By Lucy Danziger, SELF Editor-in-Chief - Posted on Wed, Jan 20, 2010, 1:10 pm PST
Let's all say it together: Crunches are boring! We all hate crunches, but flatter abs would certainly be nice. We want them without doing so much to get them. This year, you can have both—the abs and the easy moves. The best part is that it will happen fast if you stick with the program. The truth is, there are so many ultra-effective tips and moves for a leaner stomach that you can swear off crunches forever, if you'd like, and still chisel your middle. One of my favorites? The plank! For more simple, enjoyable ways to shed inches from your waist, try my favorite ab moves and tips from the last year of SELF:
1) Go on an abs spree
Grouping all your ab exercises together can deliver better results than switching back and forth between various body parts, according to Nicole Stewart, a pilates instructor in Los Angeles. Working your abs to the "burning" point delivers a sizzling stomach.
2) Feast on a little fat!
A smidge of fat in your diet can actually help your midsection get svelte. Studies suggest that foods rich in monounsaturated fats—including olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado—can help prevent the accumulation of unwelcome tummy fat. See 8 superfoods that combat fat.
3) Try teamwork
Toning up and slimming down doesn't need to be a solitary pursuit. Grab a pal for this exercise: Lie on the floor with your legs straight up in the air, says Akin Williams, a group fitness instructor at Equinox Fitness Clubs in New York City, who created this move. Ask a buddy to command you to bring your legs up and down randomly (saying, for example, "Right leg down, left leg up" and "Both legs up") every few seconds. Use your ab muscles to follow her directions, keeping your lower back pressed into the floor. Do this for three or four 20- to 60-second sets, resting 1 minute between each set. Then switch and you be the leader. These random commands trigger a rapid contraction of your muscles, tiring the more easily sculpted areas of your abs, so "you see better results in less time," says Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist in San Diego for the American Council on Exercise. Hey, what are friends for?
4) Tone abs while you burn fat
Heart-pumping activity triggers your body to convert abdominal fat to fuel, research shows. Aim to do 30 minutes or more most days. Squeeze even more belly benefits from your stint on the treadmill by ramping up the incline, or relying on your core muscles to keep you upright on the elliptical (grip the handlebars, but don't use them to support you!) to engage your core, says Joanna Stahl, group fitness instructor at Equinox Fitness Clubs in New York City.
5) Try the Dragonfly
Start on all fours, a weight in each hand. Extend left leg behind you in line with body; extend right arm out to side at shoulder level. Keeping left leg lifted, curl weight toward chest (see the move). Straighten arm for one rep. Do 12 reps. Switch sides; repeat.
6) Find your balance
A great way to tighten and tone your core? Give yourself a stay-steady challenge. "Strength moves requiring balance work the tough-to-reach transverse abdominis more effectively than traditional ab toners do," says Robert Sherman, a trainer in Rockville, Maryland. Use a folded bath towel, a BOSU or a pair of balance pods to make it hard to find your footing for this move, called the Lunge-Up: With left foot on pod or towel, lower into lunge, knee over ankle, thigh parallel to ground, right knee bent with heel raised, hands on hips (see the move). As you straighten left leg, push off ball of right foot, bringing right thigh in front and parallel to ground, balancing on pod. Slowly return to start. Do 12 reps. Switch legs; repeat.
5) Bend those knees
Add a tummy-toning balance challenge to traditional squats by doing them on one leg, as Roxy pro surfer Kassia Meador swears by. Do two sets of 12 reps on alternate days for abs that make waves.
6) Do the ab-up
A side plank sculpts flat abs fast by focusing on obliques, the muscles that wrap around your middle and hold you in. Lie on left side, resting on left forearm and left hip, knees and feet stacked, right arm at side. Lift left hip into a side plank (see the move). Lower and touch left hip to ground, then lift back up, holding abs in tight, for one rep. Do 20 reps. Switch sides; repeat.
7) Go bananas!
The fruit contains 422 milligrams of potassium, which helps limit belly-bloating sodium in your body. Talk about peel appeal! Another source: four stalks of celery deliver 416 mg of potassium.
8) Do bench presses
Extending your arms during the pec-perking exercise causes your ab muscles to contract, toning your abs as well as your arms. Add two sets of 12 reps to your usual routine.
9) Chill out
Increased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, can lead to excess stomach fat, research shows. Try delegating work duties, pursue a hobby you find relaxing, whether it's knitting or jewelry making, and make laid-back lunch dates with buddies to lighten your mood—and slim your middle!
Want more secrets to your strongest, slimmest stomach yet? Try the step-by-step Jump Start plan at Self.com, packed with easy eat-better tips and a workout designed by The Biggest Loser's Jillian Michaels.