Your go-to workouts can double as belly firmers. Just try these quick adjustments.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Your go-to workouts can double as belly firmers. Just try these quick adjustments.

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MAKE EXTRA TIME COUNT Got a few minutes before class? Don’t waste them! Do these three one-minute standing ab moves from Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist and author of Beat the Gym: Personal Trainer Secrets – Without the Personal Trainer Price Tag. March in place with arms overhead, and draw both elbows down towards your knee with every lift. Next, alternate bringing one elbow to the opposite knee. Finally, alternate lifting one straight leg in front as you reach for the toes with your opposite hand. “These moves target your core and provide a great warm-up,” he says.

DO DRILLS “During your run, throw in a few sets of carioca running drills throughout the workout,” Tom says. Lift your arms out to the sides. Twist from your midsection as you move laterally to the right, stepping your left leg across and in front of your right leg. Then bring the right leg back out to the right, so your hips are square again, and step your left leg behind your right leg. Continue, then switch sides and repeat. “This simple technique adds some quality core work,” Tom explains.

CRANK YOUR CRUNCHES “When doing bicycle crunches, look at your rear elbow to increase the contraction in your obliques,” says Michele Olson, a professor of sport science at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. For example, when you twist to the left, look at your left elbow as you bring the right elbow to touch your left knee.

REALLY GO HANDS-ON AT THE BARRE “Use the barre to get a stronger abdominal contraction by pressing your hands or forearms into it, and drawing your shoulder blades down your back as you pull the abs in and up,” says Tracey Mallett, creator of the Bbarreless and Bootybarre gym classes across the US. “Your arms should always be resisting the barre, never just passively holding it.”

USE YOUR BREATH Inhale as you lower into a squat, and exhale through your mouth as you come up. “That exhale technique helps your deep abdominal muscles,” says Natalie Yco, a Los Angeles celeb trainer. “The same applies to boxing. Exhaling when you punch stabilises your core and gives you more power.” WORK WITH BOTH SIDES Several yoga poses – think locust, cobra, and sphinx – emphasise the lower back muscles (also part of your core), but even those allow for some extra ab work. “We can target the abs in every yoga pose, including when you’re lying prone on the belly,” says Lisa Ash Drackert, owner and director of Westport Yoga KC in Kansas City, Missouri. When you’re face down, try to lift your belly button off the floor, which turns on the deep transverse abdominis muscle. “Imagine a fishing line tied to your middle, pulling you up to the ceiling,” Lisa says.

PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR FEET “Most people do planks or pushups without thinking about what their feet are doing,” says Nika Eshetu, pilates master instructor and owner of Atomic Pilates and Sports Fitness in North Hollywood. “During a plank, keep your feet close together and press your heels back instead of being forward on your toes. This slight shift takes some of the weight out of your shoulders and fires more abdominal muscles.”

RAISE YOUR ARMS Doing strength moves like squats and lunges with your arms extended overhead (whether you’re holding weights or not) changes your centre of gravity, says Cindy Present, the fitness and activities director at Lake Austin Spa Resort in Texas. “Your body has to work harder to stabilise your torso, and that escalates the challenge for your core.”

GET LOW IN CYCLING CLASS “Moving the bike’s handlebars lower triggers more core engagement,” says Susan Schwartz, owner of Blazing Saddles Indoor Cycling in Sherman Oaks, California. Next time you spin, try dropping the bars one or two notches lower than the height you usually choose. You’ll know that you have gone too low if you feel pinching in your neck as you’re trying to look at the instructor.

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BRACE YOURSELF To rock a midriff -baring top – like Taylor Swift (left), Sarah Hyland, and Joan Smalls – you needn’t suck it in for that tight-abs effect. A study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that bracing the abs – contracting them as if you were about to be punched in the stomach – did a better job of activating both the rectus abdominis and deep transverse abdominis muscles than hollowing (drawing your belly button towards your spine) did while standing, sitting, and kneeling as well as during certain plank moves. All those poses come into play during strength exercises, too, so brace yourself as you do your reps.
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