If a strong core is one of your top fitness goals this year, personal trainer Natalie Marnoch can help. “The bench crunch and the reverse kick and leg raise would have to be two of the most effective exercises for targeting the abdominal areas,” she tells us. “A strong core can help with lower back problems, improves posture and makes you feel good about yourself in general.”
Here, the Sydney-based trainer explains how to mater these tummy-toning moves both in the gym and at home, for firm, fast results.
IN THE GYM
1. Incline crunch sit up
• Lying down on the bench with your head at the bottom, fasten your legs underneath into the foot brace.
• Then, bending at the waist, raise your entire upper body off the bench towards your knees for a full sit up. And lie back down on again. This is one rep. Aim to do 15-20 reps.
• If you're a beginner start with your arms straight out in front of you and if you're intermediate, cross your arms in front as you come up. To make the move more advanced, hold a 5kg plate across your chest, cradling it with your arms as you sit up. Complete this set two times.
Tip: the lower the bench the harder the exercise.
2. Decline reverse crunch
• Remain on the bench and swivel around for the reverse crunch.
• This exercise is performed in the opposite way as the previous move, with your head at the top of the bench.
• With your hands holding the foot brace, place your feet on the floor. Instead of raising your upper body, raise your hips off the bench and lift both legs towards your chest as you extend them straight up towards the ceiling. Lower your pelvis back onto the bench and feet to the floor to complete. This is one rep. Repeat 15-20 times.
• If you're a beginner, keep your knees bent throughout the exercise. Complete two sets.
Tip: “Remember, doing gym-based ab exercises incorrectly can lead to back injuries. So if you’re ever unsure of technique or equipment, ask a trainer in the gym for tips,” Marnoch says.
1. Reverse kicks and leg raise
• “This exercise is great to target the lower abdominals,” Marnoch says.
• Lying flat on your back, keep your head and shoulders firm against the floor.
• Extend your arms along your sides, then pull your feet off the ground with knees bent.
• From here pull your knees toward your chest. Your hips should lift off the floor.
• Try holding this position for a count of two. Then instead of lowering legs back down, straighten legs and hold them 5cm from the floor. Repeat 20 times. Complete two sets.
2. V up or V-sit
• “This move is works effectively for the entire abdominal area, as well as hip flexors,” she says.
• Start in the seated position, legs stretched out in from.
• Contract your ab muscles and lift legs to a 45 degree angle. Reach your arms towards your shins.
• Your spine should be straight. Hold this position for around 5 seconds (longer if your core is stronger). Then slowly return to the starting position.
• To make this move more advanced, hold the pose for a few seconds longer before your feet reach the floor. Repeat 20 times. Complete two sets.
3. The plank
• “This exercise can be done absolutely anywhere,” Marnoch says.
• Lying face down on a mat, rest your forearms and palms flat on the floor.
• Push off the floor, rising up onto your toes and then resting on your elbows.
• Make sure your back in a straight line all the way from head to the heels, and that your bottom isn't sticking up in the air or worse drooping in the middle. Keep your abs contracted as you hold that straight line.
• Aim to hold this pose for 60 seconds. This should be your long term goal for a beginner.
Tip: “The most important thing to remember when doing ab exercises is always protect your back from any straining. If your back muscles are weak or you're prone to back pain then perform all ab exercises flat on your back so that you have support,” Marnoch says.
Five steps to a flat stomach
1. Eat well
“Without the proper nutrition though, you can crunch until the end of 2013 without seeing results,” Marnoch says.
2. Steer clear of sweets
“To eliminate belly fat, cut out all your unnatural sugars, which includes sweets, packaged foods, ice cream and chocolate. Always read the label to see how much sugar is in what you are buying,” she notes.
3. Watch your salt intake
“Many products claim to be low in carbs, high in protein and low in fat but they’re often terribly high in sodium. So go natural wherever possible and increase your intake of fibrous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage and kale which help keep the digestive system healthy.”
4. The good fats
“And dose up on omega-3 essential fatty acids,” Marnoch says. Studies have shown that fish oil supplements can help to alleviate inflammation, a lead cause of excess belly fat. “Aim for 5ml [or 5 capsules] of liquid fish oil each day, or add fresh salmon and plenty of good fats to your diet, such as flaxseed oil and avocado.”
5. Drink water
“And always make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially during exercise. I like is to add a shot of liquid chlorphyll to my water bottle each morning, which both oxygenates and alkalinses the blood,” says Marnoch.
Natalie Marnoch is a Sydney-based personal trainer and founder of No Attitude Training.