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The Truth About Your Abs
Page 3: Making Your Abdominal Workouts Work

Get the most out of your abdominal workouts by:

(Article continued below.)

  1. Using proper form
    When you crunch are your elbows facing up and are you pulling on your neck? If you're using a captain's chair, are you lifting straight legs that only come partway up? If you're on the floor doing leg raises, are you letting your back arch as your legs come down? These are all cardinal sins of abdominal workouts - do them and the result will be neck pain, strong hip flexors (but not abs) and a sore back. Really learn how to do the exercises you choose for your workout. Take the crunch for example - your hands should be lightly supporting the back of your head and your elbows nearly horizontal with the floor; you should lift up, as opposed to curl up. You should feel your abdominals contracting. In fact, that's a good rule of thumb for most abdominal exercises - if you don't feel those muscles working, they probably aren't. Be aware of your back, always. If you feel it straining, either you are doing the exercise wrong or that particular exercise is not for you. Regardless, form is all. Learn the proper technique for any exercise you choose to do. Ideally, have a trainer show you. If you can't afford a trainer, read up on the moves and be very conscious of how your body is feeling.
  2. Skip the contraptions
    They're worthless. Nothing you see on a television commercial or in the back of a fitness magazine is going to tone your abs any better than you can do on your own. Ignore the lofty claims, the "research studies," the firm bodies in the ads (they're hired models, anyway). Every one of these devices is worthless. If you buy them, you will probably use them sporadically for a week or so, get less of a workout than if you just used regular, old exercises and then shove them off into the closet where they'll collect dust until your next garage sale. So don't bother. There are, literally, hundreds of abdominal exercises that need no equipment whatsoever. That's enough to create varied routines and keep your abs challenged for the rest of your life - and for free.
  3. Try Pilates
    Yes, Virginia, there is a no-crunch ab workout and it's called Pilates. While it has become a fashionable workout that seemingly every Hollywood celebrity does religiously, it deserves to be much more than just the fitness flavor of the month. Invented after World War I by Joseph H. Pilates, a German nurse, dancers had adopted this form of exercise for many years before it became known to the public. Pilates - both the form that uses machines and the matwork - focuses on the back, abdominal and gluteus (buttock) muscles. Precision is all-important with these exercises, and the mind-body connection is important. Pilates will give you a lean, toned physique and a very s trong core. If you hate crunches - and the gym in general - Pilates is worth checking out.
  4. Work Those Back Muscles
    A good workout is all about balance, and that means working opposing muscle groups. If you do nothing but work your abdominal muscles and they grow strong at the expense of your back, this imbalance can lead to injury or, at the very least, back pain. Remember to do a few simple back exercises as part of your ab workout to keep all your core muscles strong. If you suffer from any back problems, ask your doctor to recommend safe exercises for you. And this is probably as good a place as any to mention that upper and lower abdominal muscles don't exist - the rectus abdominis (which creates the six-pack) is one long muscle - work one part of it and you're working the whole thing. The reason the lower doesn't show as well is because that's a major fat storage area. So just concern yourself with balancing muscle groups, and don't try to divvy up upper and lower ab exercises - they don't work that way.
  5. Be aware of your abs throughout the day
    Hold your abs in throughout the day as you move around - it offers a number of benefits. It supports your lower back and improves your posture. It's a mild ab toner all on its own (it's no replacement for a workout, though!). And it gives you a better profile.

Six-pack or no, here's to strong, healthy abs!

Back to Start >> Getting Real About Abs >> Page 1, 2, 3

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