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Feb 12, 2013
A vital part of developing core stability is to strengthen the lower back. This simple exercise is amazingly effective for doing so. If you have any lower back pain, however, talk to your physician before doing this exercise, or any other move that targets the back.
Lie on your stomach on an exercise mat or carpeted surface. Rest your arms at your sides.
Gently contract your lower back muscles and lift your chest 3 to 5 inches off the floor. Don't strain; just raise your chest as much as you can. Hold for a moment, then slowly lower. Repeat the move for the suggested number of repetitions.
For a more challenging version of this exercise, place your hands under your chin or extend your arms straight out in front of you (like a superhero) to do the move. Keep your neck in the neutral position.
The Plank is another exercise that has scored high on the list of effective core exercises. With the proper technique, this basic core exercise develops your abdominals, stabilizes your spine, and strengthens your back.
Lie face down on an exercise mat or carpeted surface. Rest on your forearms with your palms flat on the floor. Keep your spine in the neutral position.
Push off the floor, so that your body is parallel to the floor, and raise up on your toes. Rest on your elbows. Keep your back flat and your body in neutral alignment from your head to your heels. Think of your body as a table being supported by two sets of "legs" (your arms and feet). Hold this position for as long as you can, up to 60 seconds. Repeat for the suggested number of repetitions.
While in the plank position, try taking one leg off the floor. This makes your abdominal muscles work harder to keep the body from tilting to the side of the unsupported leg.
Many of us have weak abdominals and lower backs-two muscle groups that are important when performing any type of daily activity. Crunches strengthen and tone these muscles.
Lie on your back on an exercise mat or carpeted surface with your feet planted firmly on the surface. Cross your arms over your chest.
Using the strength of your abdominal muscles, lift your upper torso off the floor toward your thighs. This movement should be very short. Don't attempt to actually touch your thighs, as this can overstress your lower back. Keep constant tension on your abdominal muscles throughout the exercise. With a controlled motion, return to the starting position, and repeat the exercise for the suggested number of repetitions.
There are two ways you can make this exercise more advanced. One is to use weights for extra firming action. Follow the instructions above, only hold a weight plate or light dumbbell in front of your chest for extra resistance as you perform the Crunch.
The other advanced exercise is to perform your Crunches on a stability ball. Using a ball forces your abdominals to work harder just to stabilize you atop the ball. Lie back on the stability ball so that it supports your lower back. Keep your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. As you do in the regular Crunch, cross your arms over your chest and slowly raise your shoulders to no more than a 45-degree angle from the horizontal. Hold, then lower slowly. Continue for the suggested number of repetitions. You can make this version even more challenging by moving your feet closer together.
This is an alternate version of the basic Crunch-one that will help you achieve a flat, toned stomach, as long as you stick with a healthy diet and regular aerobic exercise.
Lie on your back on an exercise mat or carpeted surface. Extend both legs straight up in the air so that they are perpendicular to the floor. Place your hands lightly behind your neck. Keep your core tight and engaged.
Slowly raise your head, shoulders, and upper back off the floor-no more than 3 to 5 inches. To protect your neck, be careful to not use your arms to pull your neck up. Hold for a moment, then return to the starting position. Repeat for the suggested number of repetitions.
An advanced version of this exercise uses a medicine ball. Lie face-up with your knees bent. Hold a medicine ball in both hands outstretched above your chest. Pull your abs up and in without jutting out your rib cage, keeping a neutral spine. Lift your head, neck, and shoulder blades off the floor, using the strength of your ab muscles. Hold for a moment at the top of the exercise. Then reverse the path, curling back down toward the floor.
This exercise is one of the best abdominal exercises science has to offer. The proof: A study conducted at the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University compared 13 different exercises that target the midsection, ranging from the Crunch to exercises that employed at-home and gym equipment. According to the findings, the top-ranked exercise was the Bicycle Maneuver, an exercise that has been around for a long time and is a staple of exercise classes everywhere. Compared to exercises like the Crunch (which is a great waist-firming move), the Bicycle Maneuver was 2½ times more effective at working the obliques, and at least 50 percent better at strengthening the rectus abdominus, the main ab muscle that runs the length of your torso.
Lie on your back on an exercise mat or carpeted surface. Keep your lower back pressed into the surface and flatten the arch of your lower back; place your fingers on the side of your head just behind your ears. Bend your knees so that your thighs are at about a 90-degree angle to the floor.
Simultaneously, lift your shoulders off the floor and bring your left knee to your right armpit, while straightening your right leg. Using a slow bicycle-pedaling motion, straighten your left leg, while bringing your right knee in toward your left armpit. Extend your legs out only as far as is comfortable for you, without arching your back. Continue alternating in this fashion for the suggested number of repetitions.
Unlike other muscles, you can work your abdominals every day. With the bicycle maneuver, try to work up to five or six sessions a week for a more advanced abdominal workout.