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5 Secrets to Amazing Abs By Nicki Anderson, CPFT, AFP Abs of steel, Ab belt, Ab roller... The list goes on for gimmicks and gizmos used to sell the ultimate six-pack. No matter how we try, it seems the six-pack is reserved for the young and buff. However, if you consider combining just the right elements, you might get the results you desired. Sound too good to be true? Well, read on to discover the 5 best exercises for amazing abs. Let it be said that 1,000 abdominal exercises a day aren't the "secret" to chiseled abs. It's a combination of cardiovascular activity, diet and genetics. Yep, sorry, genetics does play a part in whether or not you can define those abdominal muscles to the point of an enviable six-pack. In addition to diet and exercise, great abdominal exercises completed on a regular basis can help you achieve your goal of abs of steel, or at least come close to it. All you need is a fitball, 15 minutes and the eye of the tiger! Crunches on Fitball (with or without weight) Crunches on the fitball still rate as one my favorite ab exercises. This exercise really helps define abs more than most of the other exercises. Position yourself with back on the ball making sure that it is adequately inflated. Be sure your low back is well supported. Cross your hands over your chest and slowly roll your back down over the ball then begin to lift up feeling a strong abdominal contraction and repeat. To increase difficulty, you can hold a weight across your chest. Perform three sets of eight to 12 repetitions. Be sure to relax your neck if you feel your it coming in to play. Abdominal Vacuum This exercise is the best for working your Transversus Abdominis, the muscle that holds your tummy tight. Basically, it's a thin sheet of muscle running along the sides of the abs joining connective tissue, serving as your body's natural corset. Every time you suck in your stomach you are using your Transversus. Interestingly enough, the Transversus is the only muscle that allows you to "suck in" your stomach. Start by positioning yourself on all fours. Keep your back flat. Maintain this position throughout the exercise. Exhale all the air from your lungs. Relax your abdomen and let it relax without increasing the arch in your lower back. Pull your belly button toward the spine (suck your stomach in very tight). Continue to breathe lightly through your nose, don't hold your breath and continue to pull your navel in as tight as you can. Hold this position for 15-20 second and repeat 12 times. Work up to 25 repetitions. The Bicycle The "bicycle" still rates by researchers as one of the best abdominal exercises and is a great one to include in to your ab arsenal. Begin by lying on the floor with your lower back in a neutral position. Loosely place your finger tips on either side of your head by your ears. Bring your knees up to about a 45degree angle. Slowly go through a bicycle pedaling motion alternating your left elbow to your right knee, then your right elbow to your left knee. Do not perform this activity if you feel any strain on your lower back. Be sure not pull on your head and neck during this exercise. The lower to the ground your legs bicycle, the harder your abs have to work. Reverse Ab Curl (Advanced) One of the most common requests I have from my clients is how to work the lower abdominal region, and this exercise serves as the perfect solution. Begin by lying on your back with your hands close to the body and extended down by your hips. Contract your abs (belly button to spine) raise your legs and feet in line with the ceiling. Then, raise your hips off the floor until you can't raise them any further. Stop when you feel a full contraction of the abdominals and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat for 12 repetitions and work towards 3 sets of 12. Double Crunch (Advanced) I like the double crunch because if performed correctly, you can isolate the lower and upper region of the abdominals. Lie on the floor face up and bend your knees until your legs are at a 45-degree angle with both feet on the floor. Your back should be comfortably relaxed on the floor. Place both hands crossed over your chest or place your finger tips on the side of your head. Contracting your abdominals, raise your head and legs off the floor toward one another. Focus on the lower and upper ab region while you contract. Slowly return to the starting position stopping just short of your shoulders and feet touching the floor. The key to this exercise is pace, don't go too fast. Keep in mind these exercises alone are not the key to the world of great abs. You need to focus on regular cardiovascular exercise, sound nutrition void of junk food and overall strength-training program. The leaner your body becomes, the more likely you'll be able to sport defined abs. But again, sometimes its far more important to have a strong core to support your day to day activity and avoid back pain than to try to achieve something your body just isn't designed to do. Nicki Anderson is the owner of Reality Fitness Inc., a private personal training studio in Naperville, Illinois. She is an IDEA Master Trainer, author of Reality Fitness: Inspiration for Your Health and Well-being. Nicki is also the health-and-fitness columnist for Chicago Suburban Newspapers and a regular contributor to numerous health-and-fitness magazines.
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