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Which Machine at the Gym Do I Use for Toning My Stomach?

Ask around at your gym and you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t want a toned stomach. Dozens of new machines pop up on infomercials every year promising to give you the elusive six-pack, but if you want to tone your abs, use traditional gym machines to achieve the results you’re looking for.

Captain’s Chair

The captain’s chair might look like a very basic gym machine, but it is actually one of the most effective ways of toning your abs. According to a 2001 study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise, the captain’s chair ranked as the most effective machine for targeting your rectus abdominus -- the main ab muscles. The only exercise the study found that worked better than the captain’s chair was the bicycle maneuver. The study also concluded that the same machine provided the best activation of your obliques -- the muscles on the sides of your abs.


The exercise you do on the captain’s chair is often called the "vertical leg raise." To do this exercise, stand on the foot rests with your lower back against the chair back pad, with your forearms resting on the arm pads and your palms holding the handles. Once you are in place, let your feet dangle off the ground. Tighten your abdominals, exhale and slowly lift your knees to your chest. Inhale and slowly return your legs to the starting position. The American Council on Exercise recommends doing 10 to 25 repetitions for one to three sets of abdominal exercises. It also recommends leaving at least 48 hours between workouts of the same muscle group to allow your muscles to recover and grow.


To make the exercise more difficult, hold a small weight between your ankles as you do the exercise. Keeping your legs straight so they are parallel to the floor as you lift them also increases the intensity of the exercise. If you want to put more emphasis on your obliques, angle your knees to either side of your chest as you raise them and alternate sides with each lift.

Spot Reduction Myth

While the captain’s chair is effective for activating your abdominal muscles, abs exercises alone won’t give you a flat stomach. If you have fat covering your ab muscles, your stomach will not look toned. For the best results, you must combine cardio exercises and a reduced-calorie diet with abs exercises.

About the Author

Kevin Charles is a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor with more than 14 years experience working in fitness clubs as well as his own firm: My Favourite Trainer, based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He has written articles on fitness and nutrition for various Canadian publications over the last 12 years.

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