As a fitness spokesperson, I get asked this question at least once a day, "Which are the best exercises to achieve firm, flat and toned abdominals?" It's not an easy question to address, since there are hundreds of abdominal exercises.
Let's face it. Our eyes gravitate towards a flat and well toned abdominal region. We all want that elusive flat, firm and enviable look of 'washboard abs'. The muscles of your abdominal region, and indeed the midsection aren't isolated; they weave through your torso like a web of high-tensile steel, and it's critical to train them the right way.
Fortunately, a recent study by the American Council on Exercise has the answer. You don't have to be a fitness guru or a fitness expert to know the answer any more. Let's discover the 3 most effective exercises to get flat abdominals, the correct way to breathe during abdominal exercises and tips and tricks to get results faster.
This is amazing news. This California study determined that the classic sit-up is not the best answer for stronger, flatter abdominals. The conclusions were intriguing, to say the least. The traditional sit-up was among the least effective abdominal muscle exercises.
Did you know that sit-ups (in which you raise your trunk up from the floor with your knees straight or bent) involve the hip muscles disproportionately relative to the abdominals? This means the hip muscles work more and the abdominal muscles work less i.e they are not getting trained in the right manner. In addition, there is an unnecessary (and potentially harmful) strain on the lower back. The sit-up is not only ineffective, but potentially harmful. There's more, and it's equally surprising. The study indicated that several gadgets for the abdominals were either ineffective or marginally more effective than a regular abdominal crunch, which doesn't cost you anything, other than the time required to learn the right technique.
It's time for the big news.
The three winners among abdominal muscle exercises were:
The Bicycle maneuver.
The Captains Chair.
Crunch on an exercise ball.
The Bicycle maneuver.
Also called the 'twisting crunch'.
Lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground.
Put your hands behind the head.
Bring your knees up to about a 45-degree angle and slowly go through a bicycle pedal motion (alternating the legs).
Twist the upper body and trunk as you pedal, touching your left elbow to your right knee, then your right elbow to your left knee.
Breathe evenly throughout the exercise.
Perform the exercise in a slow and controlled manner.
Note – Since this is an advanced exercise, please do not try it if you have lower back problems or are a beginner. Try the crunches instead. This is a gym exercise and involves sitting on a chair, holding on to handholds on either side.
This helps stabilize / anchor the upper body.
In the starting position, you are sitting upright with the legs dangling off the chair.
In a slow and controlled manner, lift your knees up and in toward your chest.
In a similar controlled manner, lower your knees back to the starting position.
Crunch on exercise ball.
Stability balls are common in gyms today. The right ball for your height is one where you can sit on it, with your knees bent at right angles and feet resting on the floor.
Sit on the ball with your feet flat on the floor.
Let the ball roll back slowly.
Now lie back on the ball until your thighs and torso are parallel with the floor.
Cross your arms over your chest and slightly tuck your chin in toward your chest.
In a slow and controlled manner, contract your abdominals raising your torso to no more than 45 degrees.
Your shoulders should roll up and in like the edge of a carpet rolling inwards.
To make the exercise easier, spread your feet wider apart.
To increase the difficulty level and involve the waist / oblique muscles, draw your feet closer together.
For best results.
Start with 2-3 sets of each exercise, 8-10 repetitions. Increase by 8-10 repetitions each week till you work your way up to a set of 40 repetitions in each set. 2 sets of 35-40 repetitions a day for the abdominals is ideal, and you do not need to train more than that.
Breathing during abdominal muscle exercises.
With all abdominal muscle exercises, exhale as you contract / exert / come up / crunch your abdominals; inhale as you relax / lower / return to the starting position.
Points to remember.
1. If you have lower back injuries or pain, consult a doctor before you begin, so you don't hurt yourself. Also see a physician if you are over 35, have been sedentary for a long time, have high blood pressure and/or cholesterol, are a smoker, have chest pains or shortness of breath or have had a joint or muscle injury.
2. The best time to exercise to burn body fat is first thing in the morning (on an empty stomach).
3. It's not the number of repetitions, but the quality and technique that gets results. Overdoing sit-ups can hurt your lower back. Besides, the best way to get those flat lower abdominal muscles is to be patient for 8-10 weeks, eat a healthy diet and do regular aerobic exercise.
4. Try and do your abdominal exercises last in the routine. Abdominal exercises are not very tiring, and do not tend to 'slow you down' unlike running on the treadmill or lifting heavy weights. Do the abdominal exercises towards the end of the session.
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Nitin Chhoda is a fitness guru, licensed physical therapist and bestselling fitness author. Learn his philosophy at totalactivation.com and join his fitness boot camp at . You can also read all his articles on weight loss and fitness at www.best-weight-loss-programs.net/
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