TRADE CRUNCHES FOR PILATES.
To firm up the muscles beneath your love handles–known as the external obliques–try the Pilates “100s.” This exercise was found to challenge more overall muscle in one shot (specifically, the muscles spanning the waist) than traditional crunches, according to a new study by Michele Olson, Ph.D., at Auburn University in Montgomery, AL. To do the 100s, sit on a mat and make a V with your body (your butt forms the bottom of the V). Reach your hands past your knees, arms parallel to the floor. Pump your arms up and down 100 times, inhaling and exhaling every five counts.
GRAB A BALL.
Women who did their ab workouts with a stability ball beneath their glutes and lower back got bonus benefits, in a study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The women used both their abs and their back muscles, key for making you stand tall and look slender. If you’re not doing abs now, don’t start on the ball–this can damage your spinal disks, says abdominal-training expert Stuart McGill, Ph.D., author of Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance. Build strength and stability off of the ball first.
LET YOUR BACK COME OFF THE FLOOR.
When lying on your back with your knees bent, you should be able to get your fingers under the hollow of your lower back. Maintaining your back’s normal curve lets you work your abs without straining your spine, according to McGill. Instead of sucking your navel to the floor, “brace” your abs as if someone were about to punch you in the stomach. Keep that tension (and the arch) while doing ab work.