How to Work the Right Muscles to Get Toned Abs

Strengthen your core muscles.

If you want six-pack abs, you need to know how to work all of the muscles that make up your core. There are five major muscles that you need to work to get a flat tummy and strong midsection.

Your core is made up of much more than your six-pack muscles. All humans are born with six-pack abs, but for the majority of people they ’re hidden behind a layer of abdominal fat. Working your core muscles with specific exercises will help make them bigger and more defined.

In order to get six-pack abs, I suggest doing a comprehensive exercise routine that effectively burns fat, strengthens your muscle and works the core. I like to say that ‘six-packs are made in the kitchen,’ because good nutrition is essential if you want to display these muscles or any other muscles in your body.

Below are some exercises to work each of the muscles that make up your core complex, as part of your well-balanced fitness routine.


Crunches are a simple, yet effective exercise that will activate the abdominals, the most external of the core muscles. These are the famous six-pack muscles.

How to do it: Lie face up on the floor with your knees up and bent. Begin the crunch movement by contracting your abs to curl your shoulders towards the pelvis. Clasp your hands behind your neck or crossed over your chest. Injury can be caused by pushing against your head or neck with your hands, so be careful to use your abs and not your head to lift your shoulders off the floor. Hold for a second then return to starting position.

How many: 15-20 perfect form crunches, 3-5 sets.

Bicycle Ab Crunch

The muscles at the side of your waist are called the internal and external obliques. These muscles are important for stability, especially for movements that involve lateral (sideways) movements.

To activate these muscles, you’ll need to perform exercises that involve side bending or twisting. The bicycle ab crunch is my favorite exercise for working the obliques.

How to do it: Lie on your back on the floor. Stretch your legs out straight and place your hands behind your head. Raise your legs one at a time so that your thighs are perpendicular to the ground and your calves are parallel to the ground. Keep your feet together. Contract your abdominal muscles and touch your right elbow to your left knee. At the same time, straighten your right leg out in front, keeping it several inches off of the floor. Then switch, bending your right leg and straightening your left, like pedaling a bicycle. Use your abdominal muscles to crunch your body forward so that your elbow can reach your knee.

Note: Do not pull on your neck. It’s OK if you can’t quite reach your elbow to you knee.

How many: 30 seconds of bicycle crunches, 3-5 times.

Side Plank

The deep stabilizing muscle that connects the upper and lower body is called the quadratus lumborum. It’s an important muscle for stabilizing the hips and the spine, and it also plays a role with the diaphragm for deep breathing.

This muscle is worked with side bending or twisting movements. My favorite exercise to strengthen this muscle is the side plank.

How to do it: Lie on the floor on your side. Place your hand on the floor under you and straighten your arm, raising the top half of your body off the ground. Raise your other arm straight up, or let it rest on your side. Keep your legs straight, letting the lower half of your body rest on your underside leg.

How many: Try to hold this position for 45-60 seconds, and then repeat on the other side.

Leg Raise

The hip flexor muscle, called the psoas major, is used for all activities that involve moving your legs. My favorite exercise for working this muscle is the lying down leg raise.

How to do it: Lie on your back on a mat. Place your hands under your butt to stabilize your pelvis. Without letting your lower back lift, pull your knees toward your chest, then straighten your legs back to the starting position. To increase the resistance, try the exercise with straight legs. To increase the difficulty, do leg raises on an incline bench.

How many: Start out doing 10 raises, 3 sets. If your back starts to lift, stop, because you’ll be engaging the incorrect muscles.

The Vacuum

What I call the flat tummy muscle, the transverse abdominal, is a deep core muscle that’s responsible for stabilizing your spine and pelvis, especially for lifting movements. The best exercise is so easy you can do it anywhere—it’s called the vacuum.

How to do it: You can do this exercise while sitting up or lying down. It can be done in bed, at the office, or while driving your car. All you have to do is suck your belly in as far as you can and hold. Make sure you’re pulling your abs in as if they’re meeting your back.

How many: Hold your tummy for 10 to 15 seconds then release. Try to continue breathing and don’t hold your breath.

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Flat stomach secrets: How to get a toned tummy

Flat stomach secrets: How to get a toned tummyHave you given up ever getting back to a flat stomach? Getting a six-pack is great, but if you simply want a flat stomach here are three secrets to help achieve a flatter, more toned tummy quickly! 

