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How to Get Toned Abs

31, March 2018

Do you have that annoying lower belly fat that just will not go away no matter how hard you try to eliminate it? This article takes the mystery out of getting abs by walking you through a practical process that will have you looking flawless on stage.

Lauren Howe, Miss Canada 2017, after being announced as a top 10 finalist. Photo: The Miss Universe Organization Lauren Howe, Miss Canada 2017, after being announced as a top 10 finalist. Photo: Miss Universe Organization

Start with a stretch 

Stretching before any exercise is essential! Making sure that your body is prepared for your workout will prevent any muscle strains or soreness. In addition, stretching will improve the flexibility of your abdominal muscles, making your future workouts even more beneficial. These two abdominal stretches can be used to warm up your abs before and after your workout.

Prior to beginning your ab exercises, you will want to stretch out your obliques. To do so, stand tall with your hands above your head. Lean to one side until you start feeling a stretch in the side of your torso. Hold this position for a few seconds and return to your starting position. Depending on how flexible you already are, repeat this stretch up to 10 times. If this stretch is a bit on the painful side, you will want to repeat this stretch fewer times in order to prevent any injury. Once you have completed your desired number of reps, repeat this stretch by leaning to the other side.

This next stretch, which will work your rectus abdominis, requires you to lay down on your stomach. Place your hands flat on the ground next to your chest in a "press up" position. While keeping your back and abdominals relaxed, slowly straighten your elbows until your back forms an arch. Hold this position for five seconds before returning to your starting position. Repeat this stretch 10 times to ensure that your rectus abdominis is fully warmed up, especially if you plan on doing some crunches.

Classic crunches 

When asked to think about an exercise that targets abdominal muscles, most people immediately think of crunches. This classic exercise can be completed in a variety of positions, allowing you to target the various muscles that make up your abdominals. While conventional crunches only target your rectus abdominis, switching up the types of crunches you do will make your abs pop on stage. On March 17, 2018, Nicole Perlstein represented St. Paul at the 2018 Miss Minnesota United States pageant. During that weekend, Perlstein finished as the first runner-up and tied for the "Best in Swimsuit" award. When asked about the training she did in preparation for her pageant, Perlstein credited both Brook Marie Enas of PR Pageant Coaches and crunches.

"Abs don't come overnight; it took me six long weeks of working out to achieve the body that I did at Miss Minnesota," Perlstein said. "The secret to those abs I had on stage was lots of leg raises and crunches. Without Enas' constant support and advice, I wouldn't have been in the shape that I was!"

To get toned abs like Perlstein, try targeting your abdominal muscles with various types of crunches. This should include basic crunches, bicycle crunches and vertical leg crunches. Including different types of crunches will ensure that more muscle groups are engaged, rather than just your rectus abdominis. Basic crunches are the most well-known type of crunches. To do this exercise, lay flat on your back with your knees bent and your hands behind your head. By engaging your core, slowly rise up to meet your knees. To avoid injury, don't strain your neck to propel yourself forward and avoid using your hands to lift yourself up.

The number of crunches you should complete will depend on your training level and stamina, so listen to your body whenever it tells you that it's time for a break. Bicycle crunches will target both your rectus abdominis and upper abs. The starting position for bicycle crunches is similar to basic crunches, however, you will lift your knees off of the floor and towards your chest.  Begin these crunches by rotating your core to meet your right arm with your left knee while extending your right leg. Switch sides and try to meet your left arm with your right knee. Continue alternating sides as you are doing bicycle crunches to ensure that most of your core muscles are engaged.

Yet again, vertical leg crunches require you to begin by laying flat on your back. Lift both of your legs until they are pointed up toward the ceiling and straighten your arms. Raise your arms in order to get as close to touching your toes as possible. To get the most out of this exercise, engage your core by pulling in your belly button, breathing slowly and controling your movements. Are you looking for a personal trainer? Try using Pageant Planet's Personal Trainer Directory.

Nicole Perlstein, Miss St. Paul United States 2018, before the swimsuit competition at Miss Minnesota United States 2018. Photo: Courtesy of Nicole Perlstein

Nicole Perlstein, Miss St. Paul United States 2018, before the swimsuit competition at Miss Minnesota United States 2018. Photo: Courtesy of Nicole Perlstein

Using an exercise ball 

To increase the variety of your ab workouts and maybe have a little fun with it, try introducing an exercise ball into the mix. With an exercise ball, you can spice up your crunches and try some new, core-engaging workouts. This fitness tool, which is also referred to as a stability ball, can be found in most gyms or can be purchased online. In addition to doing crunches while laying on the floor, an exercise ball can be used to change things up and engage more muscle groups. To do a basic crunch with an exercise ball, lay with your lower back on the ball, place your feet hip-width apart, and put your hands behind your head.

Tighten your core to slowly lift your upper body forward while tucking your chin into your chest. Return to your starting position and repeat for your desired number of reps. To engage your obliques using an exercise ball, begin with the same starting position as a basic exercise ball crunch. However, rather than lifting your upper body straight forward, rotate your upper body to one side while engaging your core. When doing this exercise, make sure to lift your shoulder blades off of the ball to get the most out of this move. If you're tired of crunches or are just looking for some more variety in your ab workouts, try engaging your abdominal muscles by doing hands-to-feet passes. To begin, lay down on your back with your legs and arms extended. Hold the ball between your hands, which should be right over your head. Engage your core to lift your shoulders, arms and legs at the same time. During this time, pass the ball from your hands to your feet. Don't forget to squeeze your thighs and feet to hold the ball in place while you are passing it. Lower your shoulders, arms and legs to the starting position. Repeat this motion, but pass the ball from your feet to your hands.

Ab routines for upper abs 

Targeting each section of your abdominal muscles while exercising is crucial if you want to achieve a balanced look. While crunches are a great exercise for targeting your upper abs, they aren't the only way of doing so. Plank pikes are a commonly used exercise for engaging and toning upper abs. To start, begin in a plank position. Place your elbows directly below your shoulders and rest on them. While doing this, keep your body in a straight line. Tighten your core and push your hips towards the ceiling, pushing them as high as they can go. Pause in this position and then lower yourself back into the plank position.

Ab routines for lower abs 

Leg raises, or leg lifts as some people call them, are a popular exercise for targeting lower abs. This exercise can be challenging at first, but through repetition and ab training, this can become easier over time.

To start this exercise, lie on your back with your legs straight out in front of you. While keeping your legs straight, lift them up towards the ceiling until your butt rises off of the floor. Slowly lower your legs back down to the floor in a controlled motion. For added difficulty, do not let your feet touch the floor before lifting your legs again. Unlike basic crunches, reverse crunches will target your lower portion of your rectus abdominous. Pairing this exercise with basic crunches will ensure that your abs have a balanced look. To do reverse crunches, lay down in the traditional crunch position. Bend your knees at a 90-degree angle and press your belly button down in order to lift your feet off of the ground. Pull your knees down to your chest until your tailbone lifts off of the ground and use your abs to lift your shoulders and head.

Hit the gym 

While all of the ab exercises mentioned above can be done at home, going the gym can expand your horizons when it comes to ab exercises. In addition to a change of scenery, going to the gym will give you access to workout machines and can introduce you to new core-strengthening exercises. While at the gym, don't forget to target other body parts to achieve the perfect pageant body. (Read: How to Tone Your Butt)

“If you want abs, do not just work on your abs lying down," said Corrin Stellakis, Miss Multiverse 2017. "Upright core exercises can really target your abdominal muscles and provide you with strength, stability and balance. Some of my favorite ab exercises include ab wheel rollouts, hanging knee lifts, plank circuits, cable twists and core coaster work. My business, Fit To Reign, is all about helping women become the best version of themselves. Fit to Reign offers pageant coaching as well as physical fitness training.”

Corrin Stellakis, Miss Multiverse 2017, toning up her killer abs. Photo: Courtesy of Corrin Stellakis

Corrin Stellakis, Miss Multiverse 2017, toning up her killer abs. Photo: Courtesy of Corrin Stellakis

Ab machines 

While at the gym, using ab machines to strengthen your core can target muscles that may have previously been ignored. Although the variety of ab machines available to you will vary based on the type of gym you attend, there are some ab machines that can be found at most gyms or purchased online to be used at home.

Ab wheels are a commonly used piece of workout equipment that can be used to define your abdominal muscles. Since this is a smaller piece of equipment, it can be used at the gym or at home. Ab wheels will take your abs to the next level since they are engaged throughout the whole workout. In addition to toning up your abs, using an ab wheel can increase the definition in your arms. (Read: How to Tone Your Arms)

Show it off with cardio 

After getting your abs nice and toned, you'll want to show them off to the world. In order to do this, you'll need to burn some of the fat in your midsection. Cardio is one of the best ways to burn fat since it will get your heart rate up and make you sweat. While not everyone is a fan of cardio, there are plenty of ways to make this type of exercise fun and efficient.

Alyssa London, Miss Alaska USA 2017, wowed the audience when she stepped out on stage during the swimsuit competition. Her super defined abs were on full display thanks to the inclusion of cardio in her workout routines. "Alaska's favorite way to sneak in her cardio is by skate skiing, a kind of cross-country skiing that's great for workouts," said Ashley Graham, the host of Miss USA 2017. Skate skiing is just one example of a fun activity that can burn calories. Jumping rope, cycling and going for a run outdoors can all by fun ways to burn extra calories in order to show off your abs. Balancing cardio with strength-training exercises is the best way to start showing off your ab definition.

Alyssa London, Miss Alaska USA 2017, showing off her hard-earned abs at Miss USA 2017. Photo: The Miss Universe Organization

Alyssa London, Miss Alaska USA 2017, showing off her hard-earned abs at Miss USA 2017. Photo: Miss Universe Organization

Abs are made in the kitchen 

In addition to focusing on strength training and cardio, watching what you eat can help you get the results you desire. While cardio can help with burning fat, eating a healthy and well-balanced diet can make you look even leaner. A diet high in protein, fruits and vegetables, but low in carbs and sugar, can help you reach your desired figure. "Don't waste all your time and energy and probably money going 110 percent in the gym if your diet is anything less than 100 percent," said Lena Coco Hunter, Miss New York United States 2018.

"When I focused on my food as a part of my lifestyle and chose to make lifelong healthy decisions in my eating habits instead of looking at it as a punishing diet, things got so easy. Meet with a nutritionist and do some google research, eat foods that fuel your body and aren't made up of chemicals, and your entire life will improve. Workouts, sleep habits, skin, literally all the things you want to improve, including your six pack."

Lena Coco Hunter, Miss New York United States 2018, during pageant weekend. Photo: @cocozoolander Instagram page.

Lena Coco Hunter, Miss New York United States 2018, during pageant weekend. Photo: @cocozoolander Instagram page.

Moving forward 

Making sure your abs are long and lean for the swimsuit competition can be a challenge for anyone. With the right mix of strength training, cardio and a healthy diet, getting stage-worthy abs shouldn't be too difficult. To take your abs to the next level, consider switching up your workouts, going to the gym or hiring a personal trainer. Try exploring Pageant Planet's Personal Trainer Directory to find the right personal trainer for you.

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