Toning your stomach

Most of us would like to have a flat stomach. The good news is that exercises for toning your stomach and legs work naturally together. But do be aware, there are many 'magic solutions' that promise a washboard stomach or a six pack in six weeks: the truth is, you'll need to put consistent effort in over a long period of time to see results. The advantage of this is that you'll probably see an improvement in all-round fitness levels, as well. Don't forget - you can always use a home-made weight, such as a bag of sugar, instead of dumbbells.

Strengthening exercises

Abdominal curls

Why do we do these?

This is the classic exercise for strengthening the muscles around your stomach, the rectus abdominis. It's not the easiest exercise, but it can be one of the most effective. To make it harder, put your hands across your chest or beside your head - but NEVER put your hands behind your head and pull up. This can strain your neck.

  • Lie on the floor with your back and hips flat to the surface and your feet flat on the ground.
  • Hold the dumbbells in your hands with your palms facing inwards, arms almost straight so the dumbbells are directly above your shoulders.
  • Exhale and, keeping your arms almost straight, lower the dumbbells to the sides so they are level with your shoulders.
  • Pause briefly, then inhale and return to the starting position using the same movement.

Knee raises

Why do we do these?

This exercise targets the tops of the thighs and the stomach muscles - abdominals, hip extensors and hip flexors.

  • Hang from a chin up bar (some gyms may have equipment with arm pads specifically for this exercise) with your head facing forwards.
  • Hold your upper body still and smoothly bring your knees up towards your chest.
  • Pause and return to the start position, staying controlled throughout. Don't let your body swing back and forth or swing your legs to assist the movement.

Dorsal raises

Why do we do these?

This exercise primarily strengthens the muscles that run along your lower back (erector spinae) with other postural muscles, which help you balance. Try not to exhaust the muscles used in this exercise, it's easy to overdo it.

  • Lie flat on the floor with your hands touching either side of your head.
  • Slowly exhale as you simultaneously lift your feet and upper chest off the ground (keep your head aligned and don't pull it backwards).
  • Hold and pause before returning to the start position.

Side raises

Why do we do these?

This exercise focuses on the muscles around your stomach, the internal and external obliques. It also uses core muscles such as the abdominals, gluteals, erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, quadratus lumborum.

  • Lie on one side, with your uppermost arm lying along the top of your top leg, legs straight and hips pointing straight upwards (90 degrees to the ground).
  • Bend your arm and position the forearm of your lower arm on the floor beneath your shoulder/rib area.
  • Raise yourself up so your body is in a straight line with the top of your lower arm at 90 degrees to the ground and your hips are off the ground.
  • Keep your shoulders and hips pointing straight upwards, legs straight, and your head aligned.
  • Hold for a few seconds and then slowly return to the floor.
  • Repeat for both sides.

Twisted curls

Why do we do these?

This exercise strengthens the muscles around your stomach but also puts emphasis on the muscles to the sides - the rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques.

  • Lie with your back flat to the ground and your knees bent. Cross your legs to place your right ankle on your left knee.
  • Place your hands beside your head (not behind your head or neck).
  • Use your abdominal muscles to raise your upper back off the ground and twist so that your left elbow reaches up towards your right knee.
  • Pause and return to the start position. Maintain control throughout. Repeat an equal number of curls to each side.

Have you read about strengthening your legs? Find out more about toning and strengthening other areas of your body.

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