Getting a flat stomach is a dream for many people. Articles detailing how to get a six-pack are great to read (and it’s even better if you actually achieve a six-pack), but many people simply aim to have a flat tummy to look good in a new dress or pair of jeans. I’m going to share a few secrets behind getting a flat stomach, so you can look good in any piece of clothing!

After having my triplets, I struggled to regain the strength in my core. I was determined to figure out a way to get that perfect flat stomach appearance with my dedication to fitness. With dedicated effort, I achieved first a flatter tummy and then my goal of a flat stomach. Here are three simple tips that can help you start working towards getting a perfect flat stomach.

Best tummy toning trick 1: Suck it in

One of the first exercises that I started to do on a daily basis was to simply ‘suck it in.’ Yes, I’m talking about standing up tall and trying to pull your belly button through to your spine. The action of simply ‘sucking it in’ activates your core muscles and help you to maintain good posture. If you stand up and try it right now, you’ll notice that you instantly feel taller. Your shoulders will relax and you will immediately appear to have a smaller tummy. Now, I’m not suggesting that you walk around all day sucking in your tummy, but if you do it at regular intervals throughout the day while seated or standing you will be strengthening your important core muscles. Try to do 3 sets of 10 x 10 second holds. It’s important that you practice contracting your abs while breathing. It will take practice but it is not wise to hold your breath while contracting your muscles.

Best tummy toning trick 2: Hydrate

It’s so important to stay hydrated throughout the day, especially if you want to flatten your tummy. It’s very common for women to get a puffy appearance when they’re not well hydrated. The human body can easily hold onto excess fluid giving your tummy a bloated appearance. If you carry a full water bottle with you during the day, it will serve as a perfect reminder to meet your minimum water requirement of 8-10 glasses per day.

Best tummy toning trick 3: Plank

The traditional plank is one of the all-around best abdominal moves for developing a flat stomach! It’ll also give you a strong core and superior posture. Unlike crunches, sit-ups, and hanging leg raises, which primarily work the rectus abdominals (the vertical “six-pack” muscles) and the oblique muscles (side of the abs), planks will work several muscles groups at once. Planks blast the transverse abdominal muscles that will help to keep your tummy flat. I like all types of plank exercises. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity, if you have good form then a plank will really make you work.

What is a plank? In plank exercises you aim to raise your body from the ground and support yourself. Think of a plank as weightlifting and toning using your own weight! A basic plank is also known as a push-up plank as you adopt the same starting position. I recommend that beginners try starting out with a push-up plank. The position of a push-up plank is slightly easier to hold than more advanced types of plank exercises. Weight is distributed through the palms and shoulders which has the added bonus of really working your shoulders.

How to do a basic plank: Get into push-up position, making sure your wrists are directly below your shoulders. Eyes should be looking straight down to keep your neck in a nice neutral position, and your back should be flat. Pull your tummy and glutes (booty) tight. The wider apart your feet are, the more stable you will be! As you advance, aim to set your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the plank position until you feel your form is being lost. Aim for a 10-second hold with perfect form, and then try to advance to 30-second holds.

Push-up plank versus elbow plank: At an advanced level an elbow plank will push you to work your core even harder. An elbow plank calls for a specific arm position – rather than holding your arms straight they should be bent at the elbow. This style distributes your weight slightly differently from a basic plank and will force your core to work harder to maintain a solid plank. While a push-up plank is a great starter and maintenance position, I know that keeping my routines interesting keeps me pushing my body.

How to do an elbow plank: Position yourself as if you were about to begin a basic plank, then lower yourself onto your forearms. Bend your elbows so that you can lay your forearms on the floor, keeping your shoulders and elbows aligned.


I always advocate embracing your natural physique. It’s great to have fitness goals, but make sure they are realistic. Body confidence looks good on everyone! Getting a flat stomach will take time, patience, and an great overall plan that includes good nutrition and a well-balanced fitness routine. I hope my three flat belly secrets help you get started working towards the perfect flat stomach of your dreams!

Written by Samantha Clayton, AFAA, ISSA. Samantha is Director of Fitness Education at Herbalife.

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