Three Exercises for a Tighter You

woman doing sit up
The overall best exercise for strengthening your abs is the bicycle maneuver.

It's often said that the best fitness program is one you'll stick with. True enough. If you don't like what you are doing, you'll look for a reason to quit. But if you're going to invest time and energy into getting fit, you also want the biggest bang for the buck. So here are three of the best exercises any woman can do.

Exercise No. 1: Bicycle the Abs

A study of 30 healthy women and men, ages 20-45, sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and led by Peter Francis, Ph.D., at the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University, compared 13 of the most common abdominal exercises and ranked them from most to least effective. Overall, the best exercise for strengthening the rectus abdominus, which includes the long flat muscles extending along the front and sides of the abdomen, is the bicycle maneuver. Here's the ranking of the 13 abdominal exercises from most to least effective.


"The bicycle kick is the overall best abdominal exercise," agrees Michael Stefano, a 20-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department and author of The Firefighter's Workout. Having strong abdominals helps you maintain balance and provides a foundation for many other activities.

How to Do It

Lie on your back on a mat or padded carpet with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Press your lower back into the floor, engaging your abdominal muscles, as you put both hands behind your head (don't pull on your head). Bring your right elbow over to your left knee, and then bring your left elbow over to your right knee in a twisting, bicycle pedal motion. Continue to breathe naturally. Alternate opposite elbow to opposite knee with hands interlaced behind your head in a slow and controlled manner and with full extension of each leg on every repetition.

Breathe naturally, extend your legs fully to increase intensity and perform the motion very slowly. Keep your knees bent throughout the movement, while you tap your feet to the floor (instead of extending your leg straight out), to decrease intensity. Repeat to muscle fatigue.

Goal: Two sets of 20-30 repetitions


Exercise 2: Squat the Gluteus

Most trainers agree with Stefano that squats, done with or without dumbbells, are the quickest route to more shapely, tighter glutes. The compound exercise also gets high marks for toning quadriceps, hamstrings and calves.

How to Do It. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding arms at your sides. The head is straight with a natural arch maintained in your back. Inhale, swing your arms slightly forward for balance, bending at the knees and hips to a sitting position, thighs parallel to the floor or as low as you can comfortably squat without experiencing pain in your back, hips, or knees. Your buttock remains above the level of your knees, and your knees do not extend beyond your toes. Exhale, slowly rising to a standing position with knees and hips straight. Allow your hands to drop back to your sides. You can also squat against a wall using a resistance ball. Repeat to muscle fatigue. See it now.


Goal: Two sets of 10-20 repetitions

Variation on a Theme: Walking Lunges

Gregory Florez, chief executive officer of, and a spokesperson for ACE, also recommends walking lunges for tighter glutes. Start by stepping forward with one leg and planting your foot firmly on the floor. Then, drop the rear knee down so that your rear thigh and front shin are perpendicular to the floor. Using the heel of the front foot, push upward to return to standing position, then step forward so that feet are together again.

Goal: 1-2 sets of 12 repetitions


Exercise 3: Push-Up for Sculpted Arms

"Push-ups have a dramatic effect on the arms," says Stefano, particularly biceps, triceps and shoulders. They also help condition the chest and abdominals.

How to Do It. Lie face down on the floor or mat, with your hands on the floor, palms down, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and toes curled under on the floor. Your back and legs are straight. Exhale as you slowly push your body away from the floor. Inhale, lowering yourself back down to the point where your chest barely touches or comes within a few inches of the floor. Repeat to muscle fatigue.


To lessen intensity, says Stefano, do the modified push-up, in which everything remains the same, except the knees are bent and remain on the floor during the movement. To increase intensity, perform both the up and down phases of the push-up very slowly by counting to four when pushing away from the floor and to eight while lowering to the floor. Indeed, holding the position during any exercise for at least a count of two will increase intensity.

Goal: Two sets of 10-20 repetitions.

Another modification suggested by Florez is the wall push-up, in which you stand facing a wall and lean on it with hands. Arms are shoulder-width apart. Do 1-2 sets of push-ups, 10-12 repetitions.

To Ensure Results

Most people who begin a resistance program tend to overtrain, says Stefano, who recommends that each muscle group be adequately worked at least twice each week (2-3 sets of 10-20 repetitions). "The key to results isn't only how many sets or reps you do, but more importantly what level of muscle fatigue is hit on each set."