07/01/2011 09:16 am ET | Updated Aug 31, 2011

5 Fool-Proof Moves For Strong Abs

Summer is here, and it's the perfect time to put a little effort into sculpting your middle! A recent study conducted at the University of South Carolina found that many people, men in particular, who followed the federal recommendation of 30 minutes of exercise five times per week were still at risk for being obese. This determination was based on a sedentary lifestyle; there are just too many hours left in the week without any physical activity at all. To break up the periods of inactivity in your day and keep your metabolism humming, try adding short toning sessions throughout the week.

This Pilates-based, core-centric workout is a quick but effective abdominal blast to tone your midsection (and target a little extra on the sides, too). It doesn't require much room, and you'll feel the burn right away. Need a little extra motivation? Imagine you are doing this routine in your swimsuit -- or better yet, on the beach!

The Workout

Warm Up
Warms up your lungs, engages your core and increases circulation

A. Sit on a mat or other padded surface (to protect your tailbone) with your knees pressed together. Stretch your arms straight out with your fingers pointing towards the floor.
B. Round your back by drawing your waist in towards your spine. From the side your spine should look like the letter "C". Vigorously pump your arms up and down as you breathe in through your nose for 5 counts, and then out through your nose for 5 more counts, keeping your arms stiff at your shoulder and your shoulders away from your ears. Do 100 repetitions of the arm motion. If 100 is too difficult, try starting with 50. For more of a challenge, deepen the curve of your spine.

Contract and Hold
Strengthens your abdominal muscles

A. Sitting with your knees bent, lengthen your arms straight out in front of you and above your legs.
B. Contract your abdominal muscles by pulling your navel to your spine and lean back as far as you can. Slowly count to 10 as you hold this position, making sure to tighten your seat muscles and breathe evenly. Do 3 sets. As you build strength, work towards getting your lower back onto the mat and reaching a count of 15. If you need a modification, try lessening the count to 5 as you hold.

Twist, Contract and Hold
Strengthens and tones your abdominal and oblique muscles

A. Sitting with your knees bent and your arms stretched out straight in front of you, twist your waist to one side.
B. Lean back as far as you can and pull your navel in towards your spine, being careful not to let your torso swing to one side to compensate for the twisting. Keep your head forward but allow your gaze to follow your hands. Hold this position for 10 counts. Do 2 sets on each side, alternating sides. For a modification, use a smaller range of motion and lessen the count to 5 as you hold. For more of a challenge, deepen the curve of your spine and hold the position for a count of 15.

Twist, Contract, Hold and Pulse
Strengthens and tones the abdominal and oblique muscles.

A. Sitting with your knees bent and your arms stretched out straight in front of you, twist your waist to one side.
B. Lean back as far as you can as you pull your navel in towards your spine.
C. Using a small, controlled range of motion, pulse forward and back. Focus on making the pulses seamless, keeping your breathing even and planting your feet on the floor. Do 10 reps, then switch sides. Do 2 sets on each side. If you want a more advanced move, try doing more reps at a slower tempo -- speed will not increase the difficulty of this motion.

Modified Teaser
Challenges your core strength, and "teases" your balance

A. Lie down flat on your mat with your knees bent and your arms straight out over your head.
B. Inhale as you roll through your spine up into a seated position.
C. Carefully lift your feet off the floor, pointing your toes and keeping your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, and balance for 3 counts. Place your feet back on the floor, then roll back down to lie flat. Move smoothly when rolling up and back down. Do 3 sets. If you need assistance keeping your feet flat on the floor in order to roll up smoothly, try wedging your feet under a sturdy object (without relying on that counter-balance completely: still concentrate on your control). If you're ready for a more difficult variation, try straightening your legs out at a 45-degree angle as you reach your arms over your head. Keep your arms by your ears as you roll down. Now that's a challenge!