Aesthetically, a flat stomach is on everyone's physical fitness wish list. But as we get older, a drum-tight set of abs becomes more elusive as gravity and age take their inevitable toll.
However, often overlooked in the quest for a washboard stomach are the athletic—not aesthetic—benefits of having a set of strong stomach muscles. Triathletes can benefit from conditioned abdominals, especially while swimming (even if their stomach doesn't look quite like Sylvester Stallone's).
Strong stomach muscles help keep the body positioned in the water properly, especially in backstroke and when pushing off the wall in a streamline position. This simple 20-minute ab-strengthening workout not only helps tone and define what lies beneath that layer of skin that seems to get thicker with each passing holiday season, but it also works to make the improvements in overall swimming performance.
Warm up with some light stretching, preferably on a cushioned yoga mat (common ones found in gyms are about an inch thick and made of foam). To stretch out your stomach muscles, lie face down on the mat and prepare to do a push-up with your hands placed as close to your armpits as possible. Push your upper body up off the ground, leaving your hips and legs flat on the ground. This is known as a "seal stretch." Feel the stretch in your stomach, slowly tilting your head back towards the sky for added abdominal elongation.
50 Regular Sit-Ups
Lying on your back, raise your knees off the ground about 12 inches so that the small of your back is flush with the ground and place your hands behind your head. Slowly raise your head toward your knees, making sure not to pull your head up with your hands (your hands and arms are there to add weight to the upper half of your body so that your abs have more mass to lift. They are not there for support). When you curl upward as far as you can go, ease back down to a resting position.
Take care not to relax your stomach on the down-side of the sit-up too quickly the most effective part of the sit-up is actually this down-side, not the up-curl.
After the first set of sit-ups, flip over on your stomach, execute a brief seal press to stretch out your abs, and go right into 15 push-ups, slowly and methodically.
Picture your body as a rigid plank, making sure not to bounce your head or only "push up" the top half of your body. Rather, raise your entire body from toes to head. Keep your abs tight and controlled as you execute the push-ups they should burn even though this set serves as a break between sit-ups. Finish with another brief seal press.
50 Left/Right Sit-Ups
These are just like regular sit-ups, only instead of bringing your head straight up with each repetition, you are alternating bringing your right elbow towards your left knee, and your left elbow towards your right knee.
Follow with 15 push-ups.