You don’t need to — and shouldn’t — work your abs every day. Just like every other muscle group, your abs need a break between workouts. And overtraining them, especially doing endless crunches (or any other exercises causes your body to continually flex forward), can lead to muscle imbalances that affect your posture.

I have a whole riff on how — if you’re doing it right — you actually work your core every time you work out, but I’m guessing that’d make your eyes glaze over. Instead, what I will do is tell you that awesome abs are in your future if you work them on nonconsecutive days, especially if you make sure to put together a well-rounded routine that attacks the core from every angle. (And remember: abs truly are made in in the kitchen — all the ab exercises in the world won’t show unless you optimize your nutrition program for fat loss if that’s an issue for you.)

A great core workout has four key ingredients: a core stabilization move like glute bridges or bird dogs, a lateral or twisting exercise such as ab bicycles, a forward flex movement like crunches, and a static hold, such as a plank.

My client Nancy Barrows, of Holden, was kind enough to agree to be a fitness model for these exercises. Nancy has been my client since 2007 and she’s pretty awesome — she’s 56, a 9-year cancer survivor, and she hasn’t let her health issues get in the way of her commitment to feeling fit and strong.

After our most recent session I asked her what motivates her to keep up with her fitness routine, and she told me two things that, to me, sum up why she’s been so successful. First, there was the practical answer: “So I can be strong for the next thing that comes my way.” And second, there was her fun side: “It makes me a better snow skier and water skier.” Practical but still fun — kind of perfect, right?

Here’s an ab workout I took Nancy through recently, follows the recipe listed above. We did these exercises in a circuit, no break between exercises. If you want extra credit, do the entire circuit, take a minute break, and hit it again for a total of three times through.

nancybd-600x2961. Bird dogs: On hands and knees, reach opposite arm and leg long, keeping them parallel to the floor. Keep belly drawn in. Alternate sides, for a total of 10 each side.

nancybicycle-600x2722. Ab bicycles: Lying on back with lower back close the floor, bring shoulder toward opposite knee. Alternate sides for a total of 30 reps each side.


nancycrunch-600x3403. Crunches: Lie on back, hands gently supporting head, low back close to the floor. Keeping elbows wide, lift shoulder blades from floor, drawing ribs slightly toward hips. Repeat for 20-30 reps.

nancyplanktap-600x4204. Plank: I personally get bored holding a plank forever, so I like to spice it up with a variation. Here, Nancy holds a strong plank while slowly bringing her hand to the opposite shoulder, alternating sides for a total of 10 each side.