ABDOMINAL EXERCISES BY THEMSELVES WON'T GUT YOUR GUT. BUT THEY'RE VITAL ANYWAY FOR KEEPING YOUR BACK STRONG, YOUR POSTURE PERFECT. AND YEAH, YOU WON'T GET A CUT, FLAT STOMACH WITHOUT THEM.
From Michelangelo's naked David to Calvin Klein's Marky Mark in briefs, men and women admire a guy with "washboard" abs. Achieving this look, however, can be as hard as squeezing a sumo wrestler into a Mazda Miata: difficult but doable.
Hope you can stomach some bad news: Working your abdominal muscles will not by itself enable you to look like a cover model for Men's Health. Your belly could even get bigger. Here's why.
Men tend to store fat in their stomachs. So, you can have the strongest abs, but if you have 3 inches of fat in front of them, you're still going to have 3 inches of fat. It's just going to be pushed out a little more.
Spot reducing, which is trying to lose weight in one part of your body by exercising that area, simply doesn't work.
In order to see those abdominal muscles rippling like plates of armor, you must combine aerobic exercise, like walking, running, treadmill workouts, stairclimbing, and the like, with abdominal workouts and proper eating.
The truth is, an overweight man who exercises them may have stronger abs than a slender fellow who doesn't. But is there any point to merely being a fitter fatty?
Well, yes. If your abdominal muscles are weak, you are more susceptible to having a weak back and poor posture. And a guy who slouches at staff meetings hardly evokes an image of vitality and power.
Strong abs are useful for staggering out of bed (something that's fun to do often and for about as many reasons as you can come up with), and they're good for rotating your body and for bending forward or leaning backward. Can you say "limbo"? Cha, cha, cha.
The abs actually consists of several muscle groups. Most notable is the rectus abdominis, which starts near the middle of the sternum and runs vertically to below your navel. It is this muscle group that, when well-developed, give guys that layered "washboard" or "six-pack" look.
Beneath this muscle and out of sight is the transversus abdominis, which compresses and supports internal organs. Then there are the obliques, better known as love handles to those of us who have packed a few pounds around the middle. The external and internal obliques extend up and down your sides.
Abdominal muscles are amazingly useful when playing sports. When you're kicking a soccer ball, for example, they help you generate more power. And they assist you in weight training other muscle groups. Think of the stomach as your core. If the core is weak, then your extremities are weak. You want to be strong in the middle and work your way out.
You can crunch a lot of different exercises into an abs routine, but one popular move does the job and says it all: crunch. Do a simple crunch and do it correctly, and you get a lot of benefit. The trouble is that a lot of guys do them wrong and do them too much.
When you're lifting your body off the floor, it should be at 30 to 45 degrees to the floor. If you rise up all the way to your knees, you are exceeding 45 degrees, losing tension and working your hip flexor muscles, not your abs.
Remember the sadistic high school gym coach who made you do situps until you were sick? And how you laced your fingers behind your head when you did them? Well, don't do that. You're not in high school anymore. And if you were, you'd find that coaches nowadays know better.
Forget the interlaced fingers behind the head. Instead, place your fingertips near your temples or your ears. People have a tendency to yank their heads forward with their hands placed where the coach taught them, risking a neck injury in the process.
To put extra emphasis on your obliques during crunches, do a crossover crunch: Twist your torso to the right, with your left shoulder toward your right knee, then lower yourself and switch to the other side.
Learn To Do The Pelvic Tilt
Lie on your back with your knees bent, as if you were doing crunches. Keep your feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart. Place your arms wherever they feel most comfortable. Press your back down, pull your abs in, squeeze your butt, and tilt your hips until your butt curls an inch or two off the floor. Hold this position for a moment, and then slowly lower your butt to the floor.
The pelvic tilt is a good abdominal exercise and it gets you in the habit of not arching your back during crunches, the bench press, and other exercises where doing so can injure your back. It also helps to strengthen your lower back.
Finally, don't get into a numbers crunch. Most guys wouldn't exercise their biceps or chest every day, doing dozens of repetitions in the process. But that's exactly what many of them do when it comes to abdominals, your abs just like other muscle groups.
This exercise works both your upper and lower abdominal muscles.
- Lie flat on your back with your hands cupped behind your ears and your elbows out. Bend your knees at about a 45-degree angle. Place your feet shoulder-width apart, about 6 inches from your butt.
- Curl your upper torso in toward your knees, pressing your lower back to the floor and raising your shoulder blades as high off the ground as you can get them. Keep your knees in line with your feet, and don't use your hands to pull your head up. Move your torso all the way up in a count of two. Concentrate on contracting your abdominal muscles. Hold for a second, then count to two again as you return to the starting position. Finish the set without resting between repetitions.
NEGATIVE SITUP WITH WEIGHT PLATE
This move works both your upper and lower abdominal muscles.
1. Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Place your feet under a support—the base of a weight machine, for example, or even your couch—to stabilize your lower body. Hold a weight plate to your chest. Begin with your upper body at slightly less than a 90-degree angle to the floor.
2. Slowly lower your upper body toward the floor with your abdominal muscles contracted, curling your torso forward and rounding your lower back. When your body reaches a 45-degree angle to the floor, slowly return to the starting position.
In addition to strengthening your lower abs, this exercise works your butt and quadriceps.
- Lie flat on your back with your legs in the air, your knees unlocked, your toes pointed, and your hands at your sides, palms down.
- Using your lower abs and shifting your weight toward your shoulders, lift your hips off the floor. Keep your legs vertical throughout. Pause, and then slowly return to the starting position.
This exercise works both upper and lower abs.
- Sit on a bench with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Grasp the sides of the bench for support and lean back to about a 45-degree angle. Keeping your knees slightly bent, extend your legs and raise them a few inches off the floor.
- While bringing your upper body to an upright position, slowly pull your knees in to your chest. Hold for a second. Then, keeping your back straight, slowly and simultaneously return your upper body and legs to the starting position.
This exercise works both your upper and lower abs.
- Lie on your back on a bench with your hips near the edge. Grasp the corners of the bench by your hips and extend your legs straight out, with your toes pointed.
- Keep your legs together, knees unlocked, and slowly raise them to vertical. Hold for a second, and then lower your legs in a controlled motion until your body is completely horizontal. Repeat without resting.
ABS AND OBLIQUES
FRONT HANGING KNEE RAISE
This exercise also works your quadriceps.
- Hang from a bar with your legs extended.
- Using your lower abdominal muscles, bend your knees and raise them as high as you can in a smooth, controlled movement. Your hips will naturally move forward slightly, but don't let the momentum swing your body. Hold for a second, and then slowly return to the starting position.
This is a good general ab exercise
- Kneel on the floor or stand facing away from a high pulley with a rope handle on the cable. Grab the rope handle with both hands and hold it at the top of your forehead.
- Contract your abdominal muscles as you slowly curl your torso in and pull the handle forward. (Use only your abs, not your upper body) Curl your body as far in as you can without moving the handle from your forehead. Hold for a second, and then slowly return to the starting position.
LYING CROSSOVER CABLE CRUNCH
This exercise strengthens all of your ab muscles.
- Lie in crunch position in front of a low pulley cable with a Y-shaped rope handle, your head pointing toward the pulley Keep your feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart and bend your knees. Grip one end of the handle with each hand so the rope is behind your head with your hands a bit more than shoulder-width apart.
- Slowly lift your shoulders and shoulder blades off the ground. But instead of pausing at the top, slightly twist toward your right knee. Hold for a split second, and then slowly lower yourself to the starting position.
- Immediately lift and twist toward your left knee. Don't relax between repetitions.
OBLIQUE TRUNK ROTATION WITH WEIGHT PLATE
Do this exercise in one slow, continuous motion.
- Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your hands holding a weight plate against your chest. Place your feet under a support, such as the base of a weight machine, to stabilize your lower body. Hold your torso at a 45-degree angle to the floor.
- Start by slowly moving your torso to the left.
- Stay to the left as you lower to your back.
- Completing a clockwise rotation, slowly raise your torso to the right side. Then repeat the exercise, this time moving down your right side and around to the left.
DUMBBELL SIDE BEND
This exercise strengthens the muscles responsible for side-to-side torso movement.
- Stand upright with a dumbbell in each hand. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart, and your arms should rest at your sides with your palms facing in.
- Slowly bend to one side, allowing the dumbbell on that side to drop down your leg until you feel your obliques working. Keep your body facing front in the same plane—don't turn your torso into the side bend. Once you've gone as low as you can, slowly bring yourself upright to the starting position, keeping your abdominal muscles and obliques contracted. Finish the set without resting between repetitions, then work the other side.
CABLE SIDE REND
This exercise also works your upper and lower abs.
- Stand sideways next to a D-handle low pulley cable. Your right side should be closest to the machine. Grip the handle overhand with your right hand, your right palm at your side and facing in. Keep your left hand on your hip. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart.
- Slowly bend to your right, letting the handle drop down your leg. Keep your body front—don't turn your torso into the bend. Go as low as you can, then slowly bring yourself upright. Don't rest between reps; keep your abs and obliques contracted. Finish the set, then turn around and work your other side.
DUMBBELL TRUNK TWIST
This move also works your biceps and forearms.
- Sit at the edge of a bench with your feet flat on the floor. Keep your chest out and your head aligned with your torso. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing your body Bend your arms and bring the weights close to your gut.
- Slowly and smoothly twist your torso to the right as far as you can comfortably go. When you reach the end of your range of motion, hold for a second, and then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat to the left. Continue alternating right and left until your muscles are fatigued.