight also improves lung capacity and makes you look leaner. Practice contracting your abs at your desk, or set a timer to remind you to sit up straight when the 3 p.m. slump hits.
A common yoga move, planks require you to engage all of your muscles to stay elevated off the floor; but your abs do the bulk of the work. As mensfitness.com says, "though you aren't moving or lifting weight, you have to constantly squeeze your abs to hold the position—most people can't last 30 seconds on their first attempt." For a killer plank-based workout try Brian Kest's Power Yoga series DVD. To kick it up a notch invest in Shaun T's Insanity which dishes out many different forms of the plank pose incorporating runs, jumps and push-ups done at a heart pumping speed. Want proof that planks work? Shaun T says he does not do crunches, but you’d never be able to guess by looking at his washboard abs
A push-up is essentially a higher-value plank, and like planks the old-standby exercise works nearly every muscle. Plus, if you do them fast, pushups become an aerobic workout as well. Women can start on their knees and still get killer results. Check out this video to make sure you are doing the movement right. Alternately, invest in P90X, a series of DVDs that will show you many different versions of pushups (and much more) to keep your body guessing.
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Lifting the legs naturally activates the core muscles. In this video from Self two types of leg lifts are demonstrated: standing bicycle and side winder. Kickboxing also uses all the core muscles to lift the legs for different kicks. Tae Bo Advanced DVDs are all essentially a series of ab workouts with a cardio pace, incorporating advanced leg lifts and different kicks to strengthen the core.
Lightly work the abs by bending in different ways. This Self video features two types of side bends with light weights: side reach and reverse wood chop. Add weights that challenge you. Again you will see many of these types of activities in the P90X series, especially the Core Synergistic video. Various types of yoga utilize side bends without weights, but don't expect them to be easy.
Legend has it that Bruce Lee could hold a V-sit for more than 30 minutes. To perform, balance on your butt and extend your legs and arms out so that your body creates a V. Give this Pilates move a try and you’ll feel how difficult it is. The V-sit activates the entire body and also requires a mental engagement that is truly exhausting. You might even wish for the “easy days” of crunches after attempting it. Variations on V-sits are leg climbs and leg extensions of varying difficulty.
Last word of advice
Perhaps all the crunches and ab work you’re doing is not showing off your abdominal muscles because of one thing that has nothing to do with exercise at all: fat. If you have a layer of fat on your abs you can do planks, push-ups, leg lifts, side bends, and 30-minute V-sits 'til the cows come home, and you will get strong—but you’ll never see a muscle. Follow a weight-loss plan if this is your concern. Not interested in being in show-shape? Don't despair, strengthening your abs will make you feel better, give you better posture, protect your back from wear and tear, and can actually lengthen your life.
Sources: WebMD.com, mensfitness.com, self.com, livestrong.com, womenshealthmag.com, mercola.com
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