No muscle group gets more attention than the abs. It is the centerpiece of the body. A firm, toned midsection is sure to turn heads whether you're at the beach or in a tight-fitting shirt.
For many, however, achieving fab abs is an elusive quest. If this sounds like you, read on – I've got the perfect ab-solution...
Before discussing specifics, let's set one thing straight: Abdominal exercises will not flatten your midsection!
Despite the claims of some uninformed fitness pros, you can't simply morph belly fat into your ab muscles during training. It's a physiological impossibility. Since fat has to travel through the blood stream after being broken down, it is just as efficient for your body to draw on fat from your face, arms and thighs as it is to drain fat from your love handles.
Thus, you can crunch until the cows come home, but it won't directly target that spare tire you're carrying.
The only way to slim down any area of your body – including the belly – is by burning more calories than you consume. And that is best accomplished by a combination of good nutrition and regimented total-body exercise. End of story.
That said, a good ab routine is indispensable in helping to define your midsection with that coveted "six pack" look.
To best target the muscles, you should train the abs in all three planes of movement. This means performing a combination of exercises that focus on crunches, side bends and twisting movements.
Choose one exercise from each of these categories in a session, and perform them as one "giant set." This entails performing the desired amount of reps with the first exercise, then move on to the second and third exercises without resting.
After completing all three exercises, rest for about 30 seconds and repeat the entire set, then do it again for a total of three giant sets. Training in this fashion will heighten the difficulty of the moves, helping to tax the muscles to their max.
Aim for 10 to 15 reps per exercise, and make sure the last few reps of a set are difficult to complete. If you can easily reach the target rep range, hold some sort of weight as you train. A dumbbell or medicine ball works great.
You also can use a stability ball to perform the moves. This introduces an unstable environment into your routine and thereby heightens abdominal muscle activity. Remember that the only way your muscles will develop is by challenging them beyond their present capacity.
As a rule, you should allow at least 48 hours between abdominal training sessions.
Understand that muscle tissue actually breaks down while working out. It is during rest that your body begins to repair this damaged tissue and this is when you acquire muscle tone.
Short-circuiting the recuperative process will not allow adequate time for your muscles to regenerate and this will ultimately impede your progress. Bottom line: You should work your abs no more than every other day.
Below are three exercises that target the abs. Animated demonstrations of these moves are available in the Fitness Resources section of my www.lookgreatnaked.com website. Click on the Exercise Database for the details.
Realize, though, that you should strive to constantly vary your routine, changing the exercises that you use from one workout to the next. There are numerous exercise variations at your disposal, providing an endless array of possible combinations. As you've heard me say over and over in past posts, variety is the spice of fitness!
Reverse Curl: Begin by lying down flat on your back. Keeping your hands flat on the floor, curl your knees into your stomach and raise your butt as high as possible while keeping your upper back pressed to the floor. Contract your abs and then reverse direction, returning to the starting position.
Twisting Crunch: Begin by lying face-up on the floor with your knees bent. Your thighs should be perpendicular to the ground and your hands should be folded across your chest. Slowly raise your shoulders up and forward towards your chest, twisting your body to the right. Feel a contraction in your abdominal muscles and then slowly reverse direction, returning to the start position. After performing the desired number of repetitions, repeat the process, twisting your body to the left.
Side Bend: Grasp a dumbbell in each hand and allow them to hang at your sides, with your palms facing your body. Assume a shoulder-width stance with a slight bend to your knees. Keeping your core tight, bend your torso to the left as far as comfortably possible. Contract your obliques and then return along the same path to starting position. Repeat on your right, then alternate between sides until the desired number of repetitions is reached.
Brad Schoenfeld is one of America’s leading fitness experts. He’s the best-selling author of Sculpting Her Body Perfect, 28-Day Body Shapeover and his newest book, Women's Home Workout Bible. Schoenfeld is certified as a strength and conditioning specialist by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and as a personal trainer by both the American Council on Exercise and the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. He’s also been named “master trainer” by the International Association of Fitness Professionals. Check out his website at www.lookgreatnaked.com