Lie face-up and place your lower legs on a Swiss ball. Extend your right arm overhead and bend your left arm at a 90-degree angle; then grasp the upper portion of your right arm so you form a cradle for your head. Flexing your toes and holding the ball in place by contracting your hamstrings, crunch forward to the finish position. In this position, increase the tension on your abs by attempting to pull the ball towards you with your hamstrings. Return to the start and exhale. Your rectus abdominus can flex only about 30 degrees (strictly), so when you perform this exercise it may not be necessary to lift your shoulders off the floor to achieve peak contraction. You can make the exercise more difficult by pulling harder with your hamstrings, maintaining peak contraction longer and by holding a weight in your free hand.
And, since the muscle is designed to bring your lower ribs and pelvis closer together or farther apart, you need to work them that way—with crunches and reverse crunches, Cary says. In fact, research commissioned by the American Council on Exercise shows that the crunch works the rectus abdominis better than other common abs exercises including the plank, sit-up, and boat pose.
“I alternate between all-out effort sprints (30 to 60 seconds) and walk/jog as a recovery until I feel fatigued. Intensity is key. Abs work as stabilizing muscles during a sprint, so the harder I push myself the harder my abs will work! Plus, there’s no equipment required, and I get a high calorie burn and full-body workout done in very little time. (I tell myself I can do anything for 30 seconds.) Depending on how I feel, I’ll either add this to the end of a routine or make it my entire workout, two to three times a week.” —Suzanne Cover, @suzannecover
Demoing the moves below are Crystal Williams, a group fitness instructor and trainer who teaches at residential and commercial gyms across New York City; Amanda Wheeler, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and co-founder of Formation Strength, an online women’s training group that serves the LGBTQ community and allies; Cookie Janee, a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve; and Rachel Denis, a powerlifter who competes with USA Powerlifting and holds multiple New York state powerlifting records.
"But after having children and maturing, my body image has changed. I don’t run or eat to look a certain way, but instead to feel a certain way—happy. I no longer count calories or restrict what I eat. I focus on real food that’s minimally processed, and most meals include some sort of carbs (I really love potatoes), protein, and lots of veggies. All of that, coupled with higher mileage during more intense marathon training, has led me to how I look today. When I’m not in the middle of marathon training, I’m often five to 10 pounds heavier—and that’s totally okay.” —Michele Gonzalez, @nycrunningmama
Aerobic exercise is one of the safest ways to burn lots of calories over a long period of time while you maintain heart health and tone muscles. Simply modifying your diet or reducing your calories without exercise will lead to initial weight loss, but you'll likely reach a plateau and you may also lose muscle. A personal exercise plan that has a solid base of cardiovascular exercise will help you maintain exercise for the long-term, help you get past weight loss plateaus and can help you maintain your muscle mass. So get out for a nice long walk, a hike, a bike ride or a swim on a regular basis. Park the car and walk for most of your errands and just get moving more often.
How to: Lie on your left side with your legs straight and your right leg stacked on your left. Position yourself so your weight is resting on your left forearm and the outside edge of your left foot. Your elbow should be directly beneath your shoulder, and your upper arm should be perpendicular to the floor. Align your body so it forms a straight line from your neck to your ankles, and place your right hand on your hip. Lower your hips toward the ground a couple inches, then come back up to start. That’s one rep. Do 15 reps on each side.
To do it: Start seated, then lean back, resting your weight on your forearms (bending your elbows behind your body, fingers facing forward). Extend both legs straight out in front of you. Bend your right knee into a ‘passé position’ by pointing your right foot and pressing the inside edge of your right foot along the inside of your left knee. Draw your abs in tight and lift your legs off the mat and towards the chest (maintaining passé position). Bring your right knee all the way up to the right side of your chest and then lower your legs (still in passé) back down, about two inches from the floor (or as low as you can). Repeat 8 times and then switch legs. Try to do 8 reps on each side, for up to 2 sets.
"My goals six years ago was to 'get abs' and I used to think cardio and crunches would get me there. But it wasn’t until I started lifting weights and varying my abdominal exercises that I started to see a major change. You don’t realize how much you use your core muscles in order to perform powerful rapid movements like deadlifts!" — Shante Franca, @shantefranca