Exercises for Your Stomach

Before you begin an exercise routine for your stomach area, you may find it helpful to understand the basic design of your abdominal muscles. The “washboard” effect we all admire comes from developing the rectus abdominis, which is the main muscle responsible for crunches. Your waist area is made up of the external and internal oblique muscles, which allow you to twist, turn and bend from side to side. The deepest layer of ab muscle is the transverse abdominis, which is responsible for holding the stomach flat. Exercises which isolate and recruit all the ab muscles will help you achieve a toned mid-section.

The Best Ball Crunch

Sit on the stability ball with your feet on the floor placed hip-width apart. Slowly walk your feet out until the ball contours to the arch of your back. Either cross your hands across your chest or place both hands behind your head. Take a breath and as you exhale raise your torso up off the ball while contracting your abs. Pause at the top of the crunch and return to starting position. Perform two to three sets of 15 to 20 crunches.

Obliques on the Ball

Remain in the same position as the ball crunch. Place your left palm on the ball and your right hand behind your right ear. Line your elbow up with your ear. Slowly raise your right shoulder and arm up off the ball while twisting toward the left side. As you raise and twist, focus on the muscles between your ribs on your left side. Exhale on the exertion and inhale on the return. Perform 15 to 20 oblique twists to the left side and then repeat the sequence to the right. Even though you are concentrating on your oblique muscles, it is important to contract the entire abdominal wall throughout the exercise to support your lower back.

Back to the Bicycle

Lie on your back on the floor with both hands behind your head. Bend your right knee towards your chest (about a 45-degree angle) as you lift your extended left leg just a few inches off the floor. Keeping your lower back firmly on the floor, begin to peddle your legs back and forth in the air as in a bicycle motion. Lift your upper body off the floor as in a basic crunch as you bicycle your legs. Perform 15 to 20 bicycles without twisting the upper body. Rest for one minute. Finally, perform 20 more bicycle movements, but this time twist and lift your upper body so that your right elbow touches your left knee and then your left elbow touches your right knee as you peddle your legs.

Ball Balance Planks

This particular exercise is quite challenging and requires fairly strong abdominal and lower back muscles. Place your forearms on the ball with your hands clasped together. Lift your upper body up off the ball with your legs stretched out straight behind you so that you are in one straight line from your head to your heels. With your forearms on the ball and your toes on the floor, hold the plank position, being careful not to let your back sink in or your butt stick out. After about 5 seconds, try moving your elbows in a circle motion as if tracing a softball. Perform 10 circles clockwise and then 10 more counterclockwise.

About this Author

Alison Stellner, owner of Body Tune Personal Training, is a fitness instructor and freelance writer with more than 25 years in the health and fitness industry. Her first professional article was published in “Idea Today Fitness Magazine” in 1993. She majored in music and business administration at the University of Oklahoma.