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Contracting your stomach muscles helps create defined abs.
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All physical activity involves some type of muscle contraction, and with enough exertion, these contractions ultimately lead to improved muscle tone. For your stomach muscles, this can mean achieving "six-pack" abs; however, toning muscles won't decrease flab, and you may not see any definition if a layer of fat hides the lean muscle beneath. If you're after a slimmer stomach, you should reduce calorie intake and perform regular cardio to lose weight.
How Toning Works
When you perform strength-training exercises you make your muscles grow larger and stronger, which is described as toning. This effect results from the stress that you place on your muscles during workouts. Once muscle contractions cease, your body goes into repair mode to fix the damage, causing increased protein synthesis and swelling; this process is known as hypertrophy, or muscle enlargement. Due to hormonal differences, men are typically able to grow larger muscles than women. And although the muscle-building process begins immediately after exercise, it may take weeks to see results.
You perform isometric abdominal contractions by sitting, standing or lying still while activating your stomach muscles. For example, when you suck in your stomach, you are doing isometric contractions. These types of contractions occur without bending any joints; therefore, muscles remain the same length throughout the activity. Isometric exercises are effective at building muscle, but according to Harvard Medical School, they can be stressful for your cardiovascular system, and thus they may not be suitable if you have any heart or circulatory problems.
Isotonic contractions are the primary components of most strength-training routines. These occur when you bend a joint, thereby shortening and contracting the muscle at the same time. For example, when you perform crunches you bend at the waist, causing abdominal muscles to lose length and then stretch back out. Other isotonic stomach exercises include situps, leg raises and side bends. Weightlifting exercises are also isotonic. Isotonic exercises are gentler on your cardiovascular system than isometric exercises, and are also highly effective for toning.
For the greatest toning benefits, perform a variety of strength-training exercises two to three times weekly, allowing at least 48 hours of recovery between workouts. Along with your stomach, work your back, chest, arms and lower body for proper balance. Warm up before strength training with five to 10 minutes of brisk walking or other light to moderate cardio. And because strength training does not provide aerobic benefits, also perform cardio activities such as jogging, swimming or using a stair stepper most days of the week. If you don't currently exercise, see your doctor before embarking on a new exercise program.