Who doesn't want a bare-able belly? Aside from the obvious aesthetic benefits of enviable abdominals (read: bathing—and birthday—suit confidence), toned stomach muscles also support your entire torso. "Having a strong midsection means you'll put less strain on your lower back and gain better posture," says Chicago-based trainer CC Cunningham, a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. Try these exercises from Cunningham three to four times a week, and you'll be on your way to a toned tummy. But keep in mind that "consistency is the key to getting results," Cunningham says. "The more you stick to the program, the faster you'll see muscle definition."
(For the following exercises, do as many as you can until you feel fatigued, working up to 50 reps.)
Dilemma: LOVE HANDLES
Solution: OBLIQUE CRUNCHES
This exercise works the oblique muscles, which run along the sides of your trunk. Lie on your back in a traditional sit-up position: knees bent, feet on the floor shoulder-width apart, hands laced behind your head and elbows out to each side. Using your abdominal muscles, slowly raise your upper body until your shoulders are off of the floor and rotate one elbow towards the opposite knee. Do not pull your elbow in toward your leg; think, "shoulder to hip" to ensure you don't strain your neck. Return to start. Repeat on opposite side. (Work up to 50 reps per side.)
Solution : To engage more of your oblique muscles, do a modified version of the crunch described above, starting with your feet in the air and your knees bent so that your legs form a right angle. (You can cross your ankles if it's easier to support your legs, or rest your feet on a bench or chair.)
Dilemma: BELOW-THE-BELLY-BUTTON ROLL
Solution: PELVIC TILTS
Lie on your back in a traditional sit-up position. Pull your abdominal muscles in towards the floor to "flatten" your lower back and keep it from arching. Raise both your lower and upper body off the floor in one movement, using your abs. Imagine that you're moving your pelvis and rib cage towards each other so that you're "pinching" your belly button. Return to start. Repeat.
Solution : REVERSE CRUNCHES.
Lie on the ground, arms resting at your sides. Raise your legs straight up in the air, soles of your feet facing the ceiling. Using your abdominal muscles, raise your pelvis as if you were trying to get your feet closer to the ceiling; return to start. Repeat. Avoid rocking your pelvis or swinging your legs, because it can strain your lower back.
Dilemma: STOMACH SEEKING SLEEKER TONE
Solution: BETTER-THAN-THE-USUAL CRUNCHES
Lie on the ground in a traditional sit-up position, but with a rolled-up towel under your lower back so that it is slightly arched. Do a traditional crunch: Keeping your hands laced behind your head and your elbows facing out, lift your shoulders off the floor. Return to start. Repeat. Cunningham says, "Arching your back with a towel extends your abdominals in the beginning of the move, giving you a fuller range of motion during the exercise and thus working more of your ab muscles at once."