3 Core-Strengthening Moves to Flat Abs

They're not just for looks — a strong core means a strong body

Photo: Woman's toned stomach in fitness clothes

A toned belly is much more important than being ready for bikini season—your core is a large muscle group including your obliques (side abdominals), upper and lower abdominals, hips, and lower back. To get strong, toned abs, it's time to focus on the entire core instead of just the front of your stomach.

"The core is essential to every kind of exercise and daily life. You use your core when picking a handbag up off the floor, holding your child, even running," says Amanda Freeman, CEO of SLT, a hybrid workout that combines Pilates, cardio and strength training. "The core is the central link that connects the upper body to the lower body and most moves originate in the core or involve the core," she says. Because our bodies are so interconnected, if a certain exercise doesn't utilize the core as the primary muscle, your core is typically the secondary muscle mover. A stronger core means a stronger back, a decreased chance of injury because of increased support, and overall better fitness.

To strengthen your core, add these three do-at-home moves adapted from SLT’s Megaformer class to your routine. Do each move for one minute. Freeman recommends doing them on a smooth surface like a wood or tile floor.

1. Plank to Pike: Start in a plank (top of a push-up) modification with your forearms on the ground and hands clasped. Each elbow should be lined up under each of your shoulders so that you are supporting your upper body on your forearms. Place both of your feet on a towel, supporting your lower body on your toes. Suck your abdominal muscles in and slowly start to lift your hips with the lower abs, sliding your feet closer to your hands as you rise, four seconds up to a pike (shown below in a SLT Megaformer class). Slowly lower back to a plank, taking about four seconds.

Photo: Woman demonstrates Plank to Pike move on SLT Megaformer

2. French Twist: Start in a plank with your hands on the ground lined up under each shoulder and your lower body supported by your toes on a towel. Step your left toes just in front of your right toes. Slowly slide your legs in towards your hands (your hips will lift), and then return, four seconds for each movement. Go as far as you can in the four seconds—for some that will be right by their hands, for others that will be a few inches. Repeat on the other side.

3. Salute: Start in a plank with your hands on the ground lined up under each shoulder and your lower body supported by your toes. Lift up your right arm so it is reaching out straight and in front, as if you were saluting someone. Before your body adjusts its weight and shifts it over onto your left arm, replace your right arm and raise your left arm. Repeat this movement quickly, alternating each arm.

Talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.