Training Your Abdominals

Your abdominal muscles support good posture as stabilizers and enable you to bend and twist at the waist as primary mover muscles. Abdominal training gives your belly a flatter appearance by providing muscular support, but it does not spot reduce excess fat that may lie over the muscles. When training abdominals for stabilization purposes, follow core training guidelines. When training abdominals as movers, follow training guidelines for building a combination of strength and endurance or endurance alone, depending on your individual goals. Most women prefer to build smooth, flat abdominals. To avoid creating bulky, sculpted abs, keep the rep range high with between fifteen and twenty-four reps for each exercise and avoid adding extra weight.

Your abdominal muscles are located in front of the torso and consist of four muscles. The muscle that people see in photos of “six-pack” abs is the rectus abdominis. It has tendonous sheaths within the muscle that create a lined appearance. It attaches under your breastbone and runs down to your pubic bone. Your rectus abdominis allows your torso to bend forward. Whether you can see your rectus abdominis underneath your skin depends on a number of factors. The single most important factor is genetics.

Your genetics determine the extent of muscularity that you can build and determine the location of your body fat deposits. Some people naturally store more fat under the skin on top of the rectus abdominus muscle, which makes it difficult to see the muscle development. Others tend to store more body fat in other areas of the body.

A second factor that determines whether you can see muscle definition under your skin is your body composition. Your body composition is the relative amount of lean body mass and fat mass that make up your body. If you have a low percentage of body fat, your muscles will be more visible under the skin. Similarly, if you have a high body fat percentage, you will not be able to see much muscle definition under the skin. The third factor is your training.

The most common example of muscle imbalance is focusing on training abdominals. In order to strengthen the mid-section, it's equally important to train the muscles in back as well as in front. If you only train abdominals, you can set yourself up for injury, postural misalignment, and potential back pain.

Underneath your rectus abdominus, you have two layers of oblique muscles. One layer runs at an angle down and in toward the center and another runs up and in toward the center. The function of your obliques is to bend and twist your torso. These muscles also assist in defining your waist. The movement that most commonly leads to lower back injury is bending and twisting. This is when your spine is most vulnerable. Strong oblique muscles protect your spine in this movement and help prevent back injuries.

CRUNCH

Figure 11-11 The crunch strengthens and tones your abdominal area and defines the muscles at the center of the torso.

GET SET Lie on the ground with your knees bent, feet flat. Maintain good spinal alignment with the natural curve in your lower back. Place your fingertips behind your head with your elbows out wide.

ACTION Slide your shoulders down and back. Lift your head and upper back as you bring your lower ribs toward your pelvis. Contract your abdominal muscles. Lower slowly. (SEE FIGURE 11-11.)

WEDDING WORKOUT POINTERS Inhale to prepare, exhale as you lift up. Inhale, return to start. Avoid pulling on your head and straining your neck. Lift pelvic floor as you exhale and contract your deep abdominals.

VARIATIONS

(EASIER) Place your arms at your sides and lift upward as you slide your hands toward your feet.

(EASIER) Hold on to your thighs to assist you in lifting your torso forward.

(HARDER) Extend your arms behind you, past your ears. Lift and lower as described. If you feel discomfort in lower back, try bringing your feet closer to your hips.

(HARDER) Hold a dumbbell across your chest under folded arms.

REVERSE CRUNCH

Figures 11-12and 11-13 The reverse crunch strengthens and tones the abdominal area and targets the lower abdominal area in particular.

GET SET Lie on your back. Bend knees with thighs perpendicular to ground and shins parallel. Place hands at your side, on either side of your head, or across your chest. (SEE FIGURE 11-12.)

ACTION Slide your shoulders down and back. Contract your abdominals and curl your tailbone up and in-between your legs as you lift your hips upward. Lower slowly. (SEE FIGURE 11-13.)

WEDDING WORKOUT POINTERS Relax your chest and shoulders. Avoid bouncing your hips up. Smoothly lift and lower. Relax your face, jaw, and neck. Lift pelvic floor as you exhale and contract your deep abdominals.

VARIATIONS

(HARDER) Do on an incline slant board with your head higher than your hips. Place your hands above your head and gently hold on to handle. Gradually increase the incline.

(BANDS OR TUBING) Start in bent knee position. Hold one end of the band in each hand. Place band across the top of your mid-thighs, above your knees. As you lift hips up, feel resistance to the movement as you work against the band. Lower slowly.

OBLIQUE CRUNCH

Figure 11-14 The oblique crunch strengthens and tones the rotator muscles of the trunk. It narrows and defines your waist.

GET SET Lie on your back with your knees bent at a ninety-degree angle, feet flat on the ground. Place one hand behind your head with your elbow out. Extend opposite arm out to side of body, palm down.

ACTION Contract abs. Lift shoulder toward opposite knee, keep elbow out. Rotate the torso. Return to start. (SEE FIGURE 11-14.)

WEDDING WORKOUT POINTERS Inhale to prepare, exhale rotate and lift. Inhale, return to start. Concentrate on lifting your shoulder toward the knee and not on bending the elbow. Keep your abdominal muscles pulled inward as you rotate. Lift pelvic floor as you exhale and contract your deep abdominals.

VARIATIONS

(EASIER) If you have discomfort in your lower back, bring feet closer to hips.

(EASIER) Extend your arms long. Imagine you are peeling your shoulder up off the floor as you reach with both arms toward the outside of your legs. Alternate sides, or do reps on one side, then the other.

Strong muscles give you energy to get up and go. When you get stronger, you're also likely to become more active. As your strength increases, all of your daily activities will seem EASIER. This increased activity boosts your metabolism and increases the number of calories that you burn.

BENT KNEE SIDE CRUNCH

Figure 11-15 The bent knee side crunch strengthens and tones the trunk rotator muscles. It narrows and defines the waist.

GET SET Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat. Lower both knees to one side, keeping your legs stacked together. Place fingertips behind your head. Place thumbs at base of hairline.

ACTION Curl upward, drawing your ribs toward your hips and squeezing your waist on one side. (SEE FIGURE 11-15.) Lower slowly.

WEDDING WORKOUT POINTERS Inhale to prepare, exhale to lift. Inhale, return to start. Avoid pulling on your neck.

VARIATIONS

(DUMBELLS) Hold a light dumbbell behind your head.

BICYCLE

Figure 11-16 The bicycle strengthens and tones the abdominal area, particularly the waist. It defines and narrows the waist.

GET SET Lie on your back. Bend knees with thighs perpendicular to ground and shins parallel. Place fingertips behind head, elbows out wide, and shoulders down and back. Rotate upper body to the right, lifting left shoulder toward the right knee as you draw right knee in and extend left leg. Keep pelvis anchored. (SEE FIGURE 11-16.)

ACTION Switch legs, rotating your upper body to the left, lifting right shoulder toward the left knee as you draw left knee in and extend right leg. Keep rotating and switching knees toward chest.

WEDDING WORKOUT POINTERS Inhale as you lift alternating knees to your chest left and right, exhale as you lift alternating knees to chest left and right. This equals one repetition. Keep pelvis anchored at all times, rotating through the waist, not turning your hips.

VARIATIONS

(EASIER) If you cannot keep your pelvis still, do oblique crunches.

  1. Home
  2. Wedding Workout
  3. Core Training — Standing Tall and Confident
  4. Training Your Abdominals
Visit other About.com sites: