Stretching is an important part of exercise, and the abdominal muscles are no exception. Torso stretches, twists, contractions and bracing exercises make your abdominal muscles supple, stronger and less prone to injury. They help to stabilize your core and reduce your risk of injury.
You've probably come across ads for equipment promising to burn fat off particular areas of your body. Alas, like the fountain of youth, "spot reduction" is a myth. Stretching can help tighten your abs, but it won't "burn" fat in the belly or anywhere else.
Losing fat is a matter of using more calories than you consume. That means eating less but choosing more nutritious food and engaging in cardiovascular training to boost your metabolism. What's more, any cardiovascular exercise that gets your heart rate up can help you burn fat and drop pounds. If you're serious about long-term weight control, 60-minute aerobic sessions most days of the week are the way to go, according to the American Council on Exercise.
In the meantime, you can keep your abdominal muscles healthy with these stretches.
Lie on your stomach on a mat or the floor with your arms at your sides. Lift your torso upward, keeping your pelvis on the floor. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
If you're just starting or need a modification to protect your back, place your forearms on floor for added support. Your arms can also be somewhat bent for a somewhat easier version of this stretch.
To stretch and tone the obliques, lie with your back on the floor or a mat and your arms extended out to sides. Lift your legs upward with your knees slightly bent. Lower your legs to one side until the side of your thigh is on floor. Raise and lower your legs to opposite side.
Lie on your back on a mat with your lower legs on a bench. Place your hands behind your neck or head. Flex and twist your waist to raise your upper torso from the mat to one side. Return until the back of your shoulders touches the mat. Repeat to the opposite side, alternating the twist.
The elevation of your leg keeps your pelvis tilting back and your lower back maintaining contact with the mat. If you've got neck issues, keep your neck in a neutral position with a space between your chin and sternum, particularly when doing the exercise with your hands placed behind your head.
Seated Side Saddle Stretch
Sit on the floor with your legs in a wide straddle position. Adjust your legs so you can sit with upright with your head aligned with your spine. Bring your arms to your sides with your elbows slightly bent so that your forearms are vertical to the floor.
Tighten your abdominal muscles and pull your shoulder blades down your back. Exhaling, slowly bend sideways, bringing the lowered elbow down to the hip, thigh or floor, depending on your range. Avoid rotating your trunk or bending forward.
The stretch should be felt through the side of your trunk and somewhat in your back. Continue bending sideways to the point of tension in the stretch, but do not bounce or push to a point of pain. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds then return to starting position. Repeat two to four times, then switch to the opposite side of your body.
Glute Bridge on Stability Ball
Lying face up, bend your knees and place your feet on top of a stability ball. Holding the ball in place, push through your heels and raise your hips into the air by engaging the glute muscles. Rest on your shoulders and the upper back while keeping the body in a straight line from the knees to the head. Slowly lower the hips back down to the ground, keeping the ball still.