By Kathy Gilbert
Crave "six-pack" abs? Then do a few crunches and don't drink any six-packs, experts say.
"Six-pack" is slang for a well-toned abdominal muscle. When worked, its vertical bands - one on the left and one on the right side from sternum to pelvis - each bulge in three places, creating the look of a six pack of drinks.
"Keep your diet in control," said Ralph Aaron, a local personal trainer, "or you're not going to show."
Regular cardio and full-body weight workouts also will burn calories and send fat flying.
"All the guys in our ab club do a lot of sprints," Mr. Aaron said. "And you'll never see them doing anything exotic. There's no tricks."
Abdominal exercises to tone and thicken the rectus abdominis include hanging leg raises (hold onto a chin-up bar, pull knees to chest, repeat) or crunches (lift chin toward ceiling, feet on floor, back glued to floor).
A flat crunch with a weight also will thicken the muscle. In a crunch position, lift a dumbbell, bar or medicine ball straight up.
"A real sit-up," Mr. Aaron said, "will give anyone a six-pack."
If you're looking for more than a simple ripple, though, you need to go to "the core." Core muscles keep the spine straight and aid bending and flexibility. They also keep the diaphragm moving.
Dancers - famous for their endurance, flexibility and lean, strong look - embraced Pilates for "core" strength decades ago, said Ann Law, a certified Pilates instructor and owner of Barking Legs Theater.
"In dance, we've been saying 'length equals strength, and strength equals length,'" she said.
In Pilates, endurance is the goal. Mind is linked to body. Abdominals, glutes and lower back muscles are coordinated in a precise way.
"We believe by coordinating all three, we get the biggest benefit," Ms. Law said.
Matflex is similar to Pilates. Offered in many fitness centers, it is adapted to a nondancing, less toe-pointing audience. Many trainers also have added Pilatestype or other core-strengthening movements into their ab workouts.
Core strengtheners in Mr. Aaron's classes include dragging the lower half of the body across the floor (the seal walk), or crawling across the floor (the snake walk). Also popular is the "inverted-V on a fit ball," he said. To executed, place your feet on the ball with arms in a push-up position. Then pull the ball with the feet toward the arms. Glutes rise forming a V.
"It's brutally hard," Mr. Aaron said. "It's almost like doing a handstand, you're that high."
Pilates is now helping many people learn to perform abdominal work correctly and effectively, said Jack Bell, owner of AbsoluteFit in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.
"You learn to effectively engage the abdominal muscles," he said, "instead of flopping around like a fish."
Women seeking to float like a butterfly rather than flopping like a fish have a new abdominal option.
With longtime fitness guru Kathy Smith's new "Flex Appeal: A Belly Dance Workout," the ancient Middle Easter dance of love has gone mainstream.
Belly dance improves posture by tucking the tailbone and zipping abdominals from pubic bone to navel. Belly muscles are used as stabilizers for shimmies, hip lifts, torso rotations and backbends, according to this month's Habibi magazine. They also are leading players in belly rolls and undulations. Belly dancing also strengthens the lower back, which supports strong abdominals.
The dance was originally taught by women to women in the harem, said Andrea Perkins, owner of Zanzibar Studio.
"It's still used in villages to prepare women for marriage and childbirth," she said.
Isolation exercises are the centerpiece of belly dancing. Some muscles hold the body still while others move. The movements are subtle, complex, internal, strengthening.
Belly dancing helps women of all ages feel proud, to the core, of their bodies.
"Women carry a lot of emotional baggage about their bellies, their hips, their rears," Ms. Perkins said. "Just getting that part of your body to move is huge. I feel really sculpted there now. I don't have six-pack, but I feel confident there and strong."
E-mail Kathy Gilbert at firstname.lastname@example.org