One of the most common fitness questions this time of year is “How can I tone my stomach for swimsuit season”? Typically, people believe that the guaranteed quick route to obtaining a rock-solid six-pack is a path packed with hundreds of sit-ups or abdominal crunches. Wrong!
The reality is that even if you do crunches every day you aren’t guaranteed to get the stomach you desire. Getting those highly sought after, toned abs requires more work than just abdominal exercises. Plus, as far as stomach exercises go, sit-ups or crunches alone are not the solution.
I won’t go into detail about the muscles that make up the abdominal wall, but it’s good to know the basic information. At a high-level the abdominal/trunk area consists of 5 major muscles. It’s necessary that all of these muscles be exercised. It’s also important to utilize different types of training techniques like concentric, eccentric and isometric.
In addition to training those muscles, it is imperative that you also reduce the fat in your stomach area. If you don’t decrease the fat in this area, then you’ll never see well-defined abdominal muscles not matter how long and hard you train them.
The key to reducing body fat is a comprehensive workout program that consists of cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility exercises. Plus, don’t forget a healthy diet. Good examples of cardio exercises are: walking, swimming, aerobics, and jogging. Strength training can be done with dumbbells, resistance bands and even just your own body weight. Flexibility can be as simple as a few stretches held in place for about 20 seconds.
Now, back to the specifics of abdominal training. Traditional crunches can be a part of your abdominal training, but should be limited and certainly shouldn’t be the only part. To most effectively work your stomach area, it’s necessary to include about 80% rotational work. Rotational exercises are those that include twisting-type methods. Simple crunches do not fall into the rotational category because you simply lift your body straight up and down.
To most effectively train your abs, incorporate a lot of variety, including different positions and equipment. This will allow your muscles to continually be challenged, which is what will help make them stronger and more defined. Remember that you don’t have to lie on your back in the supine position to work your stomach area. There are hundreds of different ways to work them, including exercises in a standing position, on your side, raised on a ball, hanging from a bar, etc.
Don’t forget the importance of form. If you don’t use correct form when performing abdominal exercises, you’ll severely limit the effectiveness not to mention possibly cause an injury. Tips for correct form include:
- Don’t ever pull on your neck or head
- Don’t allow your legs to move, they should remain still — let your abs do all the work
- Try to keep your belly button pulled in toward the floor throughout the entire move.
To get you started, below are a few sample exercises* with instructions. Start working out today, and you can show-off your toned abs in time for summer.
Basic Crunch: Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands lightly behind your head for support. Using your abdominal muscles lift your shoulders a few inches off the ground, pause briefly and return to start position. Complete at least one set of 10-12 reps.
Standing Towel Circle: Stand tall and hold a small towel (or resistance band) taut overhead. Contract abs and slowly draw a large, wide circle over your head and around your torso with your hands. Keep towel pulled taut throughout. Return to beginning position and reverse the circular direction. Complete at least one set of 8-10 reps in each direction.
Oblique Twist With Ball: Begin by sitting on the ball. Walk feet forward until ball is resting under your back — body is now parallel to the floor. Place hands lightly behind head for support. Using your abdominal muscles slowly crunch up lifting your shoulder blades off of the ball and rotate left shoulder toward right hip. Return to starting parallel position and repeat then switch sides.
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