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Building the Perfect Abs

It’s important to understand that the rationale for abdominal training goes far beyond “looks.” The increased strength and recruitment of the abdominal muscles will carry over into better posture and more body control, both in daily life and in sporting movements. Working the muscles you can’t see — the ones deep inside your core areas — can be a difficult process, but target those areas and your whole body benefits. Not only will you look better, but you’ll also have more strength and suffer fewer injuries.

Here’s a great beginner routine for anyone who doesn’t focus on their abs regularly or who hasn’t exercised this area (or any area) of the body in awhile. Perform this routine at the end of your regular workout or as a stand-alone workout, 3-4 days a week. Start with six repetitions per exercise and build up to 15 reps each (except the plank – you can perform one set and increase your holding time, up to one minute). Complete the routine as a circuit, doing one set of each movement in succession and without resting. If that feels easy, try to perform the circuit a second time after a 90-second rest.

1. Single-Leg Abdominal Press: Lying on your back on a floor mat or a padded bench, touch your right palm to the right knee. Raise your right leg off the floor so your knee and hip are bent at 90-degree angles. Rest the right hand on top of your right knee. Push your hand forward while using your abdominal muscles to pull your knee toward your hand. Hold for three deep breaths and return to the start position.
  Repeat this exercise using your left hand and left knee. Keep your arm straight and avoid bending more than 90 degrees at your hip.
2. Opposite Hand on Opposite Knee: Push your right hand against your left knee while pulling your knee toward your hand. You’ll be pushing and pulling across the center of your body. Repeat this exercise using your other hand and leg. Hold for three deep breaths and return to the start position.
3. Hand on Outside of Knee: Raise your left leg off the floor so your knee and hip are bent at 90-degree angles. Place your left hand along the outside of your left knee. Use your hand to push your leg inward. At the same time, create resistance by pushing your knee away from the center. Keep the back flat. Repeat using your other hand and leg.
4. Opposite Hands on Opposite Knees: Place each hand on the opposite knee, toward the inside of each knee. Your arms will cross over each other. Push your hands against your knees and create resistance by pulling your knees in toward your hands. Hold and repeat.
5. Hands on Outside of Knees (right hand/right knee): Use your hands to push your legs in toward the center of your body. At the same time, create resistance by pushing your knees out. Hold and repeat.
6. Plank: Lie on your stomach. Raise yourself up so you’re resting on your forearms and your knees. Keep your head and back in line and imagine your back as a tabletop. Align your shoulders directly above your elbows. Squeeze your core muscles. Create resistance by pressing your elbows and your knees toward one another. Neither should move from their positions on the floor. Hold for three deep breaths, then return to the start position and repeat.

Talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program if you have an existing health condition that limits movement, or if you haven’t really exercised before (or if it’s been a long time). You want to make sure you’re doing these exercises correctly, so ask your doctor to explain the precise movement if you’re not absolutely sure. Then get started on your perfect abs one repetition at a time!

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