Even when you're emphasizing other body parts, your core works to stabilize your position
- so your abs, spine extensors and pelvic muscles get a workout
Great abs start at the core. That's why we asked Toronto-based certified STOTT PILATES instructor Colleen Craig to create
a plan that engages the deep stabilizing muscles of the abdomen - which are often ignored in traditional strength training
- throughout your ab training. Derived from her book Abs on the Ball (Healing Arts Press, 2003). Craig's program melds
the core-strength-training principles of Pilates with the balance challenge of the stability ball, which will force you to
put almost every muscle to work to complete the exercise using correct form. “Even when you're emphasizing other body
parts, your core works to stabilize your position - so your abs, spine extensors and pelvic muscles get a workout,”
Craig says. Not only will these moves flatten your belly, but they'll also improve your posture, which will make you look
slimmer all over. So, hop on the ball and make these six moves mandatory!
Do these moves as a group, or incorporate them selectively into your current fitness routine, 2-3 times a week. It may
take beginners 6 weeks or more to feel completely stable and balanced on the ball. Once you've mastered all 6 exercises, mix
and match them for variety.
Begin by doing easy pelvic tilts: Lie faceup on ball with back - from shoulder blades to tailbone - in contact with ball
hips dropped toward floor, knees bent, feet flat. Lift and lower hips 4-6 times. Next, keep hips lifted and shoulder blades
in contact with ball as you do 4-6 arm circles.
Stretch you major muscle groups, holding each stretch for 30 seconds without bouncing.
1. EXTENSION CRUNCH
Sit on ball, then walk feet forward until only head, neck and middle back
are supported, feet hip width apart, knees bent and over ankles. Lift hips, tightening buttocks so hips are in line with
shoulders and knees. Extend arms overhead and behind you toward floor. Placing hands, unclasped, behind head and contracting
abs, lift head, neck and shoulder blades off ball. Return to starting position. Repeat 8-12 times. Strengthens abdominals.
2. REVERSE CRUNCH
Lie faceup on floor, placing calves on ball, legs wider than hips, then bend knees,
squeezing ball with backs of thighs and using heels to hold it in place. Place hands, unclasped, behind head, elbows bent.
Inhale, then exhale as you bring knees in toward chest, lifting hips a few inches off floor. Pause, then exhale, releasing hips
to floor, keeping abs engaged. Repeat 8-12 times. Strengthens abdominals.
3. BRIDGE AND PULL
Lie faceup on floor, knees bent close to 90 degrees, feet resting near top of
ball slightly apart, arms relaxed at sides. Inhale, press feet into ball, then exhale, engaging abdominals as you curl
tailbone, then rest of spine, off floor until shoulders, hips and knees form a straight line, knees bent. Hold ball steady
for 5 breaths; lower and repeat 5 times. Then, lift up again, extend legs and roll ball away from you, balancing on heels.
Bend knees and pull ball back to starting position, hips still lifted. Repeat 6-8 times before lowering to floor.
Strengthens hamstrings and buttocks; abdominals and spine extensors act as stabilizers.
4. BEND AND EXTEND
Lying faceup on floor, prop yourself up on forearms, palms down, elbows under
shoulders, knees bent in line with hips, squeezing ball between ankles. Lift chest, press shoulders down, contract abs
and lengthen spine to prevent slouching. Inhale, then exhale as you straighten knees to extend legs 45-degree angle (or
higher if necessary to maintain torso alignment). Inhale and bend knees back in to starting position. Repeat 6-8
times. Strengthen abdominals, inner thighs, upper hips and quadriceps.
5. BALL PUSH-UP
Drape yourself facedown over ball. Walk hands forward until ball is under thighs
(or shins for more of a challenge) and wrists are in line with shoulders, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
Squeeze thighs and ankles together, pulling abdominals up and in so torso forms one straight line from head to heels.
Maintaining torso position, bend elbows until they align with shoulders, bringing chest toward floor. Push up to starting
position without locking elbows. Repeat 8-12 times. Strengthens chest, front shoulders and triceps: abdominals, spine
extensors and buttocks act as stabilizers.
6. SIDE RAISE
Kneel and press the right side of your body against ball so lower ribs and hips are
leaning into it. Extend left leg out to side, big toe touching floor. (If that's too difficult, keep both knees bent and
down.) Place tops of fingers on forehead, palms forward, elbows bent and wide. Inhale, then exhale as you lift torso up off
ball as high as you can, keeping abs firmly pulled in and right hip in contact with ball. Slowly return to starting
position. Repeat 5-8 times, then switch sides. Strengthens obliques and deep hip muscles.