How do some of America’s hottest trainers get their abs of steel? We went straight to the source and landed five core strengthening exercises from three amazing fitness experts. From Pilates to light weights to the barre, these moves will tone every inch of your core.
Ab expert: Tracey Mallett, master Pilates instructor and creator of several workout DVDs including her latest, F.I.T.
Core strengthening exercise: Pilates Ball Toss
How to: Lie on your back, holding a Pilates or balance ball with arms extended overhead and your legs extended in front of you. Exhale and draw your abs in toward your spine; then lift your legs up to the sky as you reach your upper body toward your feet. Place the ball in between your ankles and lower your legs and arms back down to the floor, keeping the ball between the ankles. Repeat the crunch, lifting your legs and upper body, this time taking the ball back into the hands. Lower back to the floor with control. That’s one rep. Do 10-15 reps.
Ab expert: Nichole Nichols, ACE-certified personal trainer and creator of SparkPeople: Total Body Sculpting DVD
Core strengthening exercise: The Plié Pull
How to: Begin in a wide stance plié squat with feet turned out, legs wider than hips, knees bent, back straight, your right hand on a chair or wall for balance, and one 3 to 5-pound dumbbell in your left hand, elbow bent toward waist and palm facing up in line with the shoulder (not pictured). Stay in your squat, and press the weight in an arc motion overhead while bending the spine toward the chair to “crunch” your right side (A). Pull the weight back down, bringing elbow toward your hip to “crunch” on the opposite side (B). That’s one rep. Do 20.
Ab expert: Nichole Nichols
Core strengthening exercise: Learning To Fly
How to: Grab one 3 to 5-pound dumbbell and sit at the very edge of a chair, lifting heels off the floor and squeezing legs tightly together (not pictured). Keeping your spine straight and abs engaged, slowly hinge from the hips to lean your upper back into the chair back (without rounding the spine). Hold weight in front of chest with both hands, elbows soft and arms slightly rounded (A). Take the weight in the right hand and “fly” the arms out to the sides, keeping elbows slightly bent and arms at chest level (B). Return both arms to center and pass weight to left arm to repeat on opposite side. Continue alternating sides for one full minute.
Ab expert: Leah Sarago, creator of the Ballet Body DVD series
Core strengthening exercise: Double Straight Leg Stretch
How to: Prepare by wrapping a yoga strap around a barre, leaving a long strand on each side. (If you do not have access to a bar, use a wall without the strap.) Lie on your back with hips 2 feet away from the wall and rest your feet on the barre or wall. Come into first position by rotating your legs outward from the hips so that your heels touch but your toes do not. Point your toes. Pull down on the strap and lift your upper body off the floor while keeping your arms extended out to the side. Slightly tuck the chin into the chest, draw the naval into the spine, and squeeze the inner thighs together. Do not let the abdominals pouch outward. Anchor your center to the mat and inhale (A). Exhale, and stretch the legs toward your center by drawing the naval down to create the abdominal scoop (B). (You know you are doing this correctly when you feel tension building across the waistline.) For more of a challenge, try this exercise without the strap by rounding the arms above your center (C).Repeat 3 sets of 16 reps.
Ab expert: Leah Sarago
Core strengthening exercise: Side Plank Passe Rotation
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How to: Begin in side plank, stacking your shoulder over your elbow and pressing the supporting forearm and fist firmly into the mat. Bring your top leg into a passé position by rotating the leg open so the knee cap faces the ceiling and the toe is pointed to the inside of the knee (A). Exhale, lift the hips off the floor, and draw the naval into the spine (B). Maintain the hold of the abdominals and rotate the knee in toward the chest while rounding the arm around the folded leg, performing a deeper abdominal contraction, and exhale. (C). Inhale, and rotate the knee back into the passé position (B), lower the hips to barely touch the floor, and contract the abdominals to lift back into side plank passé position on an exhale. Repeat this sequence for 8 reps on each side.