WORDS: KRIS ABBEY
Wouldn’t you love to have trim, taut abs? Or even a little less of the muffin-top? Or what about more core strength? Well, this isn’t as elusive as it sounds. Your abs are one of the easiest muscles to strengthen, and by exercising them three to four times a week, you’ll start to notice results in as little as two weeks. While I would never put myself through the torture of an excessive abs routine, I am proud to admit that after having three children my core still holds strong. Before you get down and give me 20, there are a few essential factors you need to consider if you are to reach your goal of a firmer, flatter stomach… with a hint of a six-pack!
A well-defined 6-pack requires muscular hypertrophy of the abdominal muscles i.e. you need to exercise those muscles! You don’t need any fancy (read: gimmicky) ab equipment, just a mat or a towel and some space. 5-10 minutes would be useful as well.
Unfortunately, you can have the best abs on the planet, but if you’re carrying extra weight (i.e. fat) you’re not going to see those toned abs hidden beneath. So if you want to see your six-pack, a low level of body fat is essential (sub-15%).
Contrary to popular belief, no amount of abs training will reduce the body fat that covers your midsection. The only way to reduce the fat covering your abs is to follow a smart nutritional program and a well-designed training regime that increases your metabolism and naturally stimulates your fat-burning hormones. Lose the fat, and get a wonderful surprise at what lies below.
Anything worth while is worth doing properly. Don’t go crazy and go from doing nothing for your abdominals to doing 100 sit-ups a day. It will probably result in an injury and damage to your back. Start small and build up. Consider quality over quantity. And if you’re not sure if your technique is correct, get advice or help from a qualified instructor.
There is no concrete evidence to suggest the perfect number of reps, since we’re all different and have different levels of strength. What we do know is that, as a small muscle group, the rectus abdominus is easily over-trained, making rest and recovery essential. The quantity I have suggested is to be used as a guide only. Work within your capabilities. And train your abs every second day, or even wait until the third day if you’re still sore from the previous session.
Once you’ve got your diet in order, it’s time to hit the floor to work those abs into shape.
The three muscle groups we’re talking about are:
1. rectus abdominus – the long, flat muscle extending all the way down the front of your abdomen
2. obliques – the external obliques are the widest muscles in your body, running diagonally down from the middle of your ribcage to your pelvis, while the internal obliques lie beneath, running diagonally up from your pelvis to your ribcage
3. transversus abdominus – a thin patch of muscle that runs horizontally down your side beneath your internal obliques
You need to exercise all 3 muscle groups each time you do your ab exercises. They are in a perfect anatomical balance, and if you work one over another, you’ll throw out your alignment. Anyway, enough theory, let’s put it to practise!
Below are my favourite exercise because you can do them anywhere, any time, and you will get results… guarantee!
1. Bicycle Manoeuvre
Lie flat with your lower back pressed to the floor. Put your hands beside your head (beginners may prefer to rest their elbows on the floor). Bring your knees up to a 45 degree angle. Slowly go through the motion of pedalling a bicycle. Maintain even, relaxed breathing. Start with 10 cycles (each leg) and build up. Or do 30 seconds, then 40 etc.
2. Bicycle Manoeuvre with Oblique Twist (Russian Twist)
Same as exercise 1, except touch your left elbow to your right knee, then your right elbow to your left knee.
3. Crunch on Exercise Ball
Sit on the ball with your feet flat on the floor. Let the ball roll back slowly. Lie back on the ball until your thighs and torso are parallel with the floor. Cross your arms over your chest. Slightly tuck your chin in towards your chest. Contract your abdominals and raise your torso to about 45 degrees, then return to the starting position. For better balance, spread your feet wider apart. To challenge your obliques, make the exercise less stable by keeping your feet closer together. Exhale as you contract; inhale as you return to the starting position. If you don’t have a Ball, the floor will do. Start with 15-20 and gradually build up to more.
4. Vertical Leg Crunch
Lie flat with your lower back pressed to the floor. Extend your legs straight up in the air, with a slight bend in your knees. Contract your abs by lifting your legs. Keep your chin off your chest as you contract. Exhale as you contract; inhale as you return to the starting position. This is quite tough, so if you are a beginner do these with your knees bent. Start with 10 and build up.
5. Hover or Plank
This is my all-time favourite exercise. It gets your entire core in one ‘foul’ move! Lie face down on the floor. Get into the push-up position, except with your elbows on the floor instead of your hands. Elevate yourself, with just your elbows and toes on the floor. Keep you palms flat on the floor. (Beginners may prefer to use knees rather than toes, with feet crossed over each other). Hold for 30 seconds, and build up to 1, 2 or even 3 minutes for the hard-core (pun intended!).
Do 1 set of each of these exercises every other day. After week one, do 2 sets, then aim for 3 sets. Do this in conjunction with a good nutrition and exercise program and in four weeks you’ll be looking (and feeling) great!