Strengthening your abs requires specific exercises that target all of your core muscles. The rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis and the external and internal oblique muscles comprise your core muscles. Different variations on the sit-up easily target all of these muscles from the comfort of your own home. Although the only equipment you need is a mat, a stability ball helps vary your toning routine.
Exercise Ball Sit-up
Use an exercise ball to diversify your ab workout, making it more interesting with exercises that target your entire core. Perform a basic sit-up on the ball by lying on your back with your feet firmly planted on the floor, placing your hands behind your head. Your legs should form a 90-degree angle. Slowly lift your torso up as you exhale, keeping your lower back firmly planted on the ball. Pause for one second when your upper back is completely off the ball, then return to starting position to complete one repetition.
Exercise Ball Russian Twist
Focus on your oblique muscles by twisting to each side in an exercise described by the American Council on Exercise as the Russian twist. Begin on top of your ball in the sit-up position, with your back resting on the ball and your feet firmly planted on the floor. Extend your arms toward the ceiling and clasp your hands together, keeping your shoulders firmly pressed into the stability ball throughout the exercise. Exhale, and slowly twist to the left side, allowing your right shoulder to come off the ball. Engage your abdominal muscles to maintain stability and protect your spine. Inhale and hold the position for a second or two, then roll back to the center of the ball and repeat the movement on your right side.
Yoga's Boat Pose
Although yoga postures differ from a traditional sit-up, many poses focus directly on strengthening the abdominal muscles by requiring you to engage your entire core to maintain stability. Yoga is easily performed in the home, requiring only a yoga mat and a quiet room. Practice Full Boat pose regularly to quickly build abdominal strength. Begin by sitting on your bottom with your legs stretched in front of you, placing your hands on the mat next to your hips. Exhale as you lean back slightly and pull your knees in toward your chest. Find your balance and then slowly straighten your legs, lifting them to your eye level if possible. Lift your hands off the mat and extend your arms forward, parallel to the floor. Aim to hold the pose for several deep breaths, keeping your spine straight. Adjust the pose according to your level of strength by keeping your knees bent or by extending your legs and keeping your hands on the mat.
Studies done by Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor at Auburn University Montgomery and Carrie Myers, owner of CarrieMichele Fitness clearly demonstrate that Pilates exercises provide an ample challenge to the abdominal muscles. Olson and Myers found the hundred to be 31 percent more effective than traditional sit-ups at targeting the external obliques, as reported on the IDEA website. Safely perform the hundred by lying on your mat with your arms at your sides and your legs extended. Lift your head, shoulders and legs off the mat, forming a 45-degree angle with your legs. Pulse your arms up and down quickly while alternating five seconds of inhaling with five seconds of exhaling. Continue until you have performed 100 breaths/arm pumps. Modify the position by extending your legs straight up toward the ceiling.