‘You can never be too strong around the middle.’ This old saying has held up over the years and still rings true.
Our abdominal muscles, if strong, protect our lower backs, improve our posture by holding us more erect and provide support for our internal organs. Serious athletes often want those “washboard abs,” “a six pack” or “a rock hard gut.” This is an awesome goal for a few, but for the average person having abdominals strong enough to hold your gut in is all you need.
Begin by improving your mid-body strength by targeting this weak spot by doing a variety of exercises. The best exercises for the abdominals will focus on all of your lower middle muscles including: the lower back muscles (erector spinae), the lower side spinal muscles and the both the middle abdominals and the obliques.
The safest, simplest and best abdominal exercises are also the easiest: crunches, bent-knee sit-ups, trunk twists, back raises and side bends. While doing these exercises start with a small amount of reps and do as many sets as you can. Gradually add more sit-ups to each set. For example, do 25 crunches, rest, then do 25 more crunches and then do 25 more. Work your way up to 50 crunches in each set. Do at least three sets. Following are some additional tips you should keep in mind while doing abdominal work to make it safer and more effective. Do your abdominal exercises three times a week.
Give yourself 48 hours of rest between workouts. In most abdominal exercises your hands will be behind your head. Do not lock your hands and pull; this could result in neck pressure and injury. Cup your hands gently over your ears. Head placement is important. Don’t hold your breath during any abdominal exercises. It is common to stop breathing or to breath too shallow during ab work. Remember to inhale on the crunch and exhale on the release. Maintain constant tension on your abdominal muscles. Keep it tight on the crunch and the release. You can place one hand on your stomach to see if you have them tightened. Concentrate on the abdominal muscles squeezing; there is a mind body connection in exercise.
With crunches and sit-ups only bring your body up about 30 to 45 degrees; any higher is not effective. Most abdominal exercises can be done with a twist to work the obliques. It is impossible to totally isolate any of the abdominal muscles, but you can place more of an emphasis on the obliques, lower abs or upper abs through different exercises. Both abdominal muscles and lumbar (lower back) muscles protect your spine; try to do even amounts of exercise to strengthen both.
Remember, abdominal exercises need your full concentration on squeezing those muscles, if you start day dreaming then the intensity is gone and you are wasting your time. Finally, if you truly want washboard abdominals your diet is going to determine if you can achieve them. A diet low in fat combined with an aerobic work out to burn more fat along with your abdominal work will give you the “six pack” gut if you keep at it!