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5 Ways to Get the Best Ab Workouts

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Updated June 18, 2014

Woman on Pilates ball
David Sacks/The Image Bank/Getty Images
Ab workouts take a lot of effort. Why not make them the best they can be? Here are some tips for making ab workouts effective - not just for getting nice flat abs, but highly functional ones too.

1) Know Your Abdominal Muscles
If you are going to do ab workouts in a way that counts the first thing to know is what muscles you are working. Many people don't know that the abs are actually 4 different muscle groups with different actions. If you want your ab workout to be successful you need to work all the abdominals. Awareness is the first step:
Meet the Abs and Learn their Actions
How to Pull Your Abs In

2) It's not About Hip Flexors or Tucking the Pelvis
Oh, ouch. Lots of work and few results...
Hip flexors are muscles that help bring the leg and trunk closer together, which is the choreography of much ab work. However, though the hip flexors are often involved in ab work, you want to make sure your abs are working hardest, not your hip flexors.

Similarly, tucking the pelvis can make ab workouts look and feel dramatic (when it's not getting in the way). Tucking can also hurt your back and make you skip those deep abdominal muscles you want to work.
Tucked vs Neutral Pelvis
Hip Flexors vs Abs

3) Balance Ab workouts with Back Exercises
The abdominal muscles and the back muscles balance each other out in ways that are important to your posture and the health of your spine. For efficient, safe movement all the muscles of your core need to work together, including the back muscles.

If you work your abdominal muscles without balancing with back extension exercises especially, not only will you be a prime candidate for back pain, but you will most likely end up with unattractive, inefficient posture (what good are flat abs then?).
5 back extension exercises
Back stretch and strength exercises
Instructions for Pilates Back Exercises
Why Pilates works for Back Pain

4) Work Upper and Lower Abs
Technically there are not separate abdominal muscles top and bottom. However, functionally there are upper and lower ab differences and you need to address both areas. If you only do exercises like chest lift (a better version of crunches) you might be over-emphasizing upper ab function and wondering why you still have a lower ab pooch.
Sample Exercises - Upper Ab and Lower Ab Focus:
Roll Back
Roll Up
Double Leg Stretch
Double Leg Lowers
Single Leg Stretch
Also see:
Pilates Flat Ab Workout Series
20 Core Minutes of Pilates

5) Do More Pilates Exercises
Most people associate Pilates with ab workouts. And it's true, Pilates is a lot of abdominal work. Pilates works the abs every way you can -- upper abs, lower abs, sideways, twisting, stretching etc... We start with the core, and really the Pilates powerhouse, which is more than just abs, because in reality, abdominal muscles don't work alone.

Your abs need to be able to work in concert with every other muscle in your body -- even the littlest toe muscle. So Pilates is a full-body method, and that is how you get the best abs -- flat, yes, but also abs that function well in relation to everything you want to do in your life. So don't limit yourself to ab exercises. Learn work your whole body from a strong core.
Get in Shape with Pilates
30 Day Pilates Beginner Quick Start Program
Pilates Workout Routines
Get Started in Pilates

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