If there is one standard that most of the world uses to determine whether a persons body is in good shape it is a well defined set of abdominal muscles. The “ab” muscles are a visual symbol of a person that takes care of their muscles and, by association, their body as a whole. Although the later is not necessarily true, a good set of abs is a desired physical attribute for most to aspire to.
Which muscle groups to work
Building your abs is an exercise in personal discipline. Building each of the main ab muscles takes a concentrated effort. From a lay persons point of view there are three main abdominal muscle groups: the upper, the lower and the oblique’s. The upper ab muscles are often referred to as a “beer belly”, the lower abs as a “pooch” and the oblique’s as “love handles”. As the exercises that help strengthen these muscle groups are discussed, it should be pointed out that none of the exercises reduces fat levels. That is left to a proper diet and other exercises. For a total fitness plan, you may want to speak with your doctor.
Start with a pain free stretch
Personal discipline is one thing but stopping before you begin, because of a pulled muscle, is another. Begin you ab routine with a nice even stretching of your core body. Relax and roll any muscle you have between your upper neck and your waist. This might best be described as keeping your feet planted shoulder width apart, bending your knees slightly and making a 360 degree circle with your upper body(waist up.) As you do this you will feel muscle groups pulling as you stretch them. DO THIS SLOWLY and you will quickly find the ab groups you will soon be working.
Proper position and isolation
In performing each of the following exercises, proper positioning is important for getting the maximum effect out of each movement. The one position you will need in each exercise is bent knees. This angle, in reference to the floor, will generally be 90 degrees unless otherwise stated. What this does is isolate the abs and prevent your legs from helping the abs in the exercise. The next important tip is to not overextend your range of motion. The common perception for most of these exercises is to cover the full range of motion from the starting point of the exercise to the end. You will only need to cover about 30 percent of that range for the best isolation of the abs. Strangely enough, you will find this lesser motion more difficult.
The true ab exercise
The ab exercise that is truly the basis of getting toned ab muscles is the basic “sit-up”. People may call it a “crunch” or something else but the exercise that will get you the abs you want is a basic sit-up. It is how you do the sit-up that counts. Most people do them incorrectly. Perform a “crunch” by:
* Laying on the floor and bending your knees to a 90 degree angle with the floor. Heels on the floor with feet at a 45 degree angle to the floor. Interlace your fingers behind your head.
* Relax your arms and neck.
* Smoothly raise your upper body to a 30 degree angle while bringing your knees to your chest. Return to the starting position slowly and smoothly, repeat.
* Keep your arms and legs relaxed and move in a smooth motion for best results.
Working up to a Side Bridge
To be ready for the “side bridge” ab exercise you may need to work your biceps and your shoulders. For these exercises simply fill two or more 1 gallon jugs with water and begin curling them for 15 repetitions, this equals one set. Repeat and ad weight (more water or jugs.) For your shoulder use the same jugs and lift, with a slightly bent elbow, to the side. To perform the bridge:
* Lay on your side with straight legs one on top of the other. Place your hand just under your body at shoulder. Press down on your hand and raise your body up until the arm is almost locked (dont let it lock.)
* Raise your opposite arm to perpendicular with your body and hold the position for a count of 10. Lower and repeat.
Medicine Ball Plank
This ab exercise resembles a “push-up” except that you are putting your hands on a medicine ball. You are also not lowering and raising yourself but holding one position for 15 counts. After you begin to feel stronger performing this exercise, work toward a 30 count for one set. Do three sets to start and make sure that your knees are slightly bent and not locked.
Standing or seated twists
This exercise is fairly straight forward. Stand with feet at shoulder width apart. Place your hands on your hips and twist smoothly from side to side. As you become more stretched and comfortable with the movement begin holding a weighted object like a medicine ball or water filled jugs with two hands at your center. Once you feel comfortable with this movement try the same movement while sitting on the floor with your feet off the ground and knees slightly bent. When this feels easier try bouncing the ball on each side while your feet remain off the ground.