At some point in all our lives, we have looked down at our tummies and said, “I should work on my abs.” You can be young, middle-aged, pregnant, injured — whatever your situation, you can always benefit from exercises that strengthen your stomach muscles. And if you do them properly, you can improve your stomach strength from just one session. Of course it’s pretty idiotic to do them once a month or so and keep hurting a day or two after because there’s no consistency to your routine, but at least you know that every single bit of work you do for your abs always works. Now the big question is: Will doing lots of abdominal exercises flatten a bulging stomach? The answer, quite simply, is no. If you grab hold of what it is you want to get rid off, it’s likely that it’s a lot of fat that happens to be spread over your ab muscles. And by now we all know that the best way to get rid of fat is to do cardiovascular exercises — walking, jogging, running, rowing, climbing, dancing, etc. There are tons to choose from and you can mix and match to your heart’s content. Which brings about a new question: What if I do lots of cardio but no stomach exercises — will my stomach flatten? The answer isn’t quite as simple. If you do your cardio program properly and consistently, and you also are careful about what you eat — then yes, your stomach will continue to decrease in size. However, if you include stomach exercises in your program of better eating and more exercise, you will not just get a smaller stomach — you’ll also have more toned, tighter abs and a firm waist. And because your core or center is stronger, the rest of your body will be more capable and less prone to injury. The best exercise I can recommend for a simple, quick, and extremely effective stomach strengthening program is the Plank. For this you won’t need to know sets or repetitions. You stay as long as you can in the pose and if that means a second or two to begin with, that’s perfectly acceptable. You’ll know you’re improving because it will get easier to stay in the position. There are ways to make this exercise easier and ways to make it more challenging, but for now we’ll focus on the most basic version.
We call the Plank a pose not because it’s a Yoga asana but because it’s a position to be held, not a series of movements like Crunches or Pushups. It’s not only an excellent pose for working the stomach muscles, it’s also works on strengthening the Chest, Shoulders, upper arms, back, and legs.
1. Get in position as if you’re about to do a Pushup. There are a couple of ways to do this with ease:
a. Kneel down with both knees and put your hands on the ground in front of you. Coming off your knees, bring your shoulders in position over your wrists and straighten your legs out behind you one at a time.
b. From a standing position, bend over and put both hands on the floor. Your knees can both be very bent to make sure you can put weight on your hands and arms. Step back, one leg at a time until your legs are extended behind you.
2. Hold the pose for as long as you can. Instead of holding your breath, allow yourself to take full, relaxed breaths so that your body is comfortable rather than stressed. If you can, stay in the pose for 30 seconds to a minute or more but build up to this over time.
Things to be aware of:
• There’s no need to lock your elbows. In fact, if you bend them slightly the strength of your upper arms will help you hold the pose more easily and for a longer time.
• Make sure that your entire body is straight from the head and shoulders all the way down to the heels. Your butt should absolutely not be sticking out.
• Bring your shoulders down away from your ears. If you hunch up, your neck will be uncomfortable. Look down at the floor in front of you, not directly underneath — you know you’re in the correct position when the spine is in neutral rather than flexed or extended.
• If you get tired, very smoothly lower one knee or both to the ground so you have instant support. This is much safer than trying to get out of the position by coming up to standing or lowering your body to the ground. This can be done when you’re much stronger and are used to the exercise, but in the beginning, there’s a tendency to allow your low