When setting out to trim the waist, many people go straight to crunches. And while ab exercises can certainly help build muscle and make your waistline look a bit trimmer, diet is also a key factor in losing belly fat. First, make sure you're burning more calories than you're consuming and that the foods you're eating are mostly fruits, vegetables, whole-grain carbohydrates and lean protein.
Next, to target the waist and get the maximum benefits, it's important to know what exercises are most effective at helping you lose inches. Here are some of your best bets for trimming your waist.
1. Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise is a key element when working on losing inches from the waist. Twists, bends, crunches and other core exercises are great at tightening and toning the waist, but nothing takes the inches off like aerobics.
Unfortunately, it's impossible to "spot reduce" a particular problem area. Running, bicycling, rowing and swimming are great aerobic workouts, but anything that brings your heart rate up to the target rate for at least 20 minutes will do the trick.
Want to up the ante? Incorporate HIIT cardio where you go all out for a period of time, and then dial back the intensity. Alternate this patter for 20 to 30 minutes.
2. Side Bend
In addition to aerobic workouts, a regimen of waist-slimming exercises tighten and tone the waist as you lose pounds and inches. One of the best exercises to slim the waist is a side bend.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Place one hand on your hip and hold a dumbbell in the other. Bend at the side, letting your hand with the weight reach toward the floor. Be careful not to move the hips so that your obliques (muscles along your side) are getting the workout. Do 15 to 20 repetitions, and then switch sides.
3. Bicycle Crunch
Bicycle crunches simultaneously crunch the stomach while you extend your legs. In a 2001 study, the American Council on exercise ranked this exercise the best one for targeting your abs.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on the floor with your hands behind your head and your knees bent, as if preparing for a regular crunch. Raise your legs into a "table-top" position, with your knees bent and your shins parallel to the floor. As you raise your upper body to complete a crunch, twist at the waist and bring your elbow in toward the opposite knee. Extend the other leg out straight as you touch the opposite elbow and knee to each other. Twist back to center and bring the leg back to its original position; then repeat on the other side. Do 20 to 30 repetitions.
4. Waist Crunch
Waist crunches work your abdominal muscles and the side muscles, or obliques.
HOW TO DO IT: Start out lying on the floor as if prepared for a regular crunch, with your hands behind your head and the knees bent. Bend at the waist, keeping your shoulders flat on the floor. Allow your legs to fall to one side, with one leg resting on the ground and the other leg on top. To work the muscles, keep your upper body straight, and perform a crunch. After 20 to 30 repetitions, move your legs back to center, then to the other side of your body and repeat the exercise.
5. Waist Twist
Another exercise used to strengthen the abdominal and oblique muscles is the waist twist.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on the floor with your knees in table-top position and your palms flat against the floor. Keeping your upper body straight, slowly lower your legs to one side, maintaining the bent-knee position. Lower your legs far as possible without actually touching the floor or twisting your the waist. Pause for a moment, then slowly raise the legs back to a table-top position. Pause for a moment, and repeat on the other side. Do 20 to 30 repetitions.
- Rush University Medical Center: An Expert Opinion -- Is There Really "One Trick" to Losing Belly Fat?
- ACE Fitness: American Council on Exercise (ACE)-sponsored Study Reveals Best and Worst Abdominal Exercises
- ACE Fitness: New Study Puts the Crunch on Ineffective Ab Exercises
- SuperAbs Resource Manual: Len Kravitz, Ph.D.