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  How to
Lower Abdominals
Simple but powerful exercises to achieve
abdominal strength and coordination                                          Part II
BY KIM GOSS                                the abdominal muscles, because then          Chloe Van Tussenbroek displays excel-
                                                                                        lent abdominal muscles. Chloe is a

         o you know someone who suf-       you will look significantly bulkier in the
                                                                                        Level 10 gymnast from the Olympus
         fers from “The Britney Spears     midsection than you really are – unless      School of Gymnastics in Sandy, Utah.
         Syndrome?” Do you know            you keep your bodyfat at extremely low
what causes this condition, how many       levels. Waterbury says the reason it’s
Americans are affected by it, and how      called the Britney Spears Syndrome is        even pregnant.
it can be successfully treated? What’s     that when Britney first started doing             The Britney Spears Syndrome
that, you say, you’ve never heard of the   music videos she had a very small waist.     aside, it’s a matter of course to see ath-
Britney Spears Syndrome, and for that      Then she started working with trainers       letes performing hundreds of repetitions
matter can’t imagine why BFS is even       who had her doing hundreds of reps           in such exercises as hanging leg raises,
discussing this tabloid sensation? Let     of abdominal exercises every day. Her        sit-ups and crunches. Core training has
me explain.                                waist got thicker, and whenever she          become an obsession for everyone, not
     The Britney Spears Syndrome,          gained any bodyfat the tabloids would        just pop princesses. Unfortunately, as
a term coined by fitness writer Chad       jump at this and suggest that Britney        explained in part I of this series, the bad
Waterbury, occurs if you overly develop    was becoming obese or perhaps was            news about all this emphasis on “core”

64 | BIGGER FASTER STRONGER                                                                                    MARCH/APRIL 2007
training practice is that if you don’t pay      FIGURE 1
                                                FIGURE 1                                                             FIGURE 2
attention to the lower abdominal mus-
culature, such training may be doing as
much harm as good by increasing the
risk of injury and inhibiting athletic
     The good news is that athletes can
quickly develop strong lower abdomi-
nals by adding a few sets of a specific                                                    The start position of the low ab raise
                                                                                           is with the fingers placed just below
exercise to their conditioning programs                                                    the bellybutton during, head down
– an exercise I’ll describe that is easy to                                                and elbows lifted off the floor.
learn and requires no special apparatus
such as those shown in infomercials.
Then I will present a follow-up exercise                                                   exercise, your hips may not move; but
that will help develop coordination                                                        as long as you feel the muscles contract-
between the upper and lower abdomi-                                                        ing, the area is being strengthened.
nals – coordination that will help                                                         Eventually the lower abdominals will
improve athletic performance and pre-         abdominals. This test is also an effec-      strengthen so that your hips will lift off
vent injures. Do I have your attention?       tive exercise to train the lower abdomi-     the floor.
                                              nals. Here is how you do it. Lie on               Don’t get discouraged! I’ve tested
Testing and Training                          your back, with your knees bent at           hundreds of competitive figure skat-
the Lower Abs                                 90 degrees, and place your hands just        ers on this exercise, several who have
    In Part I, I described a test to          above your hip bone (Figure 1). Lift         competed in the Olympic Games, and
determine the strength of the lower           your elbows off the floor and rest your      only a few could perform this exercise
                                              head on the ground (Figure 2). Now           properly the first time they tried. The
                                              try to lift your hips straight up, keeping   only gymnast I’ve tested so far who
 After you achieve                            your upper legs perpendicular to the
                                              floor (Figure 3). While performing the
                                                                                           could pass this test the first time she
                                                                                           tried is Maegan Snodgrass, a Level
 a base of strength                           movement, do not allow your knees to         10 competitor I train who is also an

  with the lower                              move toward your head or brace your
                                              elbows against the floor or raise your
                                                                                           American record holder in weightlift-
                                                                                           ing – so she doesn’t count. In fact, the
 abdominal raise,                             head.
                                                    When you first perform the
                                                                                           Level 10 gymnast demonstrating this

 you should begin                                                                                                    FIGURE 4

    performing                                To perform the low ab raise the hips
                                              move straight up, keeping the up-

   exercises that                             per legs perpendicular to the floor.
                                              Squeezing a medicine ball or a dumb-
                                              bell between the knees are ways to
      involve                                 increase resistance in this exercise,
                                              but a spotter should be used with
   coordination                               these variations.

                                                                         FIGURE 3                                     FIGURE 5
    between the
 upper- and lower
      muscles.                                                                                      1-800-628-9737 | 65

  FIGURE 6                                                                                and the movement can also be per-
                                                                                          formed before practice as a warm-up.
                                                                                          That being said, it’s important to avoid
                                                                                          jerky movements when performing the
                                                                                          exercise; instead, slowly lift your hips
                                                                                          up and down, even pausing briefly at
                                                                                          the top of the motion.

