Firm abdominal muscles don't just look great: They protect vital organs and improve your posture. If you want the great look and other benefits of a "six-pack" but don't want to diet, don't worry. You can tone your abs and firm up your flabby belly without cutting calories or going hungry. This doesn't mean you can go on high-calorie binges and still expect to achieve a great-looking six-pack--but you don't have to go on a strict diet to get the abdominal muscles in excellent shape. All you have to do is raise your metabolism through cardiovascular exercise and tone muscle through abdominal strengthening exercises.
Do cardiovascular exercises every day. You should get your heart rate up for at least half an hour a day. Doing this will raise your metabolism. Exercises that can help raise the heart rate sufficiently include biking, aerobics, swimming and jogging. Rowing machines also provide an excellent cardiovascular workout while at the same time toning the arms, legs, back and abdomen.
Perform crunches every day. Rest comfortably on your back with your knees drawn up and your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Place your hands behind your head and, tightening your stomach muscles, lift your shoulders and upper back off the floor. Hold this position for at least one breath. Repeat as many times as you can.
Practice side crunches every day. Side crunches are similar to standard crunches, but you will be exercising your oblique muscles (the area of the waist where "love handles" sometimes form). To do side crunches, assume the crunch position, then rest your right ankle against your left knee, as if you are crossing your leg. Lift toward the left knee, bringing your right elbow up to touch the knee if you can. Do as many as you can, then switch sides.
Do bicycle crunches every day. Lie on the floor with your hands behind your head. Draw your knees up perpendicular to your belly, and pedal the air as if pedaling a bicycle. Raise your shoulders off the floor and touch your elbow to each knee in turn--in other words, when your left knee is drawn up, your right elbow will touch the left knee, and when the right knee is drawn up the left elbow will touch the right knee. The key to this exercise is to keep your stomach tight and your shoulders off the floor.
Practice good breathing techniques. Proper breathing helps strengthen abdominal muscles from the inside out. When you inhale, your belly should move outward slightly. When you exhale, gently pull your abdominal muscles in.
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- When you do crunches, exhale when tightening your stomach muscles and inhale when relaxing the muscles. Use your ab muscles, not your neck muscles, to lift your shoulders off the floor.
- If you're out of shape, start slowly and build up over time. Do 10 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day to start, then gradually work up to a longer workout.
- running image by Byron Moore from Fotolia.com