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The question

I have been training all summer. I want to tone my abs, so I have been doing crunches, bike kicks and planks but they don't seem to make a difference. Help!

The answer

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First, congratulations on training regularly.

Becoming active is always a good thing for your health, but (I hate to say this) doing crunches is not the most efficient way to reach your goal.

Although it sounds counter-intuitive, trained abdominals do not equal toned abdominals. Try not to be frustrated. Remember, even a slightly less effective healthy habit is a step in the right direction.

Sure, if you already have low body fat, crunches will create more visible muscles, but for the majority of us, the trick to a toned mid-section is to decrease our overall body fat.

Abandoning strict abdominal work is often easier said than done. Sometimes I think the supposed correlation between crunches and a toned mid-section is ingrained in our DNA. I know isolated abdominal work will not result in a toned mid-section, yet I still gravitate towards those types of exercises.

My advice (for both of us) is to "think globally."

Your abdominals are such a small portion of your body. Instead of fixating on training them, be mindful of your nutrition, do interval style cardio workouts and prioritize multi-joint strength exercises like squats and push-ups.

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Basically, your goal is make your entire body (including your abdominals) strong and healthy.

Instead of artificially dividing your workouts into "strength" and "abdominal" sections, do multi-joint exercises like squats and lunges and consciously use your core to brace your body. Multi-joint exercises like squats or pull-ups are really just very intense moving planks. Instead of supporting your body on the floor, you are supporting yourself, plus any additional weight, as you move.

Trainer's Tip: If you are married to your abdominal work, you don't have to give it up altogether, just prioritize multi-joint lifts. Then, do any isolated "core / abdominal work" once you are done. Also, make sure your routine is balanced - work the front, sides and back of your torso equally. For every forward flexion exercise (like crunches) do an extension exercise (example, lie on your stomach and lift your opposite arm and leg). For your obliques, try a side plank. Or try some oblique ball crunches - place one hip on a stability ball, drape your body over the ball and use your obliques to pull yourself up.

Kathleen Trotter has been a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for 10 years. Her website is

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