Workout of the Week: Post-Holiday Ab Toner

January 8, 2015 Updated: January 8, 2015

Never underestimate the benefit of short high-intensity workouts. Studies show that these types of workouts can be more effective and deliver far greater returns than some of their longer, moderately paced counterparts.

The set of high-intensity exercises below is great for building strong and toned abs. If being short on time is your biggest issue, then this workout is perfect for you.

All core-specific exercises require you to engage your deep abdominals correctly. This will strengthen and protect your back and work your core correctly every time.

Sometimes it can be difficult to engage the right muscles properly. To make sure your abs are working optimally when you exercise, pull your lower abs in as though you are attempting to zip up a pair of extra tight jeans and draw your pelvic floor muscles up like you are trying to stop urination midstream.

Another important tip is to keep your breath flowing during exercise, as holding your breath will create tension in your body. Using a strong exhale will also help you to engage your abdominal area.

Scissor Crisscross

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This exercise is great for core stability and strength. The aim is to keep the center of your body still as your arms and legs move.

When doing the movement, make sure your shoulder blades and back of your hips stay still against the floor. This will maintain core stability and help you use your core muscles more effectively.

1. Lie on the floor with your hands behind your head.

2. Extend both feet toward the ceiling, straightening your legs as best you can. Keep your lower abdominals engaged to support your lower back.

3. Do a small crunch, squeezing the bottom of your rib cage to the top of your hips. Hold the crunch position.

4. Lower your right leg toward the floor, without letting it actually touch the ground. As you lift it back up, lower your left leg, so the legs pass each other.

Do three sets of 12 leg switches. Lower your head and legs back to the floor for a brief rest between each set.

To make it harder, instead of holding your upper body still, rotate your body into a cross-crunch with each leg switch. This will make a massive difference to the intensity of the exercise by incorporating your oblique muscles.

Plank Leg Switch

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All plank exercises are great for strengthening your core and toning up your abdominal area.

Despite being focused on the abdominal area, plank exercises also require many other muscles of the body. When done effectively, they are also great for strengthening the stabilizing muscles of your shoulders, lower back, and glutes.

1. Start by lying on your stomach. Pull your stomach in and prop your body onto your elbows and feet. If you feel any strain in your lower back at any stage of the exercise lower down to your knees.

2. Hold your body still. Your back needs to be straight: Check it in a mirror or get a friend to check for you. Good form is essential to keep your body free of injury.

3. Lift your right foot up and hold for 5 seconds. Then switch sides.

Repeat five times on each side. Then rest and do another set.

To change the exercise, make the leg lifts quicker: lift, hold, lower, and lift again. As you increase the speed, the challenge is to not move your body. Your legs move from your hips, so as your legs move, keep your hips and the rest of your body still.

Side Plank Drop

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This is another plank variation to strengthen your core and tone up your abdominal area.

1. Position your body on its side. Your elbow should be directly underneath your shoulder and your feet stacked on top of each other. Have your feet in line with your body, with your knees slightly bent.

2. Lift your hips up and off the floor with your weight evenly balanced between your elbow and feet. Hold this position for 10 seconds.

3. Lower your hips toward the floor with control and lift back to the start position.

Lower and lift slowly five times. Then rest and repeat the set.

The intensity of this exercise can be easily decreased by only lifting up to your knees, instead of to your feet. This is the best option to start with if you have never performed a plank before. You can still do the hip drop.

Spine Stretch

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Stretching during and after a workout is a great habit to have. It doesn’t have to be an arduous, time-consuming stretch session to be of benefit. Choose a couple of your favorite stretches and incorporate them when you can. This spine stretch is a nice one to try.

1. Sit tall with your feet stretched out in front of you.

2. Bend your right knee, placing the foot on the outside of your left thigh.

3. Rotate your body and either hold your right knee with your left hand or place your arm on the outside of your right knee for a deeper stretch.

Hold the stretch for 30 seconds on each side. Repeat twice.

Emma-Kate Stampton certifies Pilates instructors and is a certified personal trainer. With 10 years of industry experience, she is passionate about sharing the gift of health and well-being. She is based in Brisbane, Australia.

Model: Alana Ford/Photographer: Willis Lim