When it comes to training the abdominal muscles there is so much bad info out there it scares me sometimes! First of all ‘ab exercises’ are not an effective way to get a flat stomach, if your body fat levels are not pretty low to start with then all the sit ups in the world are not going to give you a flat stomach. If getting a flat abs/six pack is your goal I would suggest you should start with a change in diet, moving more and lifting some weights to achieve this.
The most common exercise selection mistakes I see with abdominal training is someone lying on their back and floundering about like a fish out of water for 10 minutes attempting every crunch variation under the sun and believing this is a good ‘abs workout’.
To understand why this is such a bad idea you must first understand the basic anatomy of the abdominal area.
So the abdominal muscles can firstly be divided into two categories inner and outer abdominal muscles.
The inner muscles main role is to stabilise the body and create tension to support the spine. The outer muscles are more about movement and to a lesser degree stabilisation.
The Inner Unit
The inner unit is engaged when we lift heavy objects or do focused core stabilisation exercises such as planks or Pilates.
The Outer Units
The outer unit muscles are the ones that move the spine, so they flex us forward/backwards and to the sides as well as rotating.
So when we are doing sit ups the inner unit is almost redundant, as you are not lifting a heavy object or challenging the body to stabilise (you don’t get more stable than lying on your back on the floor!). Another issue I have with lots of sit ups is that they flex the spine, and for most of us this is a posture we are already too developed in. If you are sitting at your computer reading this, try doing a sit up sitting in your chair, I bet that doesn’t feel too different to the position you end up in when you are hunched over your laptop….
Ok that’s enough sit up bashing for one day, let’s dive into the core exercises we do recommend. When we are designing a program for our clients, we try to challenge the core in all its functions.
We will do some core stabilisation with some of the following exercises.
Note – a wee tip here to increase the stabilisation demands of an exercise you can try lifting uneven loads (hold a weight on one side or make one weight heavier compared to the other side).
Beginner 1: Four Point Vacuum
Beginner 2: Bird Dogs
Beginner 3: Press Up Planks
Barbell Squats (Only do this when you are proficient in Body Weight Squats)
Suitcase Dumbbell Squats
Loaded Carries; Farmers Walks; Waiters Walks
Ab Wheel (More advanced, make sure you do not feel your lower back. Get a trainer to check your form on this one as this can be a bit more challenging a perhaps higher risk for injuring yourself with)
If you are going to sit ups, we would recommend using the swiss ball as this allows you to go into extension over the ball (Rectus Abdominus does 20 degrees flexion and 40 degrees extension, another reason why sit ups on the floor are a bad idea. It’s like doing half a bicep cur, whoops sorry I said I was finished with the sit up bashing!).
Swiss ball Crunches
Medicine Ball Step/Overhead
Heel Taps Levels 1, 2 & 3
Single Heel Taps
Double Heel Taps
As we age our spines tend not to like too much rotation as it can cause wear and tear.
However, as it is an important movement pattern, we would recommend sparingly having some rotational exercises in your exercises.
If you do not like the feel of rotational exercises you can strengthen the rotational muscles without going through a full rotation. Such as the palof press.
Finally when looking at core training it is important that you do not make the same mistake that many gym bunnies make where they only train the muscles they can see in the mirror.
The muscles in the back are very important muscles as well so don’t forget about those (they work opposing to the muscles that hunch us over our desk all day)
Hope that was helpful!