Engage more muscles for a tighter totally toned midsection

To crunch or not to crunch? That is the question.

I have seen and heard every claim that crunches are a must for a strong core, but that's not entirely true. When executing this move, the body is engaging approximately six to seven muscles. And while the motion of the crunch isolates your abdominal region, it fails to actively engage the opposing muscle groups, which are needed to be healthy and strong in order to perform daily tasks such as sitting tall in the car, picking up a child, and properly performing other physical activities. Over time, working your abdominals in this way can wreak havoc on your lower back.

Think about it the next time you are sitting at your desk. As time passes, you begin to slouch forward, almost mimicking the position the body is in when doing a crunch. Now, can you see why this may not be a healthy solution to a strong core?

So where does this leave us? With the PLANK! Over the course of my 16 years as a fitness professional and strength and conditioning coach, I have found that planks are a much healthier, safer, and more effective way to train the core region. Why? Compared to roughly seven muscles used during a crunch, the plank engages a whopping 20 muscles! Plus, you get the added benefit of counterbalancing the abdominals with the lower lumbar region, which results in a tighter midsection.

To effectively tone and tighten your midsection, try a combination of my top five moves from my fitness DVD, JCORE: Accelerated Body Transformation System:

  • Equipment: mat or towel
  • Perform each of the following exercise as many times as possible for 30 seconds
  • If performing the following moves in one sequence rest for 30 seconds between each exercise

1. Crocodile: Start in a side plank, laying on your right side with your legs fully extended and your right arm fully extended directly under your shoulder, supporting your upper body. With your left hand on your hip, bend your left knee placing your foot in front of your right thigh. In one sweeping motion, lift your hips as high as possible. Lower to the starting position and repeat until the time is up, then repeat on the other side.

Coach's tip: If you are struggling to stabilize your body, put your forearm on the ground, for support.

2. Money in your pocket: Begin in a traditional plank position with your forearms on the floor, shoulders aligned directly over your elbows, maintaining a straight line from your shoulders to your toes. From this position, dip your right hip to the floor. Return to the starting position and repeat on the left. Alternate back and forth as if you are tapping each pocket to the floor.

Coach's tip: Imagine that you are tracing an arch with your hips to ensure they do not rise above shoulder height.

3. Lock jaws: Again, start in a traditional plank position. Next, flex your right leg as you lift it up and place the arch of your right foot on the inside of your left knee. Hold! Return to plank position and repeat on the left. Alternate for 30 seconds.

Coach's tip: Contract your gluteus and abdominal region as tight as possible throughout the entire exercise.

4. Cheerleaders: Begin by laying on your right side with both legs fully extended, left leg stacked on top of your right. Position your right elbow directly under your shoulder with your forearm in front of you. Extend your left arm overhead as you lift your hips off the ground. From this position, simultaneously swing your left arm and leg so that the hand and toe touch just in front of your navel. Repeat as many times as possible for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

Coach's tip: If you find yourself struggling to swing your leg all the way, use your knee instead.

5. Pendulum swings: Begin in a tradition push-up position with both hands directly under your shoulders, legs fully extended behind you. Bring your right knee up toward your navel and hold. Then, in a sweeping motion, swing your leg out to the right as high and fast as possible. As your knee swings back down, allow it to pass its original starting position towards your left hip. Your body should remain stable as just your leg moves. Continuing repeating until time is up, then repeat the move on the left.

Coach's tip: To fully engage the abdominal region, inhale as your knee swings upward, exhale, and contract as the leg descends under your body.