You'd love a toned belly. But the thought of performing crunch after crunch doesn't exactly inspire you to drop and do 50.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, straight crunches aren't the only (or even the best) way to strengthen your abs. You miss an important muscle -- the transversus abdominis, the deepest ab muscle -- when you focus solely on this one move.
Instead, get the entire body in on the act. According to Hemalayaa, a teacher of traditional Indian dance and yoga and creator of the "Beautiful Belly" DVD, this approach works the full spectrum of abdominal muscles, which includes the obliques (the sides of the abdomen) and the rectus abdominis (the front of the belly). When toned, these muscles better support your spine, torso, and abdominal organs. They even improve your posture.
"The whole body lifts," says Hemalayaa. "You feel supported and expansive. It's incredibly empowering." Do these moves three times a week, and you'll see -- and feel -- the results for yourself.
What It Does: Strengthens the rectus abdominus as in a traditional crunch, but also stretches the abs and chest, resulting in a longer, leaner look.
How to do it: Stand with feet just wider than shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Shift your tailbone forward; maintain this alignment for the entire move. Inhaling, interlace your fingers and reach your palms to the ceiling, straightening your arms. (This is the starting position.) As you exhale, pull in strongly and tighten your abs, rounding the spine and dropping the arms to shoulder height. Hold for a count of three. Inhale and release back to the starting position, reaching up to create space in the abdomen and chest. Start with two sets of 10, and build up to two sets of 20.
Second- Hand Circles
What They Do: Strengthen and lengthen all three groups of abdominal muscles.
How To Do Them: Lie on your back with your legs straight, palms on the floor, edges of the hands tucked under your hips. Press your lower back into the floor and lift both legs straight up to a 90-degree angle, keeping your feet together and toes pointed. Moving slowly to a count of five, make a circle with your legs, rotating them clockwise until they're straight up again. Repeat in the opposite direction. Do 10 circles total, switching directions each time.
What They Do: Strengthen the entire core.
How To Do Them: Sit tall on the floor with your legs straight. Interlace your fingers, palms out, and straighten your arms in front of you at shoulder height. Lean back so your torso makes a 45-degree angle to the floor. Hold for five breaths, then make a big circle with your torso, leaning left, forward, right, and back to the start. Move slowly to a count of five for the rotation, keeping your sitting bones rooted. Repeat in the other direction. Do 10 circles total, switching directions each time.
© 2014 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. All rights reserved.