About Training The Abdominal Muscles
L. Mullen, CSCS
The Flat-Stomach Myth
Effective Abdominal Exercises
The fact that millions of Americans desire a trim waist is what keeps the ab
equipment industry booming. Unfortunately, many of the abdominal exercise
gadgets on the market are ineffective and sometimes even unsafe. The advertisements for these products perpetuate
misconceptions about what really works and what doesn't.
"Trim" is a word used frequently in ab products.
In reality, no exercise equipment will trim or reduce your waist. If you haven't heard by now, you
cannot spot reduce fat (except by liposuction!). So don't believe ANY
abdominal toning equipment advertisement that promises to decrease fat around your
waistline. The fact is that ab exercises will train your abdominal
muscles, but you will have the same layer of fat sitting on top of these muscles unless you
create a calorie deficit by burning more calories than you consume. The most effective
combination is aerobic exercise, strength training and healthy eating
habits. You might
not like this answer, but it is the only one that will work in the long run. Don't look
for quick-fixes--as we all know, if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is!
The Flat-Stomach Myth:
Many people are on a quest
to achieve a "flat stomach". The obsession with the abdominal area can cause frustration, anxiety, and can
even lead to eating disorders. Unfortunately for many people it's
not physiologically possible to achieve a flat-stomach. Our abdominals aren't designed to be flat.
Instead, the abdominal muscles form a rounded, not flat, shape. Gender, age, and individual body types can
effect the size and shape of your abdomen. This is especially true of
many healthy and fit women who, when they reach about 40 years old, tend
to get a lower abdominal "pooch" due to hormonal
So instead of worrying about something you can't change, try focusing on something you
can--like your posture. Poor posture can contribute to a "pot belly" look, while
good posture can add to a trimmer-looking physique. Good posture consists of a slight
bending of the knees, contracting the abdominal muscles to point the tailbone toward the floor,
and keeping your shoulders back and your head balanced on your neck (not leaning forward).
Think of a string attached to your head which is being pulled upward. Better posture will
make you feel taller and slimmer.
As mentioned earlier, ab exercises won't reduce fat from your waistline. Genetics, age and
gender determine the shape of your abdomen. That said, with the proper
exercises, you can improve the abdominal muscles. The abdominal muscles react to resistance training just like any other
muscle group. Performing 100 biceps curls is not the proper way to overload the
biceps--neither is doing 100 crunches to work the abdominals. Effective exercise will
fatigue muscles in less than 20 repetitions and will produce better results.
You can achieve results without any equipment. You can even work your abdominals
by performing a "pelvic tilt" while sitting in a chair. This method can
strengthen your abdominals for better posture and for supporting the back. People with
weak abs find this very helpful and easy to do. Other exercises:
Lie on back with knees bent. Lift your shoulders off the floor,
concentrating on moving your ribs towards your hips. Pretend a
grapefruit is under your chin so you don't move your head. Easier:
hands on chest. Harder: Hands on sides of head, but don't pull
on head. Hardest: Hands straight out above head. Go slow and
keep breathing. Try 2 seconds up, hold for 2 seconds, then 2
seconds going down.
This targets the lower fibers of the front abdominal muscle and also
the side abdominals. Lie on your back and bend your knees toward your
chest as far as is comfortable, keeping hips on the floor. Contract your
abdominal muscles to lift hips off the floor and bring knees toward
chest. Don't swing your legs!
Concentrate on using your abs to lift your pelvis toward your lower rib
cage. Go slow and keep breathing. Easier: Hands on floor. Harder:
Elbows on floor, hands in air.
Do the standard crunch and the reverse curl at the same time.
If you need a challenging ab exercise, this will work great.
Ab Exercises on the Ball
There are some legitimate ab products like the exercise
ball (aka swiss, gym, stability ball, Fitball),
which has been used by physical therapists for decades.