A strong, well-sculpted abdomen is as delightful to behold as a Van Gogh sky. Wide lats and a narrow waist forming a classical V shape — a work of art indeed! But a warning: Such a masterpiece is just as complex to create as a Starry Night or a Cornfield with Black Crows and it is much easier to do it wrong than it is to do it right.
One big problem is that 95% of all waist exercises performed by bodybuilders are variations on the sit-up and the leg raise, which are all flexions of the abdominus rectus body — that is, drawing the legs and torso closer together. But flexion is only one of the three functions of the abdomen. The other two are bending to the side, and twisting from side to side, and these movements depend on the oblique muscles. Once you begin working on building up your obliques, then you will be well on the road to flattening your entire abdomen, not just a part of it.
The function of the obliques is to bend the torso to one side and forward, and to twist the torso at the waist from one side to the other. In fact, the obliques cover and hold in a much larger portion of the abdomen than the abdominus rectus. In addition to their main functions of lateral bending and twisting, the obliques play an assistive role in all abdominus rectus exercises, and act as a counterforce to the spinal erector muscles of the back.
Knowing exactly where the obliques are will give you a better idea of how important they are. The obliques curve inward and downward from the sides to the front of the lower abdomen, and down into the crotch. This means that the obliques are not just a side muscle, but a frontal muscle as well, particularly the internal obliques and the lower portion of the external obliques. When the human form is viewed from the front, the lats and the outer sides of the external obliques form the torso line on each side of the body.
If abdominal work is neglected, such exercises as bodybuilding, weight training and jogging tend to develop and strengthen the lower back at the expense of the abdominal wall. Traditional sit-ups and leg raises are little help on this score, for they don't work the obliques much at all, and in addition gradually force the top of the pelvis to tilt forward. This contributes to swayback.
The Oblique Controversy
Almost from the beginning of modem bodybuilding (circa 1940), the oblique muscles have been neglected by bodybuilders. In the quest for the extreme V shape created by wide lats and a narrow waist, even the slightest development of the sides has been avoided so that the frontal view of the bodybuilder would always reveal a V ending in a wasp waist.
Whenever Bodybuilders see an overweight person — and in our society, that is a minute-by minute occurrence — their fear of overdeveloping the obliques is reinforced. The "love handles" that appear on the overweight body indeed, those handles are often nearly bursting with love! are so ugly as to be a constant reminder of exactly what bodybuilders do not want. They forget, however, that such handles are not the oblique muscle at all, but pure fat! The ideal, then, is to strengthen the obliques while keeping the fat off them by way of rigorous exercise.
The obliques are quite important in a variety of sports. They come into play in all sports that involve throwing, such as baseball, tennis and field events such as the shot put, hammer throw, javelin and discus. Twisting and swinging motions, as well as all lateral movements, also involve the obliques, such as those done by wrestlers, gymnasts, soccer players, football players and boxers. Underdeveloped obliques limit ones athletic facility in dozens of subtle ways.
The ultimate argument for the bodybuilder, however, lies in basic body building theory: The ideal body is one in which all the muscles are developed in systematical harmony. Underdeveloped obliques, then, are a flaw in the eyes of the experts. Should not the perfect body that all bodybuilders strive for also have perfect obliques?
Standard Bodybuilding Oblique Exercises
1) The side bend - This exercise is generally the only oblique exercise included in a beginner's routine. However, beginners are quick to drop it after they hear from more advanced bodybuilders that it will widen the waist. This is a pity, because the dumbbell side bend is an excellent waist shaper, and works much more of the abdomen besides.
To do the side bend, take a dumbbell of about the same weight that you would use in the dumbbell press. Hold the dumbbell in one hand at the side of the thigh. Place the feet about shoulder width apart. Put your free hand at your side or behind your head. Then begin: Bend sideways to the weighted side as far as possible. Raise back up and then bend over to the unweighted side. Bend as far as possible and hold the completed position for about three seconds. Repeat the movement for 10-12 reps. Immediately transfer the dumbbell to the other hand and do another 10-12 reps for that side.
