Beginning an exercise program when you're overweight is a daunting experience the gym can seem like a scary place. The key is to start slowly, with easy exercises and build yourself up gradually. Training your abdominals won't lead directly to belly fat loss, as losing fat from specific areas has more to do with your diet than the exercises you perform. A strong set of abdominal muscles will reduce back pain, improve posture and prevent injury, notes chiropractor Thomas E. Hyde on Spine-Health.com. (Ref 1)
Curl ups are much easier and far safer than full sit-ups, which can put your spine under excess strain. Lie on your back as you would for a sit-up, with one leg out straight and the other bent to around 90 degrees. Place your hands under your lower-back, pull your ab muscles tight, then curl your head and shoulders off the floor. Pause at the point you feel your abs contracting, then lower yourself down slowly. Stuart McGill, spine specialist at the University of Waterloo, suggests alternating leg position halfway through your repetitions. (Ref 2)
Despite their odd name, birddogs are highly beneficial for building strong abdominals. These include an isometric or static contraction. Assume an all-fours position, then lift your left hand out in front of you and your right leg behind you. Get both limbs as straight as you can while keeping your core muscles tight and without arching your lower-back. Pause for two to three seconds, then bring the hand and knee back in, lightly lowering each to the floor before starting the next rep. Perform all your reps with one arm and leg, then switch over. If these are too tough to begin with, start with shorter holds and take a quick rest with all your limbs back on the floor between reps.
The Pallof press is an anti-rotation exercise as your abdominals are acting to resist movement. Stand side-on to a cable machine and hold the handle in both hands in front of your chest then push it straight ahead. Your arms should be straight and your hands directly in front of the midline of your body. Hold that position for 10 to 15 seconds, then switch sides. You can also perform Pallof presses using a resistance band and there are many different variations. Try them in a kneeling position or on one knee, with a split foot stance or with a narrow stance, advises strength coach Tony Gentilcore. (Ref 3) To make them easier, use a wide stance and only put a light weight on the cable stack.
Ab training is important, but it should only form part of your program. Moving more is a key element in losing weight, notes Beth Shepard of the American Council on Exercise. Cardiovascular exercise, strength training and being active day to day will help more with losing weight than ab-specific exercises. (Ref 4) This is not a full list of all the easy, low-impact ab exercises you can do, but each works a different function of the core, so they're an important three moves to learn. Perform three sets of 10 to 15 reps on each -- and three sets of maximum holds on the Pallof press -- twice per week as part of a strength training session.