Whether it's a tropical summer vacation or a night at the club with your besties, there are certain occasions where you just want to show a little skin. And while six-pack abs are never a prerequisite for rocking a teeny bikini or trendy crop top, there's also nothing wrong with getting your fitness on, in preparation for putting your tummy on full display. "The most important part of toning the abs is understanding how to access them," certified Pilates, Yoga and Nutrition Instructor Claudia Matles, told me in an interview. "And truly, the journey of 'getting there' is where the benefits are!"
Here are eight exercises to help you start transforming your abs in just 30 days.
Pilates double leg stretch
Connecting the breath with the body through specific movements is key for refining the abdominal area, according to Matles. That's why one of her favorite Pilates moves for toning the midsection, is the double leg stretch.
Start from a seated position on your mat with your legs bent and your feet under your knees. Extend your right leg up to the sky, while extending your left arm straight forward at shoulder height. Then do the same with your left leg and right arm by pressing your navel to your spine. "Imagine a ping pong ball at the inner center of your lower belly," said Matles. "Inhale through the nose, into the ball, exhale [and] shrink the ball, making it tiny toward the center of your belly button by lifting the pelvic floor, pressing navel to spine, and wrapping ribs and hips to the mid line at the core. This is the breath/body connection throughout these exercises which is part of what we call Contrology," she explained.
Exhale and hold pose by scooping out lower belly and creating the curve in back to maintain. Inhale, then exhale and roll down on your lower back, maintaining the architecture of the chest lifted toward knees throughout the exercise. Repeat (do two sets of 10).
"This exercise tones the transverse abdominal muscle, rectus abdominal muscle and obliques," said Matles. "You can modify by keeping head and chest on mat."
The Pilates crisscross is another favorite exercise for Matles as it's a great way to practice that breath-body connection.
Lie on your mat with a neutral spine (your pelvis should not be tucked or tilted) legs bent, feet under your knees. Interlace fingers behind your head, shoulders soft and down, with wide elbows. "Connect with the ping pong [ball]," said Matles. "Exhale, curl your upper body off the mat leading from the center of the chest by shrinking the ping pong [ball]."
Inhale. Then exhale and extend your right leg as you rotate the center of chest over to the right (try to keep the elbows wide as you bring the left armpit toward your right knee). Inhale and return to center. Exhale and extend the left leg and rotate the torso to the left. Repeat (do two sets of 10).
"This exercise tones your obliques, transverse abdominal muscles, and rectus abdominal muscle," Matles told me. "You can always place a yoga block the long way on the floor to rest your feet on, if you'd like to modify."
When it comes to working those stubborn oblique muscles, celebrity trainer Jason Rosell, who's also the creator of the popular Caliente Fitness workout series, loves the Russian twist.
Starting from a seated position, raise your feet two inches from the floor. Interlock your hands together in front, and begin shifting your body left to right, touching the ground each time for 20 seconds. Want to bump up the intensity? Try holding on to a weighted medicine ball throughout the exercise.
Fitness expert Dempsey Marks, who created the PreGame Fit wellness plan, is also a big fan of this exercise. "Russian Twist is a fantastic full-core exercise that engages all of your ab muscles including your rectus abdominis, internal obliques, and external obliques," he told me via email. "It also helps strengthen your lower back."
Similar to the traditional bicycle kick crunches with a twist, Rosell's signature Caliente kicks are a perfect for working both your upper and lower abs.
"Lay flat on ground and with both hands, grab one ankle," explained Rosell. "Then switch to [the] other ankle and repeat this motion on [the] opposite side for a total of 20 seconds, followed by a 10-second rest. Repeat the same exercise for another 20 seconds until you complete one full minute."
Talk about feeling the burn!