Step One:
The important part: what you need to be thinking about to get the most out of your efforts.

Isolate your abs.
When you do crunches, your abdominal exercises, you may be using three muscle groups: the abdominals, the hip flexors and some of the quadriceps (thigh).

That means that whatever benefit is being gained from the exercise is being spread out over all three muscle groups. The point was to work just the abs. If your abs do all the work, they'll respond quicker by getting stronger and tighter. You need to be aware of what you are doing, then you can activate the targeted muscle, and make the exercise more effective."

Here's an exercise to help you better focus on your abs during an abs workout: While standing, place the thumb of your left hand on the bottom of your rib cage. With fingers wide, place your middle finger of the same hand on the front of the hipbone. Slowly kick your left foot forward, about 6 to 12 inches off the floor. That's pure hip flexion. You should notice that the distance between the ribs and pelvis (your thumb and middle finger) does not change. Now for pure abdominal flexion. To do this, shift all your weight to the right foot. The left foot should be lightly touching the floor.

Keeping the left leg loose, contract your abdominal muscles by pulling the rib cage and pelvis toward each other. (Your leg will move a little.) Kind of like a minicrunch while standing, but nothing above your chest moves. If you're doing it correctly, the distance between your thumb and middle finger should decrease by about a half inch.

Besides just teaching you what true abdominal contraction feels like, this exercise is good to practice almost anywhere for some added toning and tightening. Just remember to exercise both sides.

So in any exercise for abdominal strengthening, you need to make sure that your abs -- alone -- are getting the workout. To do that while doing a crunch involves four important steps:

1. When you're lying on the floor, knees bent, feet flat and close to your buttocks, completely relax your abdominal muscles. (Your lower back will be slightly curved, and your tummy may stick out a bit.) This relaxed stage gives you a baseline during the exercise so you can better distinguish when your abs are getting all the attention and when they're not.

2. Without moving any other parts of your body, tense your abs by slightly pulling your rib cage toward your pelvis. Focus on exactly which muscle you want to use to lift you up. It will take longer to do a sit-up, but you want quality rather than quantity."

3. Tilt your pelvis so your lower back stays flat on the floor as you curl and release. This is the secret to belly-tightening crunches. One study found that when people maintained a pelvic tilt, abdominal muscle activity doubled compared with when the pelvis wasn't stabilized. An incorrect sit-up, activates only the upper abdominals. To work the lower abdominals, you have to engage the pelvis. HINT: If someone can get a hand under your back, your form is getting sloppy and you should stop. To improve your staying power, practice holding a pelvic tilt while you lift and lower each leg. Quality not quantity.

4. Relax your abs and begin again.

Get off the fast track. The best muscle development comes from controlled tension on muscles. Keeping your abdominal exercises slow, instead of popping off the floor, prevents momentum from helping out the abs. A few slow crunches are far better than 100 fast crunches.

How slow? About seven seconds for each repetition -- three seconds on the lifting stage, hold for a second and then three seconds on the lowering stage. It's important to keep the movement slow on the lowering phase of the exercise. Do not flop back onto the floor during crunches, you would miss half of the exercise.

step two: the 21-day program


step 1: abs program
step 2: the program
step 3: the exercises for 3 weeks
step 4: advanced program

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