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Best Exercise: Seated knee lift. This exercise not only tones your abs, but you can do it in a skirt and heels—without getting on the floor, says Willibald Nagler, MD, physiatrist-in-chief at New York Hospital's Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City.
How it's done: Sit up straight in a firm, armless chair. Grab the chair's edges just in front of your hips. While supporting yourself with your hands, slowly draw your knees up toward your chest while breathing out, keeping your lower back pressed against the chair. Hold, then slowly lower.Worst Exercise:
Reaching for the candy bars in the bottom drawer.
Number of Reps
Best: Take this test to find out. Do as many perfect crunches as you can: feet flat, knees bent, elbows out, slow movement (3 seconds up, hold for 1 second, 3 seconds down), your upper back about 3 inches off the ground. If you can do between 1 and 5 perfect crunches, subtract 1 from that number; between 6 and 10, subtract 2; between 11 and 15, subtract 3; and for 16 or more crunches, subtract 4.
This is the number of reps that you should do for each set. (For example, if you can do 10 perfect crunches, you should be doing sets of 8 reps each.) Do three sets, with 60-second breaks in between. Retest yourself regularly to update your workout. Crunches with your legs up or on a decline bench are more difficult, so you may not be able to do as many in the beginning, but that's OK. Do as many as you comfortably can. As your abs get stronger, you'll be able to do more.Worst:
More than 50. And if you're not seeing results from 50 reps, 100 or 200 won't help either! Quality, not quantity, firms your midsection. Ten well-executed crunches are better than 50 sloppy ones. To stay challenged without adding reps, you should switch to a different kind of ab exercise every 6 weeks.
Best Exercise: Legs-up crunch. Keeping your legs on a chair or bed or in the air helps to make a basic crunch more difficult—and more effective. It makes your abs, particularly the upper portion, do all the work because your hip and leg muscles are unable to provide assistance.
How it's done: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your lower legs placed horizontally on top of a chair. Your thighs should be vertical, your hips close to the chair. Curl up slowly, with your upper back about 30 degrees off the floor, and hold. Slowly return to the floor. For a more challenging workout, hold your legs straight up in the air.Worst Exercise:
Fast, old-fashioned situps. These work your hip muscles; your abs do very little. It also doesn't help that you're more likely to use momentum, especially if your arms are straight overhead or pulling on your head, explainsPrevention
advisor Wayne Westcott, PhD, fitness research director for the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Mass. This move also places lots of stress on the lower back.
Best Exercise: Crossover crunch. This exercise hits the obliques, which wrap around your sides and are key to creating a wispy waistline.
How it's done: Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor, and place your left ankle on your right knee. Put your hands behind your head, with your elbows pointing out. Slowly raise your right shoulder toward your left knee, lifting your upper back and twisting slightly. Keep your elbow in line with your ear, not in front of you. Don't pull on your head or neck. Hold, then slowly lower. Repeat to the other side.
Worst Exercise: Twists with a broomstick. There's no resistance, so your abs won't get stronger or firmer. The only thing this will do is stretch and warm up your trunk muscles.
Best Exercise: Reverse curl. This move works the lower portion of the abs, targeting that bulge below your belt.
How it's done: Lie on your back and place your hands, palms down, alongside your thighs. Bend your hips and knees to form a 90-degree angle: thighs vertical, lower legs horizontal. Now slowly contract your abdominal muscles, lifting your hips about 2 to 4 inches off the floor. Keep your upper body and arms relaxed. Hold, then slowly lower.
Worst Exercise: Straight leg lift. Your legs and back are doing most of the work, so you'll see few results in your midriff. And this move puts tremendous stress on the lower back, increasing your chances of injury.