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If you want to build enviable abs, plenty of exercise should be on your agenda. However, ab-toning moves can only build bigger abdominal muscles, not burn fat from the area. Creating a visible six-pack requires weight loss if you have excess belly fat, which is best achieved with a reduced-calorie diet. Talk to your doctor before starting a workout or weight-loss plan.

Strength Training

Strength-training exercises are the most effective activities for toning your abdominal region. Use crunch and twist machines at the gym, work out on an exercise ball, or perform situps, crunches and planks — which involve resting your weight on your elbows and toes while remaining stiff for at least five seconds — at home. Perform strength training at least twice per week, and ensure proper posture by choosing a variety of moves to target all major muscle groups, not just your abs. Muscles grow during the recovery period after workouts, so allow at least 48 hours of rest before training the same muscles again.

Cardiovascular Exercises

Even if they don’t target your abdominal muscles, cardio exercises burn calories at a faster rate than strength training to help you melt fat faster. For optimal calorie burning, perform vigorous activities such as running, cycling uphill or using an elliptical trainer at a high resistance level for 150 minutes per week. If you’re new to exercise, however, start with moderate cardio such as brisk walking or recreational cycling for 150 to 300 minutes per week. Of course, always check with your doctor first.

Pilates

Pilates is a workout style designed to tone core muscles in your abs and back, as well as improve balance and flexibility. Pilates is typically considered strength training, and can help sculpt defined stomach muscles; however, some Pilates classes also incorporate cardio, allowing you to get both types of workout in a single session. Pilates is traditionally performed on a specialized machine that enables specific positions. If you’d rather skip the equipment, mat classes, as well as DVDs for home Pilates sessions, are also available.

Eating Right

As essential exercise is for sculpting abdominal muscles, a healthy diet is also key for removing any overlying fat. Help facilitate weight loss by eating only when you’re hungry and limiting portion sizes. Avoid high-calorie fare such as fast food and fried or sugary snacks, and instead consume a whole-foods-based diet that includes fruits or vegetables with every meal. Also choose high-fiber foods such as whole-wheat bread and corn tortillas along with lean proteins such as beans and soy products, all of which help you feel full on fewer calories.

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