May 13, 2015 – Sit on floor with knees bent, feet flat and palms together in front of chest (prayer position). Lean back 45 degrees, extend arms forward, and lift legs with knees bent 90 degrees (balance on tailbone) to start. Slowly lower body until middle and lower back are on floor (head, shoulders, and legs remain lifted).
When it comes to your middle, it’s basically all about the stuff you can pinch (fat) and the stuff that can cinch (muscle). We’ve brought together the top research on how to burn the former and firm the latter in one radically simple plan. You’ll get the flat belly you’ve been crunching for in four fast weeks. Minus the crunches.
Getting strong, sleek abs takes the right mix of exercises that work together to tone the entire area. And no one knows better which formula works than Michele Olson, Ph.D., a professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University at Montgomery.
You can trust her: Over the past 25 years, Olson has studied countless abs exercises in a lab using electromyography (EMG) technology to measure the amount of muscle activated by each. The resulting superworkout she crafted exclusively for Shapeincludes the all-stars—moves that scored off the charts for firming the most muscle fibers per rep.
The best part? Instead of cranking out dozens of crunches, we’re about to make-under your ab routine. For the first two weeks, do two to three circuits of the first four moves; together they hit all four ab muscle groups. “You’ll reach your goal faster if your workout builds on intensity and total reps done over time,” Olson explains. These moves get a little harder and the reps get higher for week three, plus there’s an exercise added in. Same for week four, except this time you’ll add two more moves to your session. By that week, expect two to three circuits of seven moves with the max challenge and reps. No sweat—you’ll be ready.
But regardless of how tight your ab muscles are, they can't erase belly fat that lies above (subcutaneous) or below them (visceral fat). Those you'll have to burn off—and according to Olson's research, the best belly fat-melting method is Tabata intervals. Maximum-effort cardio intervals raise your level of adrenaline, the fight-or-flight hormone that's the secret sauce to burning fat.
How it works:
Toning: Do the toning moves ahead in order for the indicated number of reps and sets three days a week on alternate days. Pay close attention to how the exercises and weight of the dumbbells required progress each week. In week four, when the abs routine is most challenging, do it just twice a week.
Tabata drills: Do Olson's Tabata-inspired cardio workout three times a week: Start with 10 minutes of moderately hard, steady-state cardio of your choice, then do a four-minute round. Complete that steady cardio-and-Tabata combo three times. That's 42 minutes total. In week four, do the Tabata drills just twice a week.
Total Time: up to 45 minutes