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Crunches are difficult—not to mention boring. So we've found five great new moves that are simple and fun. The best part: As well as firming up your abs, you'll strengthen your entire core, preventing neck, back, and hip pain.
"Sit-ups target only two of the four main abdominal muscles, which creates an imbalance. They also make it all too easy to yank your neck and torso into unnatural, uncomfortable positions," says Karon Karter, a fitness expert in Dallas and author of The Six-Week Bikini Countdown (Fair Winds Press). "The moves here, based on Pilates exercises, safely work more muscles in the midsection and promote proper posture."
Try the 20-minute routine designed by Karter three times a week, with at least a day off between sessions to let your muscles recover. If you don't have time to do all the moves at once, sneak in a few during commercial breaks while watching TV. Do two sets of each exercise and your pants will feel looser in no time.
Note: Many Pilates moves involve the "V" pose. While lying on your back, straighten legs, bring heels together, and form v-shape with feet.
Exercise: The Hundred
Targets: Lower belly
One Set: 10 reps
Starting Position: Lie on your back with your knees in the air, bent at a 90-degree angle, with your calves parallel to the ground and toes pointed. Straighten your arms along your sides, palms facing down. Stretch your fingers and relax your shoulders.
One Rep: Curl your chin to your chest to lift your shoulders and head off the floor while keeping your lower back on the ground. Holding that position, raise your arms off the mat, above your hips, keeping them straight with your palms down. Then continuously and quickly pump your arms up and down, 6 inches deep, for 10 seconds, without letting them touch the ground. Slowly return to the starting position.
To Make It Harder: Try to do the move for 100 seconds straight. Or adjust your lower body: Move your legs into the "V," raise them 45 degrees, then try to do the repetitions.
Wrong Way: Don't let your torso bounce up and down as you pump your arms.