Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Athletic Abs: Start working baby!

Ready, set, let's go!!

The most effective ab exercises start with the bicycle, which is the best move for targeting the rectus abdominis (i.e., the 'six pack') and the obliques (the waist), according to an American Council on Exercise study.

How to:

1.Lie on the floor and lace your fingers behind your head.

2.Bring the knees in towards the chest and lift the shoulder blades off the floor without pulling on the neck.

3.Straighten the left leg out while simultaneously turning the upper body to the right, taking the left elbow towards the right knee.

4.Switch sides, bringing the right elbow towards the left knee.

5.Continue alternating sides in a 'pedaling' motion for 1-3 sets of 12-16 reps.

The captain's chair leg raise is the second most effective move for the rectus abdominis as well as the obliques. You can do a variety of exercises on the captain's chair, which is a rack with padded arms that allows your legs to hang free and can be found in most health clubs and gyms. The key to keeping this move safe and effective is, first, to avoid swinging the legs or using momentum to bring the legs up. Second, keeping the knees bent will help you focus more on the abdominals and less on the hip flexors.
How to:

1.Stand on the chair and grip handholds to stabilize your upper body.

2.Press your back against the pad and contract the abs to raise the legs and lift knees towards your chest.

3.Don't arch the back or swing the legs up.

4.Slowly lower back down and repeat for 1-3 sets of 12-16 reps.

If you don't have access to a captain's chair rack, you can try a ball roll out as a substitute.  Ab rolls are a challenging exercise that targets all the muscles of the core. This advanced move requires attention to detail to avoid straining the back. Make sure you only roll out as far as you comfortably can. If you feel any strain in the back, back off the exercise or avoid it completely.

How to:
1.Kneel in front of the ball and place the hands on the ball, parallel to one another and with the elbows bent.

2.Contract the abs and pull the belly towards the spine.

3.Slowly roll forward and out as far as you comfortably can, until the feel the abs engage. Don't go so far that you hurt your back or collapse.

4.This move does not involve bending the hips, so keep them straight throughout the exercise.

5.Keeping the body straight, slowly pull your body back using your arms and abdominals.

6.Continue for 1-3 sets of 8-12 reps, avoiding this move if you have any back problems.

7.You can change the difficult of the move by placing your hands closer in or further out.

The exercise ball is an excellent tool to strengthen the abs and is the third most effective move for targeting the rectus abdominis. What makes this move a bit more effective than crunches on the floor is that the legs are often involved in floor crunches. On the ball, the abs do more work.
How to:

1.Lie on the ball, positioning it under the lower back.

2.Cross your arms over the chest or place them behind your head.

3.Contract your abs to lift your torso off the ball, pulling the bottom of your ribcage down toward your hips.

4.As you curl up, keep the ball stable (i.e., the ball shouldn't roll).

5.Lower back down, getting a stretch in the abs, and repeat for 1-3 sets of 12-16 reps.

And this is only the beginning!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Athletic Abs: Understanding the abdominals

Read part 1 of Athletic Abs: Stop dreaming about them

We must do focused core work, not a million crunches. The abs are the showcase muscles of your body.  Because they reside in the center of your body, the abs are the first place that draws attention when you wear a bikini, midriff shirt, crop tanks, fitted tees and similar garments that are designed to flaunt this sensual area.  For many women, however, a flat, toned stomach is elusive due to genetic factors.

What? Did I just say that? Genetics are in play when it comes to our abs?

Afraid so.  Despite that, targeted bodysculpting can help you develop a great set of abs.  Once you strip away abdominal fat (with eating properly and cardio) it is rather easy to bring out the detail in this region.  With a dedicated routine, your midsection will readily take shape, achieving a toned, washboard appearance.

The abdominals are one long sheath of muscle that runs from just below your breastbone (sternum) all the way down to your pelvis.  Thus, you CANNOT separate the upper and lower abs or train one part without effecting the entire muscle.  You can, however, apply more stress to the upper or lower abs by lifting from either the chest or the pelvis, respectively.  Moreover, the sides of the midsection (obliques) are involved in various bending and twisting movements.  Consequently, abdominal exercises are classified by weather they emphasize the upper or lower abdominal regions or the obliques.

Group 1 - crunches and similar variations.  These movements put maximal stress on the upper portion of the abs.  When executing crunches, you must concentrate on pulling your chest down toward your hips.  Your lower back should never move.  If it does, you activate your hip flexor muscles at the expense of your abdominals.

Group 2 - leg raises, reverse crunches and similar variations.  These movements focus more on the lower portion of the abs.  Lower abdominals are one of the most troublesome muscle groups for women to develop.  Because of their anatomical position, they have limited range of motion, making if difficult to achieve muscular contraction.  To work lower abs most effectively, it is imperative that you concentrate on raising your pelvis toward your chest, not simply raising and lowering your legs.  This minimizes hip flexor involvement and therefore maximizes stress to the lower ab region.

Group 3 - side bends, trunk twists, and similar variations.  These movements target the internal and external obliques, the muscles that run along either side of your waist.  When properly developed, the obliques provide the finishing touches to your midsection, giving your body a polished look.

Whew! I know this is a lot of information, but stay with me for part 3 as we get ready to learn what exercises work the best for the core.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Athletic Abs: Stop dreaming about them

Want them? Come and get them!

Know this: Every movement you make begins with the core. The core includes muscles that surround the stomach and lower back area. (external obliques, internal obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae, and transverse abdominis).

When you improve the core you reap many benefits:

  1. Better core control
  2. Balance
  3. Strength
  4. Endurance
  5. Power
  6. Speed
42 zillion crunches a day won't showcase your six-pack (it's really a 10-pack). However, pack in some great cardio interval training and a sensible eating plan and some core drills and your six-pack can form.

CARDIO: Go hard or go home! There's no other way around it, to melt away the fat around the abs, high intensity cardio or interval training burn away the fast faster. Unlike workouts of sustained duration, interval exercises work both aerobic and anaerobic systems. Interval training can take place by riding a bike, using a stationary bike, working out on a stair climber machine, elliptical running on a treadmill, or jogging around your own backyard.

After a five minute warm-up, when you feel ready, pick up the pace, to where you are huffing and puffing, but can still hold a conversation. Keep that pace up for as ling as you can (aim for five minute, but do as much as you can and gradually increase over time). Recover with a five minute active rest of easy walking, pedaling, or climbing. Do several rounds of this combination. For a beginner, start with 20 minutes and gradually work up to more. If you need to, do one minute sprints and take longer recoveries. Do whatever works best for you and your fitness level.

EATING: Eating six smalls meal a day stabilizes blood sugar, prevent mood swings and energy lulls throughout the day and provide increased energy to really burn fat.

      LISTEN! When you "diet" you lose, in this order: muscle, water and THEN fat!

Oh no! If you cut your calories to less than your metabolism needs to support your muscle, 4 to 6 of every 10 pounds you lose will be muscle. Each time you go on a deprivation diet, your body finds it easier to conserve FAT because it actually thinks you are starving.

Eating Rules and Regulations:

  • Under eating and under sleeping can cause over training
  • Schedule meals in advance.
  • Become sensitive to your body needs.
  • Don't skip meals!
  • Eat two servings of carbohydrates and one serving of protein at each meal.
  • Eating and training speeds your metabolism.
  • Consume more of your calories early in the day.
  • Eat slowly to avoid overeating.
Muscles prefer to burn carbohydrates for energy and use protein for growth and repair. You need carbs!
Takes notes, this is only the first of the series.  Tune in for more on the Athletic Abs series.