Tighten your tummy

Exercises to firm up your ab muscles

Man doing crunch with the trainer

Strong abdominal muscles signify a strong spine, better balance and stability. Your posture, power and agility depend on the muscles of the torso. If these muscles become poorly conditioned and weak, your shoulder joints, pelvis and back become easily susceptible to injuries. Poor lifestyle, and a lack of exercise and proper rest are common reasons for early back pains and flabby abs.

Most people often focus solely on the outer muscles or the visible six pack abs while the smaller and important muscles like the obliques are often ignored. Toned and strong abs help control back pain which could arise due to bad posture, ageing and poor conditioning of the core muscles. It also makes you look taller and trimmer.

Get your basics right:

  1. Make sensible food choices while eating out. Keep a check on portion size and remember salads in restaurants are often just an illusion of being healthy as they are topped with high fat dressings, cheese, cream and excess salt.
  2. Eat with awareness. Incorporate three to four portions of veggies and fruits per day. Ensure that your daily diet consists of whole grains, millets, pulses, veggies and fruits with lots of raw foods like salads and sprouts.
  3. Avoid using excess oil in cooking or deep frying foods often. Instead use nuts, seeds and cold pressed oils as these have many health benefits and can help enhance immunity.
  4. Avoid organ meats as they are high in saturated fats. Opt for lean, white meat or fish.
  5. Hydrate adequately with a minimum of 8 – 10 glasses a day.
  6. Begin your day with warm water, green tea and fruits. Fruits are ideal for the digestive system. Minimise salt intake and avoid all processed and preserved foods.
  7. Replace high fat dressings for salads with low fat, olive oil or lemon drizzles and use almonds, flax seed, peanut, sesame, garlic, pepper, hummus or low fat yoghurt. These are healthier and more delicious than high fat dressings.
  8. The best cooking methods are stewing, steaming, roasting, stir frying and boiling. Excess heat destroys vitamins so avoid deep frying.
  9. Reduce your intake of margarine and foods made from trans fats like chips, fried snacks, cookies or foods that contain butter, cheese or cream. For healthy fats include almonds, peanuts, cashews or avocados.
  10. Ensure that you get adequate sleep. Lack of sleep can cause mood swings, obesity, low immunity, fatigue and a drop in productivity.

A healthy mind means a healthy body that contributes towards heightened immunity, better creativity and grace.

Here are a some simple and effective exercises to help strengthen your abs

Ab crunchAb crunches: Lie on a mat and keep feet flat on the floor with knees bent. Interlock your hands behind your head. Raise your head and chest towards the thighs using controlled movements. Begin with 12 – 15 reps and build up to 20 reps. Reps are the number of times you repeat a movement.

Oblique crunchesOblique crunches: Start in the ab crunch position, with the feet lifted and ankles crossed. Interlace your fingers behind your head. In a controlled manner, exhale and as you come up, twist and draw your left elbow towards your knees. Release and alternate the side. Repeat for two sets with 12 reps each time.

Lower ab crunchLower ab crunch: Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Contract your lower abdominal muscles, and keep the hands out stretched. Lift your hands and shoulders toward the knees. Repeat this movement for 15 reps.

The bridge poseThe bridge pose: Lie on your back. Bend your knees and draw the heels towards the buttocks. Keep the feet flat on the floor. Slowly raise the hips up, arching the lower spine and lift the navel portion towards the sky. Inhale as you lift up and exhale as you lower your torso. Repeat 5 – 6 times.

Lying down cyclingLying down cycling: Lie with back to the floor, hands parallel to the body. Gradually raise both legs, bend your knees and begin to cycle by bringing your knees to the chest alternately like pedalling a bicycle. Keep stomach muscles tight. Do 25 – 30 counts of two sets.

Plank posePlank pose: Lie with your face down and palms on the floor. The body weight supported on the hands and toes. Hold for 10 counts. Release, rest on your belly and repeat for 8 – 10 reps.

Side bendsSide bends: Stand with feet slightly apart and link your hands on the head. Bend to the right side as far as possible and hold to the count of 15. Return to vertical position and do 3 reps and repeat on the other side. For additional resistance, hold dumbbells in your hands and repeat the same movement.

This was first published in the October 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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