New Year, New Abs!
By Cheryl Alker
So the festivities are finally over, the last of the cookies, chocolate and pies have been eaten and you are now experiencing that awful feeling of your waistband digging in and your belt no longer fitting on the same hole it did before the holidays! So what are you going to do to remove that extra layer you seem to have acquired around your midriff? Why thousands of crunches of course, they target the abs and should see the return of nice trim waistline, shouldn’t they?? I’m afraid not, if your goal is defined abs it’s finally time to drop crunches from your New Year’s routine.
Before I qualify the above statement let me first explain that, you cannot spot reduce belly fat by performing crunches or any other exercise. Secondly, before you think about exercises for your abs you should hit the treadmill. Development of muscle can only be seen when body fat is low, so a high intensity fat burning exercise routine is a must together with reducing the amount of fat in your diet. Losing body fat has its’ own drawbacks though so be careful you don’t go too low. If it comes between a defined six pack and your health, take the second option every time. While the average body fat percent in the United States and Europe is increasing, extremely low body fat percent is also a health problem causing loss of reproductive function, nutrient deficiencies, increased risk of fractures and osteoporosis for starters.
I think it’s important to discuss the drawbacks of crunches. As previously mentioned you cannot spot reduce with one exercise and more importantly, in my opinion, crunches don’t really qualify as an effective abdominal exercise. Our abdominal muscles are part of core muscles that are meant to stabilize your body and keep your spine straight. Crunches involve the exact opposite movement, whereby you flex your spine and “crunch” at your back’s weakest point. This puts more strain on your lower back and your posture suffers.
How to get washboard abs?
Let me introduce you to plank exercises. Performing planks for abs is a great way to develop a six pack. It may not be the sexiest exercise for you “manly men” since planks are a yoga movement, but plank exercises are certainly one of the most effective abdominal exercises around, so maybe a visit to your local yoga studio is called for.
Plank exercises are a great way to work your abdominals as well as your entire core. By forcing your body to stabilize itself in one position, planks work both your abdominal muscles as well as your back muscles, so balance is achieved. The four layers of our abdominals are rectus abdominus, external obliques, internal obliques and transverse abdominis. Transversus is a major muscle of the functional core of the human body. The muscle fibers run horizontally from the lowest ribs in our back and encase, or hug the whole area below the navel. A significant advantage of planks in terms of developing better looking abs is that they work transverse abdominus (that holds in the rectus abdominus), while crunches focus on the rectus abdominus alone. What will happen with crunches alone (aside from back pain) is that your abs will stick out when viewed from the side.
There are a number of different plank exercises that you can perform. The best starting point is the standard plank.
- Get in a full pushup position.
- Instead of resting on your hands, rest on your forearms.
- Hold your back completely straight while trying to hold your abdominals in.
- Draw your navel to your spine and literally suck your waistline in (remember to breathe fully though!)
While it may sound easy, the longer you try to perform a plank, the harder it will be. You might start with 30 second sets and work your way up to 2-3 minutes