Peter Marino at 3% body-fat!
Most people want to look their best, especially during the warmer spring/summer months when people dress lighter. To look your best, many people focus on strengthening and tightening up their stomach muscles. If you look online you can find many stomach exercises to consider for your exercise program. So which exercises would be best for you whether you’re a beginner or advanced trainee?
There are a few things to consider before choosing the actual exercise program to strengthen and shape your midsection. Since no exercise program will yield results if you don’t consistently workout the first thing you need to do is pick a program you are willing to complete and stick with. The second thing to consider is to choose a set of exercises that work all the various muscles groups that form the abdomen from the obliques to the upper and lower abdominal muscles. Lastly, you must be willing to embark on a healthy but lower calorie diet that will help you reveal those abdominals you’re working so hard on from the fat tissue covering them up.
Crunches have always been a popular and effective stomach exercise. Regular crunches work the front stomach muscles while side crunches work the obliques more so. Crunches are not perfect though, and for some it can cause back and neck strain.
An example of a crunchless stomach muscle exercise is called the vacuum which is practiced by many bodybuilders and yoga instructors but often overlooked by the mainstream. It is a lower abdominal and transverse abdominus core exercise (transverse abdominus is important at keeping your gut from protruding, especially as you get older). To perform the exercise pull the lower abdominal muscles at the belly button inward toward your spine and hold for 10-25 seconds performing 2-4 sets. This really works abdominal muscles that you probably weren’t even aware of. This type of exercise is done while kneeling or when lying on your stomach. This exercise also eliminates the back and neck strain you may get with a normal crunch and is a great alternative to crunches when trying to prevent lower back pain.
A long arm crunch involves lying on your back and with knees bent and feet flat. Put your arms straight back as if to reach over your head and then contract your stomach muscles slowly and lift your arms head and shoulders off the floor to about a 30 degree angle. Hold this position for a few seconds and then slowly go back to your original position. Repeat 15-30 times for a set.
The hip lift involves lying on your back with arms at your sides and palms up. Then lift your legs straight to about a 90 degree angle to your torso and hold. Now contract your lower abdominal muscles at your belly button to your spine. At the same time, lift your hips off the floor to a height of 2-3 inches and hold there, your legs still being held straight upward. Then lower your hips back to the floor and repeat for 10-30 reps (depending on abdominal strength) for a set.
Another good stomach muscle exercise is called the plank. Get into pushup position on the floor. Now bend your elbows 90 degrees and rest your weight on your forearms (a high plank is staying in the pushup position, a low plank is performed on your elbows). Your elbows should be placed directly beneath your shoulders, and your body should form a straight line from your head to your feet. Hold the position for as long as you can. Your goal should be to hold it for one to two minutes. Once you can do this exercise for one to two minutes try raising one foot off the ground then switch feet every 20 seconds. You may also bring your knees off to the side and up to your waist for increased difficulty.
A Pilates workout is also great for the stomach muscles because each Pilates exercise focuses on strengthening the core of the body. Almost every movement in Pilates will work the stomach muscles directly or indirectly so Pilates is a good choice to consider.
No routine would be complete without mentioning the Russian twist. There are two versions of the Russian twist; one with feet touching the ground and one with feet off the ground. The latter is more advanced of course and should be performed by more advanced trainees. To perform the Russian twist sit on the floor with your knees bent at about a 45 degree angle. Lean slightly back but do not round your spine. It’s really difficult but very important to keep your back straight. Place your arms straight out in front of you if you’re not using resistance; if you are using a weight there may be a bend in your arms as to not fatigue the arms before the abdominals. Pull your navel to your spine slightly and twist at a slow to moderate speed to the left and then to the right. The movement emanates from the ribs rotating and not from swinging your arms. Perform 15-30 repetitions.
There are dozens of more stomach muscle exercises out there not mentioned here so I have inserted a great abdominal workout video by Jillian Michaels for more great abdominal/core exercises below. Next article will help you out with a diet plan that can help you reveal those hard worked abdominals.
By Peter Marino, owner of PoshFitness.com a Westchester NY in home personal training company.