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The #1 Most Overlooked Exercise if You Want a Lean Body, Says Trainer

The secret trick for engaging your abs more every day.
FACT CHECKED BY Alex Daniel

If you want to train your way to a lean body, where even to begin? For starters, top trainers will tell you that you need to focus on strength training, and specifically on doing compound movements that will recruit your largest muscle groups. (Newsflash: They're right.) You should also take a lot of walks, generally stay on your feet as much as possible, try and get plenty of sleep, and avoid a bad diet. (For more on what you should eat, please see here.) If you're extra dedicated to trimming fat off your body, you can also remove a small amount of calories from your diet consistently to produce a deficit.

Now, as it pertains to the nitty-gritty of exercising right, there's no shortage of exercises that will help you reach your goals, but there are some moves are better than others if you're looking to lean up. As we've recently reported, performing lots of squats—the "king of exercises"—is the single most important strength-training move you can do to shed pounds. (Remember: Compound movements are key.)

But it's not the only move you should add to your workout repertoire. According to Chris Lee, NASM CPT, founder of Healthy Active U, there's at least one exercise move you're guaranteed to be overlooking in your quest to build lean muscle mass and lose fat, and it's worth adding to your daily routine now. Read on to learn what it is—and how to do it. And for more great exercise moves to try, make sure you know why Science Says This Abs Exercise Is the Single Best You Can Do.

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Why You Should Engage Your Abs a Lot More on a Daily Basis

Handsome man practicing yoga on a balcony at home. Male yogi sitting on mat in meditation

According to Lee, the #1 most overlooked exercise for both getting lean and for better health is the "ab tuck in." "It's also known as bracing for punch in the stomach, tummy tuck, pretending you're skinny, trying to fit into tight pants (done while breathing—not holding your breath)," he says.

What's more, he says that this simple exercise act "can be done almost anytime except when in eating or sleeping. The best times are when stuck in traffic, brushing teeth, sitting in long meetings, after eating a big meal." Want even more workouts to try? Be sure to read 3 Workouts Proven to Change Your Body Shape, Says Exercise Expert.

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Here's Why You Should Do It

sitting on yoga ball in office
Shutterstock

Plenty of fitness and health professionals extol the benefits of "bracing" your core and pretending as though you're waiting for a punch in the stomach. By doing so, you'll be contracting the muscles that support your spine, as if tightening everything around your midsection into a stiff and protective corset. (In effect, that's what you're actually doing.)

The benefits include stronger abs (a 2014 study of middle-aged women published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that bracing was more effective at engaging the abs muscles than "hollowing" exercises, when you simply suck in your stomach and "hollow" your stomach.) Further studies report that bracing will help you become a better overall athlete.

According to Lee, performing this move often "strengthens and stabilizes the core and all of your ab muscles, including the TVA [transverse abdominus muscle, your deepest layer of abs muscle]." Additionally, it will "burn calories, literally flatten the stomach, aid in digestion, aid in breathwork and respiration, and releases energy by increasing the metabolism."

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Here's How to Do It

man seated and working his core

According to Lee, there are three great ways to do this:

1) Static holds: "Squeeze your abs and pull in belly button toward spine using the abs and hold for for 30 seconds to 1 minute."
2) Reps: "Pull in and push out your belly button for 10 reps at a time, then rest for 10 secs, and repeat 5 times."
3) Alternate between static holds and reps: "Do a static hold for 30 seconds, then 20 reps, then rest 10 seconds, and then repeat for 3 rounds."

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And for More Great Core Exercises for Getting Lean

man in home doing modified plank on yoga mat in living room
Prostock studio / Shutterstock

So give it a go! Of course, engaging in bracing exercises isn't the only way to strengthen your midsection. For more ways to work your core from multiple angles, check out these terrific workouts:

William Mayle
William Mayle is a UK-based writer who specializes in science, health, fitness, and other lifestyle topics. Read more
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