                                                                                          The Next Step:
                                                                                          Abdominal Coordination
                                                                                               After you achieve a base of strength
                                                                                          with the lower abdominal raise, you
                                                                                          should begin performing exercises
                                                                                          that involve coordination between the
                                                                                          upper- and lower abdominal muscles,
                                                                                          and many of the muscles that anteriorly
Several muscle groups are involved in
maintaining proper alignment of the hips,                                                 rotate the pelvis (Figure 6). I first heard
including the abdominals and psoas.                                                       about this exercise from the popular
                                                                                          physical therapy textbook Muscles:
exercise, Chloe Van Tussenbroek, had          lightly hold the ends of the dumbbell       Testing and Function (by Florence
to practice this exercise for several weeks   to prevent it from dropping on you.         Kendall and others).
to be able to properly perform it.            The spotter should also assist in placing        The exercise is essentially a straight-
     To make the exercise more dif-           the weight between your knees and in        leg raise, the difference being that you’ll
ficult, simply squeeze a medicine ball        removing the weight when the exercise       need to keep the lower back pressed
between your knees (Figure 4) or have         is completed.                               against the floor during the movement.
a partner apply manual resistance to the           As far as reps and sets are con-       While Kendall’s textbook points to
top of the knees. As shown in Figure 5,       cerned, regardless of which version of      using this exercise primarily to test and
you can also place a dumbbell between         this exercise you perform, you should       strengthen the rectus abdominus and
your knees. Paul Gagné, the Canadian          work the muscles for about 60 seconds       external obliques, Gagné says this is a
strength coach who told me about              per set. Because of the short range of      great exercise for testing and training
these training methods, says he has           motion of this exercise, you will com-      the overall coordination of the abdomi-
athletes use up to 100 pounds in this         plete the repetitions relatively quickly.   nal muscles and the muscles that flex
exercise! However, because it’s easy for      Thus, a workout of 2-3 sets of 15-20        the hip.
the weight to slip with this method and       reps could be considered an appropriate          To perform the test, which will
possibly cause an injury, it would be         exercise prescription for many athletes,    determine how you should be able to
a good idea to have a training partner                                                    use the exercise for strength training,
                                              The leg lowering test assesses coor-        have a partner place their hands under-
                          FIGURE 7            dination between the upper and lower        neath your lower back, lightly touching
                                                                                          the vertebrae directly under your belly-
                                                                       FIGURE 8           button. Extend your legs until they are
                                                                                          perpendicular to the floor, as shown in
                                                                                          Figure 7. Now press your spine against
                                                                                          the floor and slowly lower your legs,
                                                                                          with your partner holding their hands
                                                                                          a few inches away you’re your ankles so
                                                                                          that your legs don’t collapse to the floor
                                                                                          (Figure 8).
                                                                                               To score 100 percent on the test,

66 | BIGGER FASTER STRONGER                                                                                       MARCH/APRIL 2007
a male would have to lower their legs
all the way down without arching the
lower back, and a female to about 15
degrees from the floor. The difference
in the two standards is due to the fact
that women carry more of their total
muscle mass in their lower extremities.
      As soon as you start to lift your
back, that is approximately the position
that you will use to start the exercise.
In Figure 9, Chloe is demonstrating
the starting position for the exercise
for an athlete who can lower her legs
approximately 45 degrees before arch-
                                              Canadian strength coach and posturologist Paul Gagnéis one of the foremost
ing. The athlete slowly lowers the legs            authorities in the world on proper abdominal training for athletes.
to the platform (Figure 10), and after
the feet touch the platform pulls the        you can lower the bench in one-inch         as you perform the lifting portion of the
knees in (Figure 11) and returns to the      increments.)                                exercise. For the leg-lowering version
start. Of course, if you can only lower           The number of repetitions per-         of the coordination exercise, you would
your legs a few degrees before arching       formed depends upon the range of            exhale as you lower your legs to the
your lower back, you will need a higher      motion of the exercise; if the platform     platform.
platform (a BFS adjustable 3-in-1 box        used is high, then more repetitions can          One physical attribute that sets
squat bench is ideal for this exercise, as   be used than if the exercise is performed   great athletes apart from good athletes is
                                             with a lower platform. As a general         tremendous abdominal development. In
After an athlete determines their level      guideline to ensure an adequate training    fact, many athletes often display chis-
of abdominal coordination, they can          effect, perform the exercise for at least   eled, rock-hard abs that rival those of
perform the leg lowering exercise by
themself.                                    one minute.                                 the best competitive bodybuilders. Go
                                                  As you progress to the position        ahead and train the abdominals hard,
                          FIGURE 9           where you would pass the test, you          but be certain to include these two exer-
                                             would start performing the straight-        cises to ensure that you not only look
                                             leg raises (starting and ending at the      like an athlete (or
                                             top position), lowering to the point        a properly trained
                                             just before your back starts to arch.       celebrity!) but
                                             Soon you should be able to perform          also are strong
                                             the exercise properly through the full      to the core.
                                             range of motion. There are many ways
                                             to increase the resistance: A partner can
                         FIGURE 10
                                             apply manual resistance, you can hold a
                                             medicine ball between your legs, or you
                                             can use ankle weights. If you hold any
                                             resistance between your ankles, such as
                                             a dumbbell, you MUST use a spotter
                                             to prevent the weight from dropping
                         FIGURE 11           on you.
                                                  A word about breathing: For both
                                             of the exercises mentioned in this          The illustrations for this article were
                                                                                         taken from Strength Training Anatomy
                                             article, to increase the muscle training    2nd ed., available from Human Kinet-
                                             effect you should slowly release your air   ics,                                                                                    1-800-628-9737 | 67
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