Try this Pilates and kickboxing-inspired circuit for strong, defined abs
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This abs workout, created by fitness expert Jessica Smith, star of the Yin Yang Fusion Workout DVD, combines the best of kickboxing and Pilates to challenge your abs in new ways—without a single crunch. For best results, perform each move back to back without rest, and depending on how much time (and energy) you have, repeat the full circuit up to three times total.
And remember, great abs start in the kitchen, so make sure to pair this routine with a healthy diet.
Cross Knee Strike
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The twisting motion of this abs exercise is a great way to functionally strengthen your core, since we’re constantly twisting and turning our upper body during daily activities. Performing this move on one leg is also a great way to develop balance and coordination. It's a great 'warm up' for this circuit.
How to do it: Start standing with your knees slightly bent, arms bent into your body, and your hands in fists by your chin (this is called "on guard" position). Shift your weight onto your right leg, leaving just the toes of your left foot on the floor. Brace your abs and lift your left knee up towards your right shoulder while you turn your right shoulder into your knee. Lower left toes back to the floor, keeping your balance on the right leg. Repeat 20 times with the left leg and 20 times with the right.
Bonus tip: Focus on your breath to deepen the contraction of your abs: exhale as lift your knee and imagine you're pressing the air out of your lungs with your abs. Inhale as you lower your leg back down.
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Side Abs Leg Lift
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This move will challenge your balance and target your hip, glutes, and oblique muscles at the same time.
How to do it: Start standing "on guard" and shift your weight to your right leg, turning your right heel slightly forward and keeping your knee soft. Keep just your left toes lightly touching the ground and extend your left arm up to the ceiling (keeping your hand in a fist). Lift your left leg up to hip height as you pull your left elbow down towards your hip. Lower left leg down to the ground and extend left arm back up to the ceiling, maintaining your balance on your right leg. Repeat 20 times with the left leg, 20 times with the right.
Bonus tip: Think about 'shortening' your left side as you pull your elbow and leg together to strengthen the contraction of your oblique muscles.
Bob and Weave Circle
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The side-to-side circle motion of this move will have your abs contracting in all directions—plus this plie position means your legs will be working hard too!
How to do it: Start standing "on guard" and then step both feet wider than hip width apart, turning your toes out slightly. Bend both knees directly out over your toes, and lower your body straight down, keeping your shoulders over your hips, your back straight, and your abs pulled in. Holding this deep plie position with your legs, lean your upper body to the left, pressing your left shoulder down towards your left hip, keeping your arms up on guard and chest facing forward. Next, round your back and shoulders forward, scooping your abs in deeper towards your spine, and hips steady. Then come up and around to the right side, leaning your upper body to the right. Finish the move by bringing your upper body back to the middle, and straightening your spine, before repeating in the other direction. Do this 20 times in total, reversing sides each time.
Bonus tip: Imagine you are tracing a circle with your upper body, and make sure to create a full circle on both sides with every rep.
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The quick rotational movement of your body during these punches is a great way to work your abs, get your heart rate up, and help whittle away your waist.
How to do it: Start standing on guard, facing the side, with your left foot forward. 'Jab' your left arm by punching straight front, palm facing down, elbow out to the side, without locking the joint, then quickly return your arm back to on-guard position. Next, do a 'cross' punch with your right arm: rotating your right hip forward and lifting your right heel off the ground, punching your right arm straight front, rotating fist palm down, bringing elbow out to the side, without locking the joint. Then 'jab reach' your left arm up to the ceiling, keeping your hand in a fist, and then repeat the jab reach with your right arm, turning your right hip forward as you punch up. Put these 4 moves together as quickly as you can, and repeat the sequence 10 times in total on the left side, then 10 times on the right side.
Bonus tip: Be sure to turn your hips and your heels into each punch. Your abs work to control the movements of your lower body and you will get more out of each move if you work the body as one unit.
Front Knee Strike
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Similar to the cross knee, this front knee strike changes requires a little more balance and lot more twisting action from your abs.
How to do it: Start standing on guard, with your right leg behind your body (your right heel off the floor), balancing on your left leg with your left knee slightly bent. Bend your right knee and draw it up in front of you, while you turn your upper body, slightly rounding your back, crossing your left elbow over the outside of your thigh. Hold for one count and then slowly lower, returning your right leg to start position. Repeat 20 times with the right leg, 20 times with the left.
