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Belly-firming breakthrough: The plan

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This is an intermediate/ advanced ab program for people who have been doing abdominal work for the past 3-6 months. If you're a beginner, go to "Beginners: How to Ease Into This Workout," page 2, to get started. If you've been doing abdominal work for more than 6 months, follow the Harder option: at the end of each move.

workout guidelines This 4-day-a-week workout consists of 6 exercises divided into 2 groups. Do group 1 on days 1 and 3, and group 2 on days 2 and 4, making sure to take a day off in between strength workouts. Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps for each of the 3 moves, resting 1 minute between sets. If you can complete more than 15 reps, increase your resistance; if you can't even do 10 reps, reduce the amount of resistance.

warm-up Always begin strength workouts with 5 minutes of low-intensity aerobic activity. Then do torso rotations and figure 8s with a medicine ball. (Holding the ball in front of you with both hands, move the ball in a figure-8 pattern, lowering ball toward right hip, then up to left shoulder, then down to left hip, then up to right shoulder. Repeat 4-6 times.)

cool-down Finish your workout by stretching the front of your torso with a bridge pose: Lie faceup with knees bent and feet flat on floor, then lift hips until body forms one straight line from shoulders to knees; hold for 20-30 seconds, then lower and release, and gently pull knees to chest.

to progress Once you can complete 3 sets of each move, perform all 6 exercises in the order listed without resting; this equals 1 circuit. Repeat for 2-3 circuits total.

aerobic Rx To minimize ab flab, do at least 30 minutes of cardio exercise 3-5 days a week. To really sculpt your midsection, choose activities that emphasize your abs, such as dual-action elliptical training, Spinning, running, jumping rope, kickboxing or playing tennis.

BEGINNERS: how to ease into this workout

Before doing the weighted workout on these pages, beginners will need to build a solid base of strength. Try the following steps, which should take 3-4 weeks:



step 1: Push-ups Do 10-15 push-ups in a modified (on knees) or full (balancing on your toes) push-up position. As you lower, use your abs to maintain a straight torso and avoid "belly flopping." Practice until you can do 15 reps using perfect form.

step 2: Plank pose Get into a modified push-up position, with forearms and palms flat on ground, elbows in line with shoulders, then extend legs behind you, balancing on toes, abs pulled in, forming one straight line from head to heels; aim to hold position for 30-60 seconds. Practice this pose 5-6 days a week, until you can maintain it for 60 seconds.

step 3: Basic crunches Lie faceup, knees bent, feet about 1 foot from hips. Place hands behind head, fingers unclasped. Contract abs, raising head, neck and shoulder blades as one unit in 2 counts. Pause, lower in 2 counts and repeat. Do crunches 3 days a week, beginning with 2 sets of 10 reps each and gradually working up to 3 sets of 15 reps.

step 4: Do "The Plan" with little or no resistance. Follow the regular workout schedule at left with less resistance than is recommended. (For the low-high cable chop and high cable crunch, use 5-15 pounds.) Start with 2 sets of 10 reps each, then gradually work up to 3 sets of 15 reps. Also, use the Easier option: listed at the end of each caption. Focus on maintaining good form. Once you can do the moves perfectly, you're ready to begin the complete program.

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