There’s much more to your belly than meets the eye. Most people target the six-pack surface muscles but neglect the deep abdominal ones, namely the transversus abdominis, iliopsoas, and diaphragm. Not only do these key players cinch your waist, they enhance crucial functions of your body — breathing, digestion, and relaxation — and help you stand up straighter. They are the source of your center of gravity. “When you engage and strengthen this internal support system, it’s like accessing an additional power source,” says Jill Miller, a Los Angeles-based yoga teacher and creator of the Core Integration fitness DVD. But you improve oxygen flow, increase your energy levels, and feel more grounded. You still need to work the outer muscles, too. “In real life, the core muscles never work alone. They interconnect with all the muscles of the body to provide mobility and balance,” says Eva Pelegrin, founder of Attune Holistic Fitness in New York City. Try this routine for a week and you could start to see a toned tummy that functions as well on the inside as it looks on the outside.
Strengthen the Insides
Start with these exercises from Jill Miller that stretch the diaphragm , massage the digestive organs, and provide a strong foundation. Do the six moves as a routine two to three times per week, with a day off in between.
1. Revolved Ab Pose
What It Does: Helps you use your abs in concert (unlike crunches, which isolate one muscle group)
How to Do It: Lie on your back with your arms in the shape of a T and legs lifted so they’re perpendicular to the floor. Shift hips a few inches to the left, then exhale and drop both legs slowly to the right, stopping before they touch the floor. Hold for a deep breath, exhale, and return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Alternate for 20 reps, 10 on each side.
2. Abdominal Vacuum
What It Does: Stretches the diaphragm and other deep core muscles; massages the colon, stomach, and other digestive organs to improve functioning
How to Do It: Lie on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor. Inhale and raise arms overhead behind you. Lift your spine one vertebra at a time until your hips are high. Exhale as you relax your abs, lowering your spine down. A natural vacuum will draw your belly in. When your hips are on the floor, lower hands to start position. Repeat 7 to 10 times.
3. Elevated Leg Lift
What It Does: Works the diaphragm and the iliopsoas muscles; improves your posture
How to Do It: Lie on the floor with your pelvis resting on a cushion or towels. Reach arms overhead, palms face up. Engaging your core, raise the left leg and lift the right an inch off the floor. Hold and breathe deeply for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg, alternating 15 times on each side.
Tone the Outsides
Eva Pelegrin designed these moves, which primarily work your outer abdominals and upper body, to improve your posture, take pressure off your lower back, and support you all day long.
1. Basket Twist
What It Does: Improves spinal flexibility while toning core, back, and arms
How to Do It: Sit on the floor and hold a weighted ball or any heavy object (even a basket of magazines); bend knees slightly. Lean torso back and draw navel in while keeping the spine straight. Contract your abs and move ball or weight from side to side, keeping abs tight. Do 2 to 3 sets of 10 on each side.
2. Leg Thread
What It Does: Improves agility, cardiovascular health, hip flexibility, and stamina
How to Do It: Crouch on toes with feet shoulder distance apart, palms on floor, navel drawn in. Pivot on ball of right foot, rotate hips right, and extend your left leg out to the side , keeping it parallel to floor. Repeat with right leg. Alternate legs quickly. Do 3 to 5 sets of 10 on each side.
What It Does: Strengthens the core while toning arms and upper body
How to Do It: Start in a push-up position, knees on the floor, palms resting on a small towel. Draw shoulders down, navel in. Without arching your lower back, slowly move your hands forward until your chest touches the floor. Release and return to start. For more of a challenge, use upper body to slide hands back to starting position. Do 2 to 3 sets of 10 reps each.