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Training Tips for Rock Hard Abs

25 Feb 2007

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, your ab routine has to be a part of your overall fitness program! You’re only as strong as your weakest link, so think of your abdominals as the main link that holds your entire body together.

Here are a few guidelines to follow when training your abdominals:

Pull Abs in Before You Start

According to ab expert Dr. Gilbert M. Willet, a researcher at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Clinical Movement Science Laboratory, participants in the research study generated twice as much muscle activity when they when they sucked in their abs before curling off the floor. Visualize pulling your navel toward your spine(without squeezing your buttocks) -- this also activates the obliques (muscles on your sides) and makes each rep more effective. I always cue my clients to visualize bringing their rib cage and pelvis towards one another to maximize the effect of the crunch.

Focus on quality rather than quantity

Doing 20 effective crunches 3 times a week can be more effective than doing 500 poorly executed crunches. Focus on slow controlled movements with good technique trying to accentuate each contraction.

Exhale While Performing the Exercise

If you put your hand on your stomach now, you should feel your abdominals contract when you exhale (breathe out). By holding your breath during your exercises, you will be limiting the work on your abs. Always exhale during the difficult part (usually on the way up) and inhale on the way down.

Vary your Exercises

Research has demonstrated that your body is constantly learning how to adapt and respond to stimuli. If you continue to do the same routine, your muscles eventually become ineffective in terms of shaping your midsection. Variety is always the key to resistance training, even for the abdominal muscles. There are many factors you can change in your ab routine. Consider varying the order, the set and reps, resistance (add weights or bands), the tempo or the type of contraction (crunches vs. planks)

Get Unstable

A study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy in 2000, showed that performing the abdominal curl-up on an unstable surface such as a Swiss ball, increased the amount abdominal recruitment by 20%. Try doing your abdominal exercises on a foam roller, Swiss ball or BOSU.

Work all of Your Core

The rectus abdominis is the long muscle that runs from your upper ribs down to your pubis (also known as your six-pack). It allows your body to bend forward. The external and internal oblique muscles are located at the sides of the rectus abdominis and are responsible for rotation and side bending respectively. Lastly, the transversus abdominis hugs the whole area below your belly button like a corset – it is the deepest of the three muscles, which helps expel air out of the lungs and keep the abdomen flat. Your routine should consist of curl ups; reverse curls, oblique exercises and Pilates or yoga exercises to effectively train all of these muscles.

Don’t Pull on your Neck

The neck can often take on a lot of the work of the abdominals if your abdominals are not strong enough or if you are not aware of proper technique. Keep your head and neck in line with the spine. There should be enough space to fit your fist or a tennis ball between you chin and chest. This will help you to focus of your abs and not strain your neck muscles.

Tune in next month for the Ultimate Abdominal routine. Learn the best abdominal exercise to do, how often and how long. Have a look at the exercise below for a sneak peek. This exercise is listed as one of the top 5 exercises for your abs.

Exercise Description:

Vertical Lifts

Muscles Worked:

Core (body weight)

Start by lying on your back with your hands behind your back and thighs bent 90 degrees at your hip.
Simultaneously curl your right shoulder and left knee up towards the center of your body until your elbow and knee touch. Return to the starting position and repeat with the other side.
Continuously repeat this pattern for 3 sets of 20 repetitions.

Cathy Morenzie is a Fitness Columnist for AfroToronto.com

Cathy Morenzie is a certified personal fitness trainer, fitness instructor and Pilates instructor. Cathy specializes in providing creative fitness solutions for people on the go and has trained thousands of clients and trainers over the last 20 years.  For more FREE tips like these, visit her site at http://www.activeimage.ca . or call 416-410-8517. Can''t fit personal training sessions into your schedule … no problem - try our online personal training and receive the benefits of one-on-one personal training at a fraction of the cost.

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