There are better ways to shred your midsection than spending hours on the treadmill or doing basic crunches. We asked top personal trainers — spanning the worlds of cycling, CrossFit, yoga and beyond — for their favorite exercises that’ll give anyone a head start on whittling their middle.
(pictured at left)
Why it’s great for your abs: I absolutely love this exercise because it creates a lot of stability around the entire core (front/back), it helps support the spine better because you are activating the entire back side of your body while engaging your core on the front side. This helps you run a lower risk of back pain. It's also a fantastic exercise to help slim down your waistline.
How to do it: Set your forearms on the floor with elbows directly under your shoulders and legs fully extended behind you, with your knees locked out. The trick to this exercise is to be as parallel to the ground as possible, so try not let your hips drop or your head push toward the ground. The more aligned you are, the more effective it is. Draw your navel in, squeeze your butt and try to pull your elbows toward your feet (this will engage your lats). If you are doing this exercise properly you will probably only be able to hold it for 20 seconds. That's OK—put your knees back down on the ground with your forearms in place, rest for a few seconds and have at another rep.
— Brian Flynn, owner of Body Unique in Brooklyn, New York
Hanging Leg Raises
Why they’re great for your abs: The hanging leg raise targets the transverse abdominus (the front and side of the abdominal walls located below your internal obliques), which is a significant part of achieving core strength.
How to do them: Find a pull-up bar. While holding yourself up (pulling the shoulders down and back as much as possible), keep your feet together and exhale to bend the knees and pull them up to just above a 90-degree angle. Pause for a second at the top, and slowly lower the legs back to the hanging position. For an added challenge, perform the leg raises with straight legs (pointing the toes away from you) and add in a twist to the right and left (alternating on each rep) to hit not only the transverse abs but also the internal obliques. To stimulate the heart rate even more, perform a pull-up between each hanging leg raise. Be sure not to swing the legs and to stay in control of the motion! Perform 3 sets of 10-12 raises.
—Eric Sand, National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer, lead instructor at Bespoke Premium Cycling Studio in downtown Los Angeles
Why they’re great for your abs: This incorporates your whole body. I believe our body responds better when we train it as a complete unit—not one part at a time. In this exercise there's an element of proprioception (basically, throwing your body off balance), which forces your core muscles to activate — fighting to keep you stabilized.
How to do it: Push up, then rotate one hand off the ground and point to the sky. After stabilizing in a "T," raise the top leg and point it to the sky also, forming an "X" with your body. After pausing for a beat, lower your leg, then lower your hand down, repeat with a push up and the other side of your body. (Or watch this video on how to do them.)
— Andy McDermott, Hollywood fitness trainer
Why it’s great for your abs: Deadlifts are a gym session must because they essentially work everything south of your neck: Traps, lats, pecs, abs, glutes, quads—the list goes on. It’s the most fundamental movement in the history of man. By building a solid foundation of lean muscle mass, your body will burn more fat while at rest. — Andre Crews, trainer at Crossfit Union Square, New York City
Russian Twist With a Kettlebell
Why it’s great for your abs: The Russian twist with a kettlebell targets upper and lower abdominals and the obliques.
How to do it: Sit on the floor with your legs bent. Hold a kettlebell in front of you. Twist as far as you can to the left, then twist as far as you can to the right. This can be executed at a higher intensity with a heavier kettlebell for more calorie burn. Bicycle the legs for an extra challenge! You should perform 3 to 6 sets for 30 seconds each, with a 30-second break in between.
— Deborah Warner, president, Mile High Run Club