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Training Your Abdominal Muscles – The Best and Most Effective Ab Exercises

Your abdominal muscles do more than just look good in a bikini or while you are shirtless at the beach. The reality is your abdominal muscles, although they can be stubborn to tone, play a critical role when it comes to your spine. Your abs do more than just perform any movement that requires you to round your lower back, your abdominal muscles play a crucial role in stabilizing your spine. Your core muscles are the reason why your torso is able to stay in an upright position without you falling forward due to gravity. Your abs also prevent your spine from flexing. Whether you love your abs or think they could use a little (or a lot) of work, your abs are important and can use regular attention.

While the best abdominal exercises may be largely a matter of personal opinion, here are five of the most effective abdominal exercises:

  1. The abdominal hold. To complete this exercise, sit up tall on the edge of a sturdy chair. Position your hands on the edge with your fingers pointing in the direction of your knees. Slowly, tighten your abdominal muscles and raise your feet off of the floor – approximately two to four inches. Raise your buttock off of the chair. Hold this position for as long as you comfortably can – aim to hold this position for five to 10 seconds. Relax and repeat this exercise for one minute.
  2. The side crunch. The side crunch is much more difficult than your traditional crunch. It tests your balance. To perform a side crunch, kneel on the floor and lean all the way over to your right and place the palm of your right had on the floor. Maintain your balance and slowly extend your left leg. Point the toes of your left leg. Place your left hand behind your head and position your elbow so that it is pointing towards the ceiling. Slowly lift your leg to the height of your hip as you extend your arm above your leg – with your palm facing forward. Look beyond your and while bringing your left side of your rib cage inward towards your hip. Return to the starting position, repeat eight times.
  3. The prone plank. Whether you love or hate the plank, the plank is an effective abdominal exercise. To perform a prone plank, assume a push-up position. Hold this position for 30 seconds with your abdominal muscles contracted and your head aligned with your spine. Your arms and legs should be extended. Work until you are able to hold a plank position for one minute at a time.
  4. The bicycle exercise. The bicycle exercise targets the rectus abdominis (which can help you to create that 6-pack look) and the oblique muscles. To perform a bicycle, lie face up on the ground or on an exercise mat. Place your hands behind your head. Bring your knees in towards your chest and lift your shoulder blades off of the ground without straining your neck. Rotate to your left by bringing your right elbows towards you left knee as you straighten your right leg. Switch sides. Continue alternating between left and right for two sets of 12 repetitions.
  5. The exercise ball crunch. This style of crunch places a new twist on a traditional exercise that challenges your balance at the same time. To complete this exercise, lie on the ball with the exercise ball positioned under your lower back. Cross your arms over your chest or position them behind your head. Contract your abdominal muscles to lift your torso off of the ball. As you complete the crunch, keep the ball stable. Lower and repeat. Complete two sets of 12 repetitions.

Makeover Your Snacking Habits

If you are habitual snacker, snacking between meals has the potential to be very harmful to your healthy eating and living efforts. If you are snacking on cookies, candies and other items (that you know have the potential to throw your healthy eating habits off), it may be time to revamp or makeover your snacking habits. By doing so, your habitual snacking may be able to help your healthy eating efforts.

Always opt for whole foods first. Instead of turning to the bag of potato chips or other processed foods with a list of ingredients you may have never even heard of, turn to nature. Whole foods have a tendency to get it right when it comes to healthy snacking. Opt for fruits, vegetables, 100 percent whole grains, eggs nuts, tuna, beans and snack bars made from whole foods. Keep this tip in mind: the ingredients list should be short and you should recognize the ingredients.

Be careful with the amount of fat you consume. While there is nothing wrong with eating snacks that contain fat, you don’t want to overdo it on the fats. Aim to avoid snacks that contain trans-fats. These foods raise your bad cholesterol while lowering your good cholesterol levels. Stick with foods with healthy fats such as olives, nuts and avocados.

Reconsider the 100-calorie snack pack. Sure, they may seem like an extremely healthy snacking option as well as very convenient. There is no calorie counting, no sizing your portions, these snacks work on the go and may even be some of your favorite snack foods. However, most of these snacks are simple carbs. You can digest them easily and often be left still feeling hungry.

Prepare healthy snacks and keep them on hand. When you have healthy snacks in your desk, fridge, book bag or purse, you will be much less likely to head to a vending machine for an unhealthy snack.

5 Common Health Excuses

From time to time, we’ve all used an excuse for one event or another. For many of us, we also use excuses for not being as healthy as we should or could be. We use excuses for not exercising regularly, not eating a well-balanced diet or not shedding those few extra pounds that could make us a whole lot healthier. What’s holding you back from being as healthy as you could be? Here are five common health excuses that you just may be using (and how to break that excuse habit):

  1. I can’t shake my sweet tooth and cravings for unhealthy foods. Everyone has a sweet tooth for one unhealthy indulgence or another. However, that shouldn’t stop you from leading a healthy lifestyle. Opt for healthier snacks that satisfy your need for sugar without the unhealthy fats and processed foods. Consider mixing some dark chocolate with dried fruits and nuts for a healthy snack that will satisfy your sweet tooth. Remember you don’t have to cut out your favorite snack foods permanently. Moderation is key when it comes to endulging.
  2. I don’t like getting sweaty. The truth you don’t have to sweat a lot to get a good workout. If you are panting and sweating excessively, you are probably working out too hard. Opt for a moderately intense workout. You should be able to carry on a conversation with a friend while working out.
  3. I’m afraid that I’ll fail and won’t achieve my goals. You’ll never know if you don’t try. Instead of not trying at all, enlist a friend to engage in a diet or fitness program with you. The two of you can work to support each other.
  4. It’s too late or I’m too old to try something new. Sure trying a new fitness regime might cause you discomfort, but you are never too late or too old to give something new a try.
  5. I don’t have time to workout. It’s recommended that you participate in 30 minutes workouts, five days per week. Squeeze fitness in here and there. Ten minutes here and 10 minutes there can really add up.

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