Regular repetitions of stomach exercises can tighten and tone the abdominal, or ab, muscles as well as firm belly fat to help create a trimmer look. For the best results in reducing "ab flab," stomach toning exercises should be combined with cardiovascular exercise such as brisk walking, running, cycling or swimming in addition to eating a low-fat, balanced diet. The three main types of stomach exercises tone one or more of the upper, lower, and side — or oblique — abdominal muscles.
Stomach crunches are popular exercises for helping to tone the upper abdominal muscles. The exerciser lies on his or her back with the knees bent and the arms crossed at the chest. When the exerciser raises his or her back off the floor, the stomach muscles should be squeezed, or contracted. The lowering of the back should then be performed slowly before the contraction is released. Beginning with 10 repetitions each session before gradually increasing the amount to about 30 is recommended.
To help tone the lower abdominal muscles, exercisers can perform what is called a reverse crunch. The exerciser has his or her lower back pressed to the floor or exercise mat and arms straight at the sides. The head and shoulders are raised at the same time as the knees and butt. The knees should reach the chest on each repeat, with each knee not quite touching the head.
The third main type of stomach exercises work the obliques. The obliques are the side muscles that extend from the ribs to the hips; they include the "love handles" area. Oblique muscles allow the waist and upper hips to be turned to each side. One of the most well-known stomach exercises that helps to tone the oblique side muscles mimics riding a bicycle.
The starting position for the bicycle stomach exercise is stretched out on an exercise mat or the floor, with the head facing up and the arms comfortably at the sides. The arms are then bent at the elbows as the hips and butt are moved up in the air. The hands and elbows support the lower body as the legs make upward bicycling movements.
The best abdominal workouts should include stomach exercises for the upper, lower, and oblique muscles. The same number of exercises should be done on each area to help ensure that all muscles are worked evenly. Three days a week is a good start for beginning ab exercising, but a stomach exercise routine should be gradually increased to at least five weekly sessions. One or two cardiovascular activities, such as brisk walking, cycling, running, or swimming, should also be done several times a week.