Abs are easily the most sought after muscles for gym-goers. But before you do 9,000 sit-ups, realize that having a slim waist takes more than putting in work at the gym. I once read a quote that said that “abs are made in the kitchen.” There is one crucial difference between fat burn and muscle growth: you can target a muscle group to strengthen it but you cannot choose where your body loses or gains fat. As such, nutrition plays a major role in losing excess weight in the form of fat.
Nutrition discussion aside, ab exercises are the best way to build muscle in that area. Unfortunately, they, along with lower body exercises, are hated by many. They can be difficult and put the exerciser at risk for injury due to improper form. Performing core exercises require exact form. More than ever, quality of exercise >; quantity of exercise. People inappropriately use their lower back or neck to perform ab exercises. Raise your hand if you’ve ever hurt your back or neck doing sit ups!
Here are three ab/core exercises that will help you build a STRONG core.
Description of Exercise: The plank is one of my favorite core exercise because it helps really strengthen your core. Your core is not just your abs. Think of it as the entire bottom half of the torso down to groin, inside and out. That’s a lot of muscles! The core is essential to proper posture, body function, and movement. It’s generally the most neglected muscle group or the most improperly exercised group. This exercise requires you to hold your core as still as a board/plank! it is like a tradition push up position with the legs extended, face looking downward, and a neutral spine. However, instead of being on the hands, bend your elbows to 90 degrees. Arms should directly below the shoulders. Pull in and tighten your core so that your hips don’t droop or your butt sticks up too high. Try to get to at least one minute. If you can go further, go until you can’t go anymore (failure). Make sure to maintain proper breathing! Challenge yourself to see how long you can hold a plank. Aim for at lease 90 seconds. I like to put on a song and hold it for the duration of that song.
Description of Exercise: Yes, sit-ups are intermediately difficult! Many of us do them wrong because we use our necks or backs. The motion is within a limited range. Here’s the proper form: Lie down with your legs bent at the knee. Place your hands on your ears (not behind your head. This will prevent you from using your neck improperly). Maintain the space between your chin and your chest (imagine there is an orange between there) throughout the entire exercise. To perform the crunch/sit-up, try moving upward toward the sky, not just forward toward your knees. As you perform the crunch, think about two things. Firstly, flatten the arch of your lower back into the ground. I like to imagine there is a grape under there and you have to “squish the grape.” Secondly, think about squeezing your abs. This is the hard part because we think about using our lower back/neck. As you build your muscle-mind connection, you will maximize the effectiveness of this exercise. Try throwing in one set of sit-ups/crunches in between your other exercise set as a challenge.
Advanced: Floor Leg Raises (or on a Decline Bench)
Description of Exercise: This is my favorite exercise ever. It’s also the most difficult exercise I have ever done. I think it’s one of the best ab exercises ever. Traditional leg raises work out the lower transverse abdominis muscles, but this works out both the lower and upper parts. To start, lie on your back with a slight bend in your knee. Maintain that bend (don’t extend or bend it further). Grab the bar above your head. As you squeeze your abs to bring your knees toward your forehead, exhale. Your hips will lift off the ground/bench. Remember to engage your abs, not your hip/back/or legs during this exercise. This is an advanced exercise because it requires maximum muscle-mind connection. That’s why it works. Try to do 4 sets of 10-15 reps. If you don’t feel it in your abs, then you’re doing it wrong. This exercise should fire up those muscles immediately during the motion up and the motion down. More than ever, SQUEEZE THOSE AB MUSCLES!
As always, be safe, blog buddies.
NASM Certified Personal Trainer