You’re much, much too busy to work out for an hour a day or to add an extra half-hour for abs to your current workout. What about 16 minutes? This simple five-exercise ab circuit allows you to work every muscle in your abs in a few minutes.
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You can either do this circuit on its own or tack it onto the end of your current exercise regimen. All you need is a mat and a medicine ball, dumbbell, or other weight.
Lying Leg Lifts
Lie on a mat or towel on your back, holding your arms straight at your sides with the palms down. You may find that putting your hands under your rear (again, palms down) helps to alleviate any pain in your lower back.
Extend your legs fully, keeping them together. Keeping them together and extended, lift them off the mat until they form an L with your torso; then lower them again. Repeat for 10 reps if you’re a beginner or for 15 reps if you need a more advanced workout. Keep your back straight and flat against the mat as you perform the leg lifts.
You’ll start in the same position for this exercise – lying on your back on the mat or towel, with your legs fully extended and your hands palm down under or next to your rear end. Lift your legs again, keeping them fully extended and together, but stop when they’re at a 45-degree angle to the ground.
Bend your knees slightly and make scissor-like, up-and-down movements with your legs, almost as though you’re trying to jog on the air. Keep your back and head flat against the mat, and make sure the bulk of the motion is coming from your abs and hips rather than your knees.
Again, you should do this for 10 reps if you’re a beginner and for 15 reps if you’re a more experienced fitness guru. You’ll have completed a full rep when you kick both your left and right legs up, not just one leg.
Vertical Toe Touches
Start as if you’re doing another leg lift, raising your legs fully extended until they’re at a 90-degree angle with the ground. This time, reach toward your toes with your hands. Your upper back will lift off the mat or towel as you do this exercise.
If you’re having too much trouble keeping your legs straight and still maintaining your balance, you can bend your knees slightly to help. Resting your legs against a wall can also help you keep your balance; it will make the exercise less effective because you won’t be using your lower abs to keep your legs in the air, but you’ll still work your upper abs and obliques.
Repeat for 10 reps if you’re a beginner and 15 reps if you’re experienced.
Place your hands behind your head. Lift your legs off the mat or towel, together and fully extended, until they’re at a 45-degree angle to the ground as if you were about to do another set of flutter kicks.
Bend your left knee, pulling it across your core and toward your right elbow, while simultaneously lifting your upper back off the mat and bringing your right elbow toward your left knee.
Touch your right elbow to your left knee, and then repeat with the other side, touching your left elbow to your right knee. Don’t lay back down on the mat while you’re doing this exercise; instead, keep your legs, upper back and your shoulders off the mat.
Keep your legs and shoulders moving smoothly between each rep instead of stopping jerkily between moving your left and right knees; imagine that your legs are pedaling an imaginary bicycle (hence the name).
It may be difficult to bicycle in one smooth motion at first, but you’ll get the hang of it with practice. As with the other parts of the workout, you should do this for 10 reps if you’re a beginner and 15 reps if you’re more experienced.
As with the flutter kicks, you’ll have done a full rep when you lift both your left and right legs, not just one.
Sit up at about 45 degrees from the ground and lift your legs off the ground, bending them at the knee, so you’re balanced on your buttocks. Lock your ankles together. Hold your arms in front of you with your hands locked together, or hold your medicine ball or dumbbell to increase the difficulty.
You can also decrease the strain on your shoulders by bending your elbows instead of holding your arms straight, but again, this makes the exercise less effective. Twist from one side to the next, staying balanced on your buttocks. Repeat 10 times if you’re a beginner and 15 times if you’re more experienced. Again, you’ll have completed a rep when you twist both to the left and to the right.
Complete these exercises back-to-back, not resting in-between; then rest for two minutes if you’re a beginner and one if you’re more experienced. Repeat the set, starting with the lying leg lifts and then moving on to the flutter kicks, the vertical toe touches, the bicycle crunches, and the Russian twists. Rest again. Complete a total of four sets, and you’re done – and on your way to a set of killer abs!
How It Works
Why do this exercise regimen instead of 16 minutes of crunches? Because it works your abdominals and the surrounding muscles beautifully, targeting one set of muscles after the other until your entire core has had a thorough workout, without targeting a single muscle set for so long that it becomes completely exhausted.
The lying leg lifts, in addition to working your lower abs, are phenomenal for your hip flexors, which are muscles that work in conjunction with your abs, hips, and thighs to help you bend at the waist.
When you transition to the flutter kick, you start moving the target muscles upward; flutter kicks target the abs and hip flexors as well but put more emphasis on the lower abs. (If leg lifts are a hip flexor exercise that also happens to help your abs, flutter kicks are a lower ab exercise that also works your hip flexors a bit.) With the vertical toe touches, you move away from your hip flexors entirely to focus on your entire abdominal area and your obliques.
The bicycle crunches, which, incidentally, were rated as the most effective abdominal exercise in a study by San Diego University, bring an even heavier workout to your obliques, the muscles that help you bend sideways and that support your lower back, as they cause you to twist your trunk back and forth while simultaneously lifting yourself up with your abdominals.
Finally, the Russian twist engages your obliques, your transverse abs, and your lower back – just in time for you to return to the leg lifts and give your obliques a much-needed rest after all those twisting exercises.