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Categories > Exercise and Fitness > Getting started exercising

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The crunch
The elevated crunch
The plank
The bicycle
The V-up


Before you begin, remember …
Before you begin, remember …

Go gradually. You want results—fast. But the most common injury trigger is exercising too aggressively. Instead, start off at a low intensity and work your way up to a more demanding level.

Move smoothly. Focus on slow, smooth movements. Sudden or jerky movements can cause strain.

Breathe easily. Exhale as you tighten your muscles or lift your body. Inhale as you return to the starting position. Never hold your breath; this can trigger lightheadedness or even fainting.

Get with a program. Your body will benefit best if you also do heart-healthy aerobic exercises, such as jumping rope, brisk walking or swimming, several times a week.

Have you discovered lately that your favorite pair of jeans still fit—as long as you hold your breath? If your middle has been expanding, you’re not alone. Many people tend to develop extra abdominal weight as they get older. Unfortunately, that can set the stage for several serious conditions, including coronary heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. Now the good news: Whittling your waist to a healthy size may help ward off these conditions and can ease or even prevent low back pain. Plus, you’ll be able to zip up those Levi’s without sacrificing any oxygen!

Are you ready to flex your muscles? Then let’s go! To begin, aim for eight repetitions of each exercise.

The crunch

The crunch is a safe and effective way to tighten your belly. To do the basic crunch, lie with your back flat against the floor with your knees drawn up to about a 90-degree angle. (Tip: Don’t anchor your feet; this takes the emphasis off the abdominal muscles.) Support the back of your neck just below your skull. Slowly lift your upper body with your abdominal muscles, raising just the bottom of your shoulder blades off the floor. Let the weight of your head hang in your hands. For less exertion, keep your arms straight at your sides and reach forward. To crank up the intensity, fold your arms across your chest.

The elevated crunch

If you’re a beginner, have back trouble or have weak abdominal muscles, start with this exercise. To work your obliques (the muscles that keep your body erect as well as let you do the twist), lie on your back with your bent legs resting on a stable support, such as a bench. Extend your arms to form a wide “V” over your head. Slowly lift your left arm and reach across your torso just to the right of both knees. Do all the sets on that side before switching to your right arm.

To work your rectus abdominis (the muscle that stabilizes your chest and abdomen), clasp your hands behind your head and lift your upper body straight up while maintaining the elevated position.

The plank

Start in a modified push-up position: on your forearms and knees, with your elbows directly under your shoulders. Push your knees up, supporting your weight on your forearms and toes so that your entire body is off of the floor; draw your navel in toward your spine, contract your abs and keep your body in a straight line without letting your hips sink down. Hold for 30 seconds or as long as you can. Keep your body in a straight line from ears to ankles.

The bicycle

This version of riding an imaginary bike targets both the upper and lower abdominal muscles. It also strengthens the rectus and the obliques. With your hands behind your head, legs bent and toes pointed, touch one elbow, then the other, to the opposite knee.

The V-up

To give your lower abdominal muscles some undivided attention, try this exercise. (One caveat: If you have a weak back or feel back strain, choose an easier exercise, such as the bicycle, described earlier.) First, lie on your back with your hands stretched behind your head and your bent legs held at an angle of about 90 degrees. Now bring your arms over your head, raise your upper body and reach your hands beyond your knees, parallel with your lower legs.