Check out these tips from Livestrong.com author Leslie Truex as she reveals the first steps to a fabulous five minute ab workout that is sure to strengthen your core for the summer:
The abdominal area of the body is the section many people strive to develop. Flat, sculpted abs are a sign of health and achievement. Aside from physical appeal, strong abs provide health benefits such as supporting the rest of the core. Obtaining strong, sculpted abs doesn't have to take much time or equipment, but it does take regular effort and proper form.
STEP BY STEP GUIDE
STEP 1 Burn fat by combining ab strengthening exercises with those that get the heart rate up. Squat thrusts not only strengthen abs, but other core muscles such as back and shoulders as well. Plus it can get the heart rate up to burn the fat surrounding the abdominal muscles. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Squat down, reaching your hands to the floor. Jump your feet back until you're in the plank or push-up position. Tighten your abs -- don't allow them to sag to the floor or your behind to poke in the air. Many like to add a push-up here, or you can jump your feet back toward you hands and stand up. Repeat these movements for 30 seconds to a minute.
STEP 2 Sculpt abs with the 'bicycle' exercise. The American Council on Fitness commissioned a study that found the best exercise for rectus abdominus was the bicycle. Lay on your back, pressing the lower back to the floor. Put you hands behind your head to support the neck. Bring your knees up, and slowly pedal them pulling one knee in as you extend the other leg out. As you pull your knee in, reach toward it with the opposite elbow being careful not to pull the head forward. If you can't keep your lower back on the floor or you feel back strain, pedal your feet toward the ceiling to reduce stress on the back. As your abs become stronger, you'll be able to bicycle your feet parallel to the floor. If you're just starting, do a set of 10 with rest in between.
STEP 3 Strengthen your entire core by doing side and prone planks. The plank relies heavily on the abs to provide stability and protect the back. Start in a full or forearm plank on the floor. If you're new to planks, you can modify the plank by putting your knees on the floor. Pull your abs up as if there is fire under them and you don't want to get burned. Your back should be straight from your shoulders down to your knees in a modified plank and to your ankles in a full plank. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds, then carefully turn your body to the side so that you've got one hand or forearm on the floor and your hips are stacked. Your shoulder should be directly over your elbow in a forearm plank and your wrist in a full plank. Don't let the hips sag to the floor. Hold for 10 to15 seconds, and then move back into the prone plank position for another 10 to 15 seconds. Turn to do a side plank on the other side for the final 10 to 15 seconds. Beginners may need to release from the plank between changes. The goal is to hold the plank through all the movement.
STEP 4 Work the back muscles for safety. Having strong abs but weak back muscles increases your chance of back injury, so always finish your ab workout with a back exercise. One option is the opposite arm and leg stretch. Lay in a prone position with your head facing down. Extend one arm overhead while lifting the opposite leg. Think about extending the arm and leg as far as you can reach. Hold for three to six breaths and then repeat on the other side. If you have a strong back already, you can do superman. Laying in a prone position, extend both arms overhead and lift both legs. Hold this position for three to six breaths; for more challenge, lift up and down for 10 to 15 repetitions. In both exercises, think about lengthening your spine as if you're trying to create space between each vertebrae. Finish your back exercise by moving to child pose. Push back on your knees so that your bottom rests on your heels. Drop your head toward the floor, round out and release the spine.
To read more on Livestrong.com and for links to other information about strengthening your core, click here.