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A wide variety of abdominal-focused exercises can help you tone and flatten your stomach muscles, but the only way to really lose fat around your midsection is to reduce your overall body fat. Understanding how to combine breathing and muscle contraction can help you integrate abdominal exercises throughout your exercise routine. Improper breathing, especially during abdominal exercises, can actually lead to an increased girth and so should be avoided.
Effect of Breathing
Breathing is a vital component of your abdominal muscle exercise regimen. Generally, you should breathe out as you concentrically contract your abdomen, which is any time you are crunching your abdominal muscles. This is because, when you have emptied your lungs of air, you can fully contract the abdominal muscles and tighten them. Inhaling as you move concentrically, on the other hand, can lengthen your abdominal muscle fibers, which can actually add to your overall muscle girth.
When to Inhale and Exhale
Although there are a few exceptions, generally you should exhale as you bring a body part toward your abdomen. Conversely, inhale as you release and push your body part away from your stomach. For example, when doing a situp, exhale as you lift your shoulders off the ground, moving your rib cage closer to your abs. Then inhale as you return to the starting position, moving your rib cage away from your abs.
Isometric abdominal exercises can be a useful component of your routine to help you target and tone your abdominal muscles. For this type of exercise, lie on your back, extend your arms over your head and keep your legs straight. Inhale, and then as you exhale, push your arms and legs away from your abdomen, as if you were growing taller. This is the opposite of most breathing patterns, because you exhale as you move body parts away from your abs, which allows you to squeeze your stomach muscles tighter. While doing this, contract your abdominal and pelvic muscles and hold for as long as you can -- up to two minutes -- breathing gently in and out as needed, but always keeping the abdominal muscles engaged.
Abdominal Involvement in All Exercises
You can engage your abdominal muscles in almost every exercise you do; this can help tone your abdominals further and help protect your back. For example, when you are doing weight training, contracting your abdominals just before lifting will help to align and protect your back and target your abdominals as well. Even during a cardiovascular activity, such as running, you can pull in your abdomen and try to hold your abs tightly throughout to help strengthen and tone your stomach muscles.