The best abdominal exercise routines for women focus on the upper abs, lower abs, and obliques. Those exercises go far past just the average crunches and sit-ups. Though those are still important components to many ab routines, they won't get you the flatter tummy you desire on their own.
Top Abdominal Exercises for Women
Women, especially those who have had children, tend to hate their abs more than any other body part. It's important to target abs from all angles, using several different tactics, from crunches to balancing acts. Women can have flat, sexy abs with some dedication to a workout plan that incorporates several different types of moves.
Stability Ball Exercises
Lie across the stability ball so that your shoulders, tailbone, and back are touching the ball and your feet are flat on the floor, knees bent at a 90 degree angle. Keep your feet hip-width apart and make sure that your upper back is on the top of the ball, not the side. Keep your back straight, hands behind your head, and contract your abs to bring you into a crunch position. Once your upper back is no longer touching the ball, you can begin to lower back down slowly. Inhale as you lower down and exhale as you crunch up.
Lie on the floor with your legs straight and position the exercise ball so that you're gripping it with your ankles. Stretch your arms above your head. Crunch the upper and lower body up simultaneously and take the ball with your hands once your legs have brought it up past hip level. Flatten the body back down with the ball between the hands. Repeat the motion, passing the ball back and forth from hands to ankles, ankles to hands.
If you find regular plank pose boring, you can add some instability by using a stability ball. Get into plank position with your upper body resting on your forearms, which are on top of the ball. Flatten your back so that your body is in a straight line, then push your chest off of your arms. Balance on your toes and forearms for as long as possible.
Karena and Katrina of ToneItUp.com make the "tummy tuck" part of several of their routines. This move is designed to tone the obliques and get rid of love handles. Start in a plank position, then lift one knee out to the side and up to the elbow on the same side. Return to plank position and repeat on the other side. For a demonstration, see the ToneItUp Tummy Tuck video.
The plank may seem easy because there isn't much movement involved, but it works your whole core (and most of your body). Holding your abs tight is necessary in order to maintain proper alignment. Balance your body on your hands and toes as if you're about to begin a set of push-ups. Don't lock your elbows. Make sure that your body is in a straight line and don't let your hips dip down. Look straight ahead and keep your hands facing forward. Hold for as long as possible.
The side plank works the same way, but it focuses on the obliques. To begin on the left side, balance on the outside of your left foot and your left hand. You can either stack your right foot on top of the left, or cross it over the left ankle for balance. For an added burn, you can dip your hip down and pull it back up again for 10 to 15 reps. Repeat on the right side.
If your wrists hurt when you do the plank pose, you can modify it by balancing on your forearms.
This crunch works the upper and lower abs, and the obliques. Lie on the floor, lift your upper back off the ground with your hands behind your head, and lift your legs to about a 45 degree angle. Pull one knee in toward the chest and leave the other one straight. At the same time, twist your torso so that your opposite shoulder is almost touching the knee. Straighten your body back out and repeat on the other side.
Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor, knees bent at a 90 degree angle. Without arching your back or altering the angle of your knees, bring your legs up so that your thighs are perpendicular to the floor. Slowly lower your feet back down.
Lie on your back with your legs straight. Lift them to a 45 degree angle if possible. If this is too difficult, you can lift them further up, forming a 90 degree angle with your upper body. Flex your feet. Lift your upper body off of the floor, keeping your arms straight out, parallel to your upper body. Pulse your arms five times as you inhale, then five times as you exhale. Repeat until you've counted to 100.
This move is frequently featured in the Blogilates workouts by Cassey Ho. Sit with your legs and arms out straight, shoulders back. Lean back until you feel as if you can't anymore, keeping your abs tight. You'll begin to shake. Hold it as long as you can, no matter how much your body trembles.
Single Straight Leg Stretch
Lie flat on your back, then lift your shoulder blades up off of the floor. Lift your legs a few inches off of the floor as well. Keeping both legs straight, lift one as far up as you can, grab it with both hands (elbows out) and give it a small stretch. Lower and repeat on the other side.
Sit up straight with your arms and legs stretched out in front of you. Balance on your tailbone as you bring your legs up, knees bent, then straighten your legs so that your body resembles a "V." Keep your abs as tight and flat as you hold the pose as long as possible. Visit Yoga Journal for an image of boat pose.
Balancing poses utilize core strength, and tree pose is no exception. Stand with both feet on the floor, about hip width apart. Find a spot on the floor to concentrate on. Lift one foot to the opposite thigh, resting the sole of the foot as high on the thigh as possible. Put your hands in prayer position, and breathe in and out deeply. Hold the pose for at least three to five breaths.
In Addition to the Ab Exercises
In addition to working your abs, be sure to work the lower back for a strong core that is balanced in front and back. To reveal your hard work, melt fat by incorporating cardio workouts three to five times per week and eat a well-balanced diet.