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Abs-olutely Amazing Core Exercises for a Flat Stomach

When it comes to your middle, it’s basically all about the stuff you can pinch (fat) and the stuff that can cinch (muscle). We’ve brought together the top research on how to burn the former and firm the latter in one radically simple plan. You’ll get the flat belly you’ve been crunching for in four fast weeks. Minus the crunches.

Getting strong, sleek abs takes the right mix of exercises that work together to tone the entire area. And no one knows better which formula works than Michele Olson, Ph.D., a professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University at Montgomery.

You can trust her: Over the past 25 years, Olson has studied countless abs exercises in a lab using electromyography (EMG) technology to measure the amount of muscle activated by each. The resulting superworkout she crafted exclusively for Shape includes the all-stars—moves that scored off the charts for firming the most muscle fibers per rep.

The best part? Instead of cranking out dozens of crunches, we’re about to make-under your ab routine. For the first two weeks, do two to three circuits of the first four moves; together they hit all four ab muscle groups. “You’ll reach your goal faster if your workout builds on intensity and total reps done over time,” Olson explains. These moves get a little harder and the reps get higher for week three, plus there’s an exercise added in. Same for week four, except this time you’ll add two more moves to your session. By that week, expect two to three circuits of seven moves with the max challenge and reps. No sweat—you’ll be ready.

But regardless of how tight your ab muscles are, they can't erase belly fat that lies above (subcutaneous) or below them (visceral fat). Those you'll have to burn off—and according to Olson's research, the best belly fat-melting method is Tabata intervals. Maximum-effort cardio intervals raise your level of adrenaline, the fight-or-flight hormone that's the secret sauce to burning fat.

How it works: 
Toning: Do the toning moves ahead in order for the indicated number of reps and sets three days a week on alternate days. Pay close attention to how the exercises and weight of the dumbbells required progress each week. In week four, when the abs routine is most challenging, do it just twice a week. 

Tabata drills: Do Olson's Tabata-inspired cardio workout three times a week: Start with 10 minutes of moderately hard, steady-state cardio of your choice, then do a four-minute round. Complete that steady cardio-and-Tabata combo three times. That's 42 minutes total. In week four, do the Tabata drills just twice a week.

Total Time: up to 45 minutes

You will need: Free weights

1. Bodyweight Single-Leg Stretch

A.

Lie faceup on floor with arms by sides. Curl head and shoulders off floor, then raise extended arms and legs at a 45-degree angle to start. Keeping upper body lifted throughout, bring right knee toward chest and reach right hand outside of right ankle and left hand inside of right knee. Switch sides and repeat to complete 1 rep. Do 8 to 10 reps.

Sets:

2 to 3

Reps:

8 to 10

2. Forearm Spider Plank

A.

Start on floor in forearm plank position, body balancing on forearms and toes, palms flat. Keep hips level and bend right knee out to side toward right triceps. Return to plank. Switch sides and repeat to complete 1 rep. Do 8 to 10 reps.

Sets:

2 to 3

Reps:

8 to 10

3. Balance Chop

A.

Stand with feet wide and hold a single 8-pound dumbbell with both hands overhead, arms extended. Shift body weight to left leg as you pivot on right foot and rotate torso to left (reaching even higher with dumbbell).

B.

Then bring dumbbell down beside right hip as you raise bent right knee to hip level. Reverse motion, returning to reaching upward toward left, to complete 1 rep. Do 8 to 10 reps. Switch sides; repeat.

Sets:

2 to 3

Reps:

8 to 10

4. Sit-Back Twist

A.

Holding a single 5-pound dumbbell with both hands, sit on floor with knees bent, heels on floor. Lean torso back 45 degrees and extend arms forward at 45-degrees to start. Rotate torso to right as you lower dumbbell with straight arms toward floor by right hip. Return to start position and repeat to left to complete 1 rep. Do 8 to 10 reps.

Sets:

1

Reps:

8 to 10

5. Double-Leg Stretch

A.

Lie faceup on floor with arms by sides. Curl head and shoulders off floor, then raise arms overhead (biceps by ears) and legs up at a 45-degree angle to start. Keeping upper body lifted throughout, bring knees toward chest and circle arms around, touching palms to outside of knees. Extend legs and raise arms overhead to start position to complete 1 rep. Do 2 sets of 10 to 12 reps.

Sets:

2 to 3

Reps:

10 to 12

6. Spider Plank

A.

Start on floor in plank position, body balancing on hands and toes. Keep hips level and bend left knee out to side toward left triceps. Return to plank, switch sides, and repeat to complete 1 rep. Do 2 sets of 10 to 12 reps.

Sets:

2 to 3

Reps:

10 to 12

7. Half Boat

A.

Sit on floor with knees bent, feet flat and palms together in front of chest (prayer position). Lean back 45 degrees, extend arms forward, and lift legs with knees bent 90 degrees (balance on tailbone) to start. Slowly lower body until middle and lower back are on floor (head, shoulders, and legs remain lifted). Slowly return to start position to complete 1 rep. Do 10 to 12 reps.

Sets:

2 to 3

Reps:

10 to 12

8. Side Plank with Twist

A.

Start on floor in side plank position, body balancing on left palm and sides of feet, right foot staggered in front of left; bend right elbow and place palm behind ear to start. Rotate torso to bring right elbow up to touch inside of left elbow. Reverse motion back to start position to complete 1 rep. Do 12 reps. Switch sides; repeat.

Sets:

2 to 3

Reps:

12 per side

9. Quarter Squat Crunch

A.

Stand with feet hip-width apart, elbows bent out to sides and fingertips behind ears.

B.

Squat slightly (bend knees about 45 degrees) to start, then shift weight to left leg as you stand, lifting bent right knee and rotating torso toward right so left elbow and right knee meet in front of chest. Return to start position, switch sides, and repeat to complete 1 rep. Do 12 reps.

Sets:

2 to 3

Reps:

12

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