Abdominals & Obliques.
These stomach muscles are the core of your muscular body and support you almost every time you move. Strengthening them will improve your posture and solve or prevent spinal problems. Since large stomach muscles can be mistaken for a fat belly, the abs are usually trained for endurance and definition. The obliques are torso muscles to either side of the abdominals, and can be easily and effectively worked with modified ab exercises. For more movements from the Element Training program, click on the figure at left.
Ab exercises will build strong muscles underneath any fat, but only a good diet and exercise will burn off that fat to show the muscle. There's no such thing as targeted fat burning, and any calorie-burning exercise will do. However, ab exercises will improve posture, and they may pull in your belly if your abs were weak enough to be pulled out by it. Both of these things may reduce the appearance of stomach fat and thus improve your physique.
Exercises for Strength
Lay flat on your back with your knees up, and bring your collarbone towards your knees. Keep your feet on the floor and lift your middle abdomen, but don't sit up fully straight unless you want a sit-up. For more intensity, pause in the top position rather than the bottom.
To vary the difficulty of the crunches, either extend your arms along your sides, cross them on your chest, clasp your elbows above your head, or extend your arms above your head. To focus more on the obliques, aim one elbow towards the opposite thigh as your body rises.
Crunches from Leg Lifts
Start with a Leg Lift, which is a great ab exercise in itself. From the top position, reach your arms towards your toes as you perform a crunch. Alternatively, push your hips straight up from the top position for an effective reverse crunch, and raise your head an inch or two off the floor to bring your upper abs into it as well.
Crunches in Bound Angle
To remove your hip flexors from the crunch motion, lay down with the soles of your feet together and your knees apart, then sit up into Bound Angle Pose and lower back down.
Rainbow Leg Lifts
From the top of a Leg Lift, lower your straight legs directly to one side, then work hard to bring them back up.
Fasten a small plate to the center of a dumbell bar. Kneel, grab both ends of the bar, and roll the weight away from you on the floor. Stop when your arms are extended and your body is straight at the hip, and then use your strength to roll the weight back towards you. For a really intense challenge, try this with your knees off the floor.
Stretches for Flexibility
Standing Sky Stretch
This is a great opener for any flexibility routine. Stand up straight and reach up for the ceiling. Get taller, stand straighter, and reach higher. A little Balance Training goes well here, and the strech can also be done on the floor.
Also a good opener, but more difficult. Kneel and straighten your body to a knee-standing position. Place your palms on the back of your waist, thumbs down. Now slowly lean back and feel the stretch in your hips, abs, and chest... if possible, reach your hands back and take hold of your heels for an excellent front shoulder stretch.
A wonderful and challenging stretch for your whole front side, and great exercise for your back. Lay on your back and bring your feet up against your bottom. Lift your elbows and tuck your hands under your shoulders, fingers pointing towards your feet. Lift your shoulders and hips and place the crown of your head on the floor. Finally, push up with your arms into the full wheel. Be aware of your knees while lifting and lowering, keeping them above your toes or farther back.
Cobra Pose and Variations
This sequence will stretch the abs, hips and lower back.
1) Lay on your stomach and place your palms under your shoulders. Keeping your hips on the floor, gently push your shoulders up and forward, ending up with a curve of your body that will stretch out your whole front side. Avoid tilting your head back. To avoid straining your lower back, keep some tension in your glutes and lower abs, and spread the curve evenly along the length of the spine. A less intense modification keeps the elbows instead of the palms on the floor.
2) Turn your shoulders to either side to aim the stretch at your obliques.
3) Point one knee out sideways and up, stretching out the opposite front hip. From here you can also raise your hips and sit back on the bent leg's heel, into a more upright position that will stretch the straight leg's inner thigh; or proceed to step 4.
4) Roll the stretch over to the side of the hip and waist, allowing the inactive knee to point more sideways for balance as in a Lateral Cobra Pose.
5) Keeping the inactive leg bent at the knee, bring it back to rest the knee on top of the stretching leg's knee. Now reach the stretching side's hand toward the stretching leg's foot, bending the straight leg slightly, for an excellent lower back stretch.
Cat & Dog Tilts
A good mobility builder for the spine. Begin on your hands and knees, wrists directly under shoulders and knees under hips. Exhale as you contract your abs and round your back into cat tilt, creating a nice curve in your spine. Now inhale as you curve your spine the other way, raising your head and buttocks and entering dog tilt. You can also bring one knee to your chest as you exhale, and extend that leg behind you and up as you inhale.
Standing Wheel Pose
Stand under a doorway or a chin-up bar if available. Grasp the top of the doorway and push your chest forward as you move back your hips, thus stretching out your abs. Bend your knees a bit if it helps, focus on extending rather than bending, and be mindful of your lower back.
Half Moon Pose
Beginning with a Standing Sky Stretch, lower one palm to your hip and bring it progressively farther down as you raise the other one. You should feel a good stretch in your side. This can also be done lying down.
Static Holds for Endurance
Stomach-laying. Place your elbows on the floor directly under your shoulders. and interlace your fingers together on the floor in front. Now lift your hips and form a straight line from head-shoulders-hips-feet, leaving only your forearms and toes on the floor. Keep your shoulders strong and hold for as long as possible. For more intensity, lift your elbows up and move your hands forward on the floor. Combine the Plank with the Locust Pose for a simple and effective core body workout.
To bring your quadriceps into the workout, point your toes back. You can lift one leg to challenge the other, and perhaps bring the lifted knee toward your chest to focus on your hip flexors. Raise your buttocks straight up and lower for a dynamic lower ab exercise. Try a split-legged plank, or lift the opposite arm and foot off the floor.
A familiar one for Pilates students. Simply lay on your back and lift your legs and mid to upper back off the floor. Always keeping your legs and back straight, raise them both as high as possible, ideally making two 60° angles with the floor.
Lateral Plank Pose
Begin with the plank pose, but this time lift the matching arm and foot off the floor. Keep your shoulders parallel to the floor in an unstable plank for a while, then turn your shoulders perpendicular for a sideways plank. Lift your top leg to work one outer thigh, or lift your bottom leg to work the other inner thigh. Place your top foot on a yoga ball for an adventure, and for an advanced yogic finish, hold the top leg's big toe with your fingers and straighten the leg up above you.