Bonus tip: Exhale forcefully as you cross your elbow to the outside of your knee and draw your abs in as tight as you can to help keep your balance.
Front Kick Tabletop
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This move combines a little Pilates and a little kickboxing to really challenge your abs and arms.
How to do it: Start sitting up on the ground with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Place both hands behind your hips on the floor, fingers pointing in towards your hips. Lift yourself a few inches up off the floor with your arms and bend your right knee into your chest, flexing your right foot and drawing your abs in tight. Next, push out through your right heel and extend your leg into a front kick (right leg should be level with your left) while you lift your hips up as high as you can, looking up at the ceiling with your eyes. Repeat 10 times with your right leg, 10 times with your left.
Bonus tip: Avoid excess pressure on your wrists by focusing on pressing your palms and fingertips evenly into the ground and thinking about lifting your abs up and in as you move back and forth.
Cross Punch Roll Up
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Another Pilates and kickboxing inspired move, this exercise adds an extra 'punch' to the traditional Pilates Roll Up to work your entire abdominal wall and obliques at the same time.
How to do it: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart. Bring your arms into 'on guard' and slowly start to round your spine as you sit up, rolling all the way up through your back. As you're rolling up, perform four cross punches across your body, alternating your right and left arm (by the last punch, you should be sitting all the way up, feet still flat against the floor). Bring arms back to on guard position, keep shoulders facing straight ahead, round your spine, draw your abs in tight and slowly roll back down to the floor. Repeat 10 times in total.
Bonus tip: Breathe out every time you perform a cross punch as you're sitting up, and inhale as you lower back down to the floor. Be sure to keep your abs braced the entire time.
Back Kick Plank
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Kick your basic plank up a notch with this move to tone your core, glutes, and arms.
How to do it: Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Keeping both arms extended (elbows soft) and pressed into the ground, extend your right leg back behind you and then bring the left back to meet it so that you are in a full plank pose (or the top of a push up position). Point your right foot off the floor and then bend your right knee into your chest, rounding slightly though your back and drawing your abs in tighter to lift your knee into your body. Next, flex your right foot as you press and extend your right leg behind you, into a back kick. Repeat 15 times on the right, 15 times on the left.
Bonus tip: Be careful not to arch your back as you perform the back kick. Keep your abs tight and your arms strong to maintain a strong plank position (avoid allowing your hips to sag to the floor) during the leg movements.
Side Kick Plank
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This side-lying plank kick will get your hips, glutes, and obliques firing in a major way.
How to do it: Lie on your right side with both knees bent and feet flexed. Prop your upper body up with your right elbow and bend your left arm into 'on guard', both hands in fists. Keeping your hips stacked, lift your left leg up, bending your knee into the left elbow. Next, push out through your left heel and extend your leg into a side kick (at hip height) while you simultaneously lift your right hip up off the floor, pressing down through your right elbow and lifting up through your right side. Bend your left knee back into your elbow as you lower your right hip back to the floor. Repeat 15 times with the left leg, 15 times with the right.
Bonus tip: Avoid straining your supporting shoulder by making sure your bottom elbow is lined up directly under the shoulder joint before lifting your hips off the floor.
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This challenging move works the abs and the thighs all at once.
How to do it: Start seated with your legs bent and lower yourself back onto your elbows. Press your elbows into the floor with your hands in towards your body, palms facing down, to prop your back up off the floor. Next, bring both knees into your chest (without sinking into your back), and point your toes. Brace your abs in tight and extend both legs out in front of you (keeping thighs together) so that legs are almost parallel to, but not touching, the floor. Slowly trace a circle in front of your body, from the right and then down and around to the left (your elbows may come slightly off the floor at the top of your circle). Try to exhale, bracing your abs in tighter, as you bring your legs to the top of your circle and inhale as they lower to the bottom. Make 5 circles to the right and then reverse, tracing 5 circles to the left.
Bonus tip: If it's too challenging to perform the full circle with your legs extended, bend your knees in to make it a little easier. Be sure not to let your lower back sag to the floor.