Whether it’s a tropical summer vacation or a night at the club with your besties, there are certain occasions where you just want to show a little skin. And while six-pack abs are never a prerequisite for rocking a teeny bikini or trendy crop top, there’s also nothing wrong with getting your fitness on, in preparation for putting your tummy on full display. “The most important part of toning the abs is understanding how to access them,” certified Pilates, Yoga and Nutrition Instructor Claudia Matles, told me in an interview. “And truly, the journey of ‘getting there’ is where the benefits are!”
Here are 8 exercises to help you start transforming your abs in just 30 days.
1. Pilates double leg stretch
Connecting the breath with the body through specific movements is key for refining the abdominal area, according to Matles. That’s why one of her favorite Pilates moves for toning the midsection, is the double leg stretch.
Start from a seated position on your mat with your legs bent and your feet under your knees. Extend your right leg up to the sky, while extending your left arm straight forward at shoulder height. Then do the same with your left leg and right arm by pressing your navel to your spine. “Imagine a ping pong ball at the inner center of your lower belly,” said Matles. “Inhale through the nose, into the ball, exhale [and] shrink the ball, making it tiny toward the center of your belly button by lifting the pelvic floor, pressing navel to spine, and wrapping ribs and hips to the mid line at the core. This is the breath/body connection throughout these exercises which is part of what we call Contrology,” she explained.
Exhale and hold pose by scooping out lower belly and creating the curve in back to maintain. Inhale, then exhale and roll down on your lower back, maintaining the architecture of the chest lifted toward knees throughout the exercise. Repeat (do two sets of 10).
“This exercise tones the transverse abdominal muscle, rectus abdominal muscle and obliques,” said Matles. “You can modify by keeping head and chest on mat.”
2. Pilates crisscross
The Pilates crisscross is another favorite exercise for Matles as it’s a great way to practice that breath-body connection.
Lie on your mat with a neutral spine (your pelvis should not be tucked or tilted) legs bent, feet under your knees. Interlace fingers behind your head, shoulders soft and down, with wide elbows. “Connect with the ping pong [ball],” said Matles. “Exhale, curl your upper body off the mat leading from the center of the chest by shrinking the ping pong [ball].”
Inhale. Then exhale and extend your right leg as you rotate the center of chest over to the right (try to keep the elbows wide as you bring the left armpit toward your right knee). Inhale and return to center. Exhale and extend the left leg and rotate the torso to the left. Repeat (do two sets of 10).
“This exercise tones your obliques, transverse abdominal muscles, and rectus abdominal muscle,” Matles told me. “You can always place a yoga block the long way on the floor to rest your feet on, if you’d like to modify.”
3. Russian twist
When it comes to working those stubborn oblique muscles, celebrity trainer Jason Rosell, who’s also the creator of the popular Caliente Fitness workout series, loves the Russian twist.
Starting from a seated position, raise your feet two inches from the floor. Interlock your hands together in front, and begin shifting your body left to right, touching the ground each time for 20 seconds. Want to bump up the intensity? Try holding on to a weighted medicine ball throughout the exercise.
Fitness expert Dempsey Marks, who created the PreGame Fit wellness plan, is also a big fan of this exercise. “Russian Twist is a fantastic full-core exercise that engages all of your ab muscles including your rectus abdominis, internal obliques, and external obliques,” he told me via email. “It also helps strengthen your lower back.”
4. Caliente kicks
Similar to the traditional bicycle kick crunches with a twist, Rossell’s signature Caliente kicks are a perfect for working both your upper and lower abs.
“Lay flat on ground and with both hands, grab one ankle,” explained Rossell. “Then switch to [the] other ankle and repeat this motion on [the] opposite side for a total of 20 seconds, followed by a 10-second rest. Repeat the same exercise for another 20 seconds until you complete one full minute.”
Talk about feeling the burn!
For a total core workout, Marks recommends adding some V-ups to your life. “V-Ups are a fantastic way to burn the rectus abdominis,” he told me. “They are more challenging than a traditional crunch and work all the way from upper to lower abs. They also challenge your hip flexors, inner thighs and quads.”
Lie flat on your back on your workout mat with your arms extended behind your head, palms facing up. Keeping your legs and your feet pointed, lift your lower body up toward the sky, while also lifting your upper body off the floor. Squeeze your core as you reach toward your feet. Slowly lower yourself all the way back down. Repeat.
6. Ab roll out
According to personal trainer Chris Cooper, NSCA-CPT, LMT, who shared his favorite ab moves with me in an interview, “The most effective ab exercises are ones that resist movement instead of creating it.” Instead of doing exercises like crunches, sit-ups, and side bends, Cooper says you’re going to get better results from moves like the ab roll out.
Start in a kneeling position, grasp either side of the Ab Wheel and position yourself in a kneeling plank. Brace your core, squeeze your glutes and roll out as far as you can safely handle, keeping tension throughout your entire body. “Once you have extended as far as you can while keeping that modified plank position” said Cooper, “Pull yourself back up to the starting position.” Repeat.
When I asked Jenay Rose, a yoga teacher and wellness influencer based in Los Angeles, CA, what exercise she recommends to clients with ab goals, she said, “The absolute single most (hated) effective core move is a plank. It’s simple, yet incredibly strengthening. A plank works every muscle in the body by contracting the muscles over a long period of time.”
There are two keys to a perfect plank, according to Rose. First, it’s remembering to breathe. “Slow, steady, even inhalations and exhalations will steady your mind and improve your form. Keep the belly engaged and abs tight throughout your breath,” she told me.
The second: pull in. “In a plank you want to have the motion of pulling your elbows to your toes as if you wanted them to meet, but you won’t actually move them,” said Rose. “This will cinch your entire body in and up. Another key point here is to push through the shoulders, spreading the shoulder blades down your back to increase stability.”
8. Scissor kicks
To work those traverse abs (deep stomach muscles), Marks recommends scissor kicks. “These muscles are key for posture, balance and stability,” he told me. “Scissor Kicks are also great for strengthening your hip flexors.”
Lie on your mat with your hands at your sides. Lift your right leg in front of you in a 90-degree angle to the floor. At the same time, raise your left leg behind you, creating another 90-degree angle. Engaging your abdomen, legs and gltues, cross your legs over each other in a scissor-like motion. Repeat.