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There is no secret or special trick to getting a toned tummy. Rather, ab toning is achieved through the combination of a healthy diet, regular whole-body exercise, and targeted strength training. For some people, particularly those who tend to carry excess weight at their waists, it can be difficult to get a flat belly even with good nutrition and exercise. However, most people will notice a difference from practicing them diligently.
Diet and exercise are key to ab toning because the abdominal muscles are often hidden by a layer of fat. This means that even if a person has very strong abs, they may effectively be invisible. Eating a balanced diet can result in weight loss, revealing the muscles that lie beneath the fat. At the same time, regular exercise boosts the metabolism, allowing more calories to be burned throughout the day, even when the body is at rest. Without these elements in place, targeted ab toning strength workouts are unlikely to yield noticeable results.
With diet and exercise under control, targeted ab toning exercises can be effective ways to shape and sculpt the stomach and waist. A mix of ab exercises, some targeting the lower abs, some for the upper abs, and some that help isolate the obliques may bring faster results. Fitness experts advise to make sure the exercises use the stomach muscles and not those in the back, shoulders or neck to avoid muscle strain or injury.
To tone lower abs, exercises in which the upper body stays still and only the legs and hips move may work best. For example, one can lie face up on the floor, holding the legs together, and slowly raise them until the soles of the feet face the ceiling. Then, slowly lower the legs until they almost reach the floor. To prevent back injury, it is important to keep the lower back pressed into the floor throughout this exercise.
Most variations on the traditional crunch can help tone the upper abs. To perform a traditional crunch, start by lying face up on the floor, legs straight out and hands behind the head. While contracting the ab muscles, lift the head and bend the knees, pulling the two together above the abs. Then, return to the starting position. To get the greatest benefit from these exercises, it may be best to do them very slowly, or hold for a count of five at the point where the abs are contracted the tightest before releasing. Experts advise not to use the arms for leverage or to yank on the head and neck when crunching up. A smooth, controlled motion usually is the most effective, and also the safest.
Twists and side bends can be effective at targeting the obliques. A simple but effective oblique exercise starts by lying on the floor face up, with the knees bent. Cross the right ankle over the left knee. Keeping the right shoulder on the floor, lift the left shoulder diagonally toward the right knee, then lower. Repeat in the opposite configuration to work both sides of the body. As with other ab toning exercises, fitness experts warn against making sudden, jerky motions, as these can wrench the spine and back muscles.
Before beginning a diet or a new exercise regimen, it is often wise to consult a physician. He or she can assess a person's fitness, activity level, and overall health, and make professional recommendations about how much and what kinds of exercise are appropriate, how many calories are required to achieve or maintain one's ideal body weight, and what type of diet will be safe and effective. For those looking to strengthen and tone their abs, it is especially important to mention any back problems to a doctor before starting an ab routine. The abs and back are opposing muscle groups, and working one can strain or imbalance the other.