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How to Get Abs Without Doing Tons of Extra Core Work

Make Extra Time Count

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Got a few minutes before class? Don't waste them! Do these three one-minute standing ab moves from exercise physiologist Tom Holland, the author of Beat the Gym: March in place with arms overhead, and draw both elbows down toward your knee with every lift. Next, alternate bringing one elbow to your opposite knee. Finally, alternate lifting one straight leg in front as you reach for the toes with your opposite hand. "These moves not only target your core but also provide a great warm-up," he says. (Or try these other standing abs exercise ideas.)

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Do Drills

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"During your run, throw in a few sets of carioca running drills throughout the workout," Holland says. Lift your arms out to the sides. Twist from your midsection as you move laterally to the right, stepping your left leg across and in front of your right leg. Then bring the right leg back out to the right (so hips are square again), and step your left leg behind your right leg. Continue, then switch sides and repeat. "This simple technique adds some quality core work," Holland explains. (Here are more core-strenghthening methods besides planks and crunches.)

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Crank Your Crunches

how to get abs with bicycle crunches

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"When doing bicycle crunches, look at your rear elbow to increase the amount of contraction in your obliques," says Michele Olson, Ph.D., a professor of sport science at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. For example, when you twist to the left, look at your left elbow as you bring the right elbow to touch your left knee. (For a challenge, attempt the most intense obliques workout ever.)

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Really Go Hands-On at the Barre

how to get abs with barre workouts

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"Use the barre to get a stronger abdominal contraction by pressing your hands or forearms into it and drawing your shoulder blades down your back as you pull the abs in and up," says Tracey Mallett, creator of the Bbarreless and Bootybarre classes, available at gyms across the country. "Your arms should always be resisting the barre, never just passively holding it." (Just don't go overboard shifting your pelvis. If you do, the barre tuck can actually do more damage than good.)

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Use Your Breath

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Inhale as you lower into a squat, and exhale through your mouth as you come up. "That exhale technique helps you activate your deep abdominal muscles," says Natalie Yco, a trainer in Los Angeles who has worked with celebs like Emmy Rossum and Zooey Deschanel. "The same thing applies to boxing: Exhaling when you punch stabilizes your core and gives you more power." (This is how you should breathe during exercise to get the maximum benefits.)

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Work with Both Sides

how to get abs with yoga workouts

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Several yoga poses—think locust, cobra, and sphinx—emphasize your lower-back muscles (also part of your core), but even those allow for some extra ab work. "We can target the abs in every yoga pose—including when you're lying prone on the belly," says Lisa Ash Drackert, the owner and director of Westport Yoga KC in Kansas City, Missouri. When you're facedown, try to lift your belly button off the floor, which turns on the deep transverse abdominis muscle. "Imagine a fishing line tied to your middle, pulling you up to the ceiling," Drackert says. (Try this advanced yoga flow for strong abs.)

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Pay Attention to Your Feet

how to get abs with plank workouts

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"Most people do planks or push-ups without thinking much about what their feet are doing," says Pilates master instructor Nika Eshetu, the owner of Atomic Pilates and Sports Fitness in North Hollywood, California. "During a plank, keep your feet close together and press your heels back instead of being forward on your toes. This slight shift takes some of the weight out of your shoulders and fires more abdominal muscles." (These plank variations will hit your core from all angles.)

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Brace Yourself

how to get abs by lifting weights

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To rock a midriff-baring top—like Taylor Swift, Sarah Hyland, and Rihanna—you needn't suck it in for that tight-abs effect. A study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that bracing the abs—contracting them as if you were about to be punched in the stomach—did a better job of activating both the rectus abdominis and deep transverse abdominis muscles than hollowing (drawing your belly button toward your spine) did while standing, sitting, and kneeling as well as during certain plank moves. All those poses come into play during strength exercises, too, so brace as you do your reps. (This is the full guide on how to engage your core.)

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Raise Your Arms

how to get abs with overhead weighted exercises

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Doing strength moves like squats and lunges with your arms extended overhead (whether you're holding weights or not) changes your center of gravity, says Cindy Present, the fitness and activities director at Lake Austin Spa Resort in Texas. "Your body has to work harder to stabilize your torso, and that escalates the challenge for your core." (Take this test to see how good your balance is.)

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Get Low In Cycling Class

how to get abs during spin class

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"Moving the bike's handlebars lower triggers more core engagement," says Susan Schwartz, the owner of Blazing Saddles Indoor Cycling in Sherman Oaks, California. Next time you Spin, try dropping the bars one or two notches lower than the height you usually choose. You'll know that you have gone too low if you feel pinching in your neck as you're trying to look at the instructor. (Next up: 9 Abs Exercises That Will Help You Crush Your Next Spin Class.)

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