In the side bend, the obliques pull the torso to the side, but the intercostals and the abdominus rectus also do a sideways crunch. If you tense these muscles as you perform the side bend, the exercise will have a better effect. The side bend is not just an oblique exercise, but involves the whole abdomen, and is also a mild sideways contraction of the spinal erectors.
2) Twisted sit-up - This is called "twisted" rather than "twisting" because the twist position is held throughout each repetition, from start to finish. This exercise works the obliques along with the abdominus rectus and the intercostals.
To do this movement, assume the sit-up position on a Roman chair. Take a 5- or 10-pound plate and hold it either behind the neck or at the chest. Lower the body to the horizontal position. Twist the bead and chest to one side, then sit up, maintaining the twisted position. At the top, twist the torso to the opposite direction, then lower and raise for a full repetition before turning to the other side again. Do 12-20 repetitions,
3) Wasting crunch sit-up - Lie on your back. Raise the legs to the vertical position with the legs slightly bent as in the regular leg-raise position. With hands behind the head, attempt to curl up slowly and curl up again, twisting the other elbow to the knees. This will involve a very limited range of motion, but try to curl up into as much of a crunching contraction as possible, doing 10-20 reps for each side.
4) Hanging leg raise twisting - This is a tough exercise that works the lower abdomen quite well. It can be done with the knees bent at first. Then, after the abdomen gets stronger, It can be made more difficult by straightening the legs.
To do this movement, hang from a chinning bar with about a shoulder-width grip. Raise both legs together with the knees bent. Attempt to raise and twist the knees up along one side of the torso. Lower and raise the knees with a twist to the other side of the torso. As you raise the knees, also raise or curl the hips up to obtain a full contraction of the abdominals. Perform 10-20 reps for each side.
You can increase the intensity of this movement by adding ankle weights to your legs or a dumbbell between your feet, And as you become stronger, you can intensify the exercise by straightening the legs while raising them, lifting them to a maximum of 45 degrees above horizontal. Eventually you will be able to touch the bar on either side of the hands. This is a favorite exercise of gymnasts.
5) Lying side bend - It took me a while to perform it smoothly, but once I mastered it, I found it a great oblique movement and abdominal flattener. Be patient — the results are worth it.
Lie down on your side, folding your arms in front of your chest and abdomen. Now simultaneously raise the torso and the legs in a vertical direction. This should bring your shoulders and thighs off the floor. You may not be able to achieve much of a movement the first few times, but keep at it: It takes a while to get all the muscles working together, but its a great waist slimmer.
To begin with, you may want to leave your lower arm stretched out over your head and flat on the floor, and the other hand on the obliques, feeling them contract as you raise your upper body and legs, Hold for three seconds and return to starting position, repeating 15-30 times each side.
6) Kneeling cable twist - Take a cable handle in both hands, or loop a towel in the handle and grip it. Kneel on the floor under the pulley wheel. Sit on your heels and lean the torso forward. Pull the cable handle down slowly, twisting to the side. Hold the tense position of the obliques for about three seconds and return slowly to starting position. Alternate sides with each twisting pulldown. Keep the arms bent and use the curling and twisting of the torso to pull the cable down.
Pointers on Performance
- Do each movement at a moderately slow speed.
- Feel the muscles contracting from beginning to end.
- Hold contracted position for 2-3 seconds, and tense.
- No jerking, heaving movements. Don't let the obliques he overpowered by the stronger abdominal muscles.
- Practice ISO-Tension control in the exercises.
- Select only three exercises at a workout. Alternate exercises each workout.
There's no reason to have a midsection you're unhappy with. Whether you just want to make your waist a little narrower, or want a midsection that's as ribbed and hard as a tortoise's shell, these exercises are the answer. They're all based on sound training principles. If you perform them with determination and intensity, you will undoubtedly achieve the kind of abdominal musculature you're after.
