When it comes to ab exercises, is the crunch queen? The bicycle BMOC? The sit-up sans equal? With so many ab options vying for your precious time and energy, you want to choose the ones that will give you the biggest bang for your workout buck. We asked Dr. Michele Olson, professor of exercise science at Auburn University in Montgomery, Ala., to reveal which waist-whittling picks put the rest to shame. (To turn them into a killer ab routine, start with 1 set of each, then build up to 2 or 3 sets, three times a week.)
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1. Prone Roll-Out on Ball
Why it’s so great: This multi-tasking ab exercise hits your ab muscles from top to bottom, back to front, and side to side. “All of your abdominals are engaged fully throughout the move,” says Olson. “Plus, it gets your back muscles in on the action to keep your spine supported.”
How to do it: Kneel with an inflatable exercise ball about 12 inches in front of your knees; place hands (palms together) on the ball (A). Brace your ab muscles and gently press into the ball; roll it away from you until your forearms are fully on the ball (B). Hold for 1 slow count, then press arms back into the ball as you roll back to starting position. Do 8-10 reps.
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2. Dying Bug
Why it’s so great: Not only does this ab exercise involve nearly every ab muscle, but it especially engages the deep, stabilizing muscles that can be so hard to target. “It’s also great because no crunching is required, so it’s easier on your spine,” Olson says.
How to do it: Lie on your back with arms and legs lifted straight up into the air from your shoulder and hip joints; tuck your chin and lift your head off the floor (A). Brace your ab muscles and allow your low spine to lengthen into the floor as you lower your left leg and bring your right arm back to the floor by your ear (B). Return to previous position and repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep; do 10 reps.
3. Pilates Roll-Up
Why it’s so great: Looking to target those six-pack muscles (the transverse abdominus) in a way they can’t ignore? That’s precisely what this move does. What’s more, it works your side ab muscles (aka obliques) without any twisting, and “the slow, controlled rolling and peeling up action your back is doing elongates your spine, giving it a nice lengthening, posture-boosting stretch,” says Olson.
How to do it: Lie on your back with legs extended and arms lifted straight up from the shoulders (A). Inhale, keeping abs as flat as possible. Roll your chin downward and begin to exhale as you slowly peel your back off the floor, keeping ribs down and chest wide as you reach out toward your toes (B). Inhale and roll slowly back down to return to previous position. Do 8-10 reps.
Want more Michele? Visit www.micheleolsonphd.com.