Strength doesn't come from the arms, back, chest or even legs. It comes from the core. Every sport, from tennis to taekwondo, relies on the major muscle rectus abdominis, better known as "the abs."
Other muscle groups — the transversus abdominis and the internal and external obliques — are commonly targeted in most ab exercises. But the only way to get ab muscles to show is to remove the layer of fat they are hiding under.
A sound diet and cardiovascular exercise will help melt away those excess pounds. Here are some workouts that will help put you on the road to rock-hard abs.
This exercise often is cited by fitness professionals as the No. 1 way to tighten and strengthen the rectus abdominis. You can do it anywhere, for as long or short as you like, and see results. Lie on your back, bring your hands to your head and bend your knees at a 45-degree angle. Then alternate right elbow to left knee, left elbow to right knee, etc.
Most gyms have one, yet this could be the most overlooked and seldom used piece of exercise equipment ever invented. But "the chair" is effective. Just climb in, grab the handles and slowly lift your knees to the chest; hold until you feel the burn and repeat.
A plastic exercise ball is an essential piece of equipment for any commercial or home gym. This relatively inexpensive item will pay big dividends in any ab program. With your feet flat on the floor, sit on the exercise ball and slowly roll the ball until your thighs and back are parallel to the floor. Then raise your chest and shoulders roughly 45 degrees in the crunch position. The slower you go, the greater the burn.
Another classic exercise that is much harder than it looks, the plank is a favorite of military drill instructors who seek to motivate slackers and lollygaggers. Start with the body parallel to the ground, resting on the toes and forearms. Straighten out the body like a plank of wood and hold it for 10 seconds, then rest and repeat. Eventually increase the duration of the hold and the number of reps. For variation, add in a leg lift, arm lift, etc. This is a great way to assess your overall core strength. If you hate it, you need it, so keep doing it.
Even Clark Kent could benefit from this exercise. Lie face-down on the mat with your arms extended like the Caped Crusader. Lift your left arm and right leg simultaneously off the ground about 6 inches. Hold it for five seconds; rest. Switch sides and do it again.
Basic and crossover abdominal crunches
Both exercises start on your back. Touch your hands to your ears and slowly lift your shoulders a few inches off the floor. Hold it for a count of three and then control the descent. Think form, not speed. For the crossover, simply bend one leg over the other and then twist your torso, touching the right elbow to the left knee.
If you spend five minutes on each exercise, before you know it, you will have abs just like Brad Pitt. Keep telling yourself that. Everybody needs a goal.