Weightless Abdominal Routine
Aerobic exercise for about 20 minutes or more at a time is one of the best methods for shaving off a layer of ugly fat covering the obliques. Here is a weightless, aerobic abdominal routine, which works all areas of the waistline, creating a flat, muscular look. These exercises primarily work the abdominals, so they should be done in addition to the basic oblique exercises outlined in the primer. This aerobic routine is excellent when done once a day, whenever you have an extra half-hour. It should be especially attractive to the competitive bodybuilder, who must flatten his waistline as well as create the extra edge of definition prior to a contest. To do this routine, you must:
• Do all six of the exercises listed below continuously, shifting from one to another without pause.
• Start with just 6 repetitions on each exercise.
• Do the cycle of six exercises just once the first day, then twice the second through fifth days, and finally three times on the sixth day.
• Increase the repetitions from 6 up to 20 or more until you are working for 20 minutes.
1) Knee-lift crunch - From a lying position, raise one knee. Curl up to it as you place your hands on your shin. Slow pulling with the arms is okay. Alternate knee lifts each repetition.
2) Double knee-lift crunch - From a lying position, raise both legs off the floor, Place hands on the shins. Curl up and crunch,
3) Cross-legged twist-crunch - From a lying position with one leg bent at 90 degrees and the opposite ankle on the one knee, twist-curl the torso up, hands behind neck, for 6 reps, touching elbow to opposite knee. Then switch legs and do 6 more reps.
4) Bent-leg crunch - From a lying position with legs bent at 90 degrees and feet on the floor, simply curl up and crunch, lifting legs and torso toward each other.
5) Knee-lift twist-crunch - From a lying position, raise the bent legs, cross ankles and hold, hands behind neck. Curl up and twist elbows to knees, alternating on each rep.
6) Leg raise reaching crunch - From a lying position, do a regular straight-legged leg raise, at the same time curling up with your torso and reaching out and past your buttocks with your hands. Stop when straight legs reach the vertical.
- Breathe normally during the execution of each routine.
- Keep the movements medium to slow,
- Hold each contraction for 2-3 seconds.
Six weeks of this excellent routine will help you shed excess pounds, and in addition will give you greater flexibility and endurance. Strong and flexible abdominals will not only improve your sports performance, but will do wonders for your appearance.
Awesome Waist-Flattening Diet
Exercise will firm shapt and flatten your waistline, hut in order to see a flat waist and its muscular definition, you have to strip fat not only from your waist, hut from your entire body. To help you hurry along the fat reduction of your waistline, diet plays a major role.
Here is a low-fat, three-day diet plan which can help trim off waistline fat while still providing energy for any high-powered workouts.
DAY 1: Breakfast
- 1 boiled egg
- ½ grapefruit or 1 orange
- 1 slice whole-wheat bread
- 1 cup nonfat milk
DAY 1: Lunch
- 1 ½ cups sliced fresh fruit
- ½ cup plain low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese
- 2 rice cakes or large whole-wheat crackers
- 1 cup nonfat milk
DAY 1: Dinner
- Large dinner salad
- Dressing: 2 tsp oil plus vinegar and herbs
- 1 cup steamed rice, preferably brown
- 2 cups steamed fresh carrot slices
- ¼ pound lean cooked hamburger
- Herbal tea
DAY 1: Snack
- 3 cups popcorn (no oil or salt)
- 2 glasses tap water or mineral water
- 1 apple or peach
DAY 2: Breakfast
- 1½ cups puffed cereal
- ¾ cup nonfat milk
- ¾ cup sliced fresh strawberries
- Herbal tea
DAY 2: Lunch
- 1 large salad with:
- 3 ounces water-packed tuna
- 2 teaspoons oil plus lemon juice and pepper
- 1 slice whole-wheat bread
- 1 cup nonfat milk
DAY 2: Dinner
- 1 cup clear broth (preferably low-sodium)
- 4 ounces cooked chicken (no skin)
- 2 cups steamed broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage
- 1 medium baked potato
DAY 2: Snacks
- 1 cup nonfat milk
- 3 cups sliced fresh vegetables with dressing made of mustard and vinegar, if desired
DAY 3: Breakfast
- Yogurt shake made in blender with:
- 1 cup plain nonfat yogurt
- ¾ cup melon cubes
- 3 ice cubes
- 2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate