by Joan Pagano
When training your core, less is more! For optimal results in minimal time, pick the most effective exercises that engage multiple muscles simultaneously in an integrated fashion. Instead of repeating numerous sets of the same exercise, focus on targeting all the muscles that encircle the torso for a well-rounded core workout. These are four of the best exercises.
1) Bicycle Crunch: Studies show that this is the single most effective type of crunch. The bicycle crunch engages the rectus abdominis (the coveted "six pack" muscle) to flex the spine as well as the internal and external obliques to twist the torso.
2) Plank: The rectus abdominis and obliques team up again, this time in an exercise which does not require you to curve the spine forward. Instead of doing endless crunches, try this abdominal stabilization exercise where you hold your trunk in perfect neutral spinal alignment, "hovering" above the floor.
3) "Dead Bug": In this exercise, the obliques work with the deepest abdominal muscle, the transverse abdominis, to hold the pelvis in neutral position while the moving limbs provide resistance. Be careful not to arch your lower back or rock your pelvis from side to side!
4) Opposite Arm/Leg Lift: To balance out the abdominal work, this exercise targets the deep muscles along the spine, the erector spinae, as well as the glutes in the buttocks and the deltoid in the shoulder. As a bonus, it challenges your balance and stabilization.
Joan Pagano, former trainer to Jacqueline Onassis and Caroline Kennedy, has specialized in strength training since 1988. She is the author of five best-selling exercise books, including 15-Minute Abs Workout + DVD, which depicts these and other exercises in step-by-step photos with a live-action DVD. For more about Joan, her books and services, please visit www.joanpaganofitness.com