The abdominal muscles are essential for maintaining good posture and core stability, however many exercisers are unclear on the correct way to exercise them. Traditional exercises for the abdominals include crunches and sit-ups also known as trunk curls and curl-ups. The following are ten things to avoid when performing exercise for the abs.
1. Do not use a machine or contraption of any kind to exercise the abs, body weight and medicine balls are more than sufficient. No contraption or machine will ever work as well as a perfectly performed curl-up performed on the floor.
2. Do not pull on your neck with your hands while performing curl-ups this may cause excessive strain on the muscles and vertebrae and prevents the training of the neck flexor muscles. Rather place the fingertips on the ears.
3. Do not hoist your body up by throwing the arms and shoulders forward. Rather imagine having double-backed tape stuck to your spine and the back of your head and peeling the back slowly off the floor. Starting by peeling the back of the head, then the neck and then upper back off the floor. If you find it impossible to curl up to a 60-degree angle from the floor with the fingers touching the ears, try performing curl-ups with hands on the floor by the sides, pointing straight ahead or folded across the chest. Even laying propped up on a gradient of some kind will help, as this moves the center of gravity further towards the muscle origin, making the exercise easier.
4. Do not perform double straight leg lowering exercises for the lower abdominals and never allow them to be thrown down by a partner. This action can strain the lower back and actually stretch the abdominals and make them weaker. Rather perform double-knees to the chest in the lying position: hold the legs at 90 degrees of hip and knee flexion and then gently peel the tail bone off the floor (not the entire back) to cause a posterior tilting of the pelvis. Also, try performing scissor actions with the legs, but only if the low back remains flat against the floor.
5. Do not perform curl?ups with a straight back. This will only focus on the hip flexor muscles (iliopsoas) and may strain the lower back. Keep the spine as round as possible both during the upward movement and the downward movement.
6. Do not perform curl?ups with a "hole" in the lower back - this may strain the back, stretch the abdominals and actually make them weaker. Before starting the exercise, perform a drawing in maneuver and tilt the pelvis posteriorly by pressing the lower back into the floor. (Imagine trying to squash a grape under the low back to make sure the lower back remains flat throughout the exercise).
7. Do not perform curl-ups with excessively bent knees, especially if you have tight hip flexors and an excessive forward tilt of the pelvis. It is a common misconception that flexing the hips puts the hip flexor muscles "on slack" making them less able to contribute to the exercise, and targeting the abdominals more. (This assumption is false since the iliacus muscle spans a single joint and can work quite efficiently even near full hip flexion). Repeatedly, exercising in this manner may cause these muscles to tighten and shorten even more. Flex (bend) at the knee and hip only enough to allow the lower back to flatten into the floor.
8. Do not perform curl-ups on an excessively soft or springy surface e.g. a mattress, trampoline (?) or thick foam mat as this will assist in the exercise or make the flattening of the lower back more difficult.
9. Do not fix the feet under a bed or have anyone hold them when performing multiple curl-ups as this will allow for a majority of the sit-up to be caused by the hip flexor (groin) muscles. If the abdominals fatigue or are not strong enough to hold the back flat, the hip flexors will cause an forward tilt of the pelvis and the development of a "hole" in the lower back as discussed in 6.
10. Do not avoid doing abdominal exercises. Many exercisers are reluctant to perform abdominal exercises because they experience more discomfort in their neck and lower back than in their abdominals.
Follow the suggestions and alternatives presented here (and lose bodyfat) and you'll be well on your way to obtaining the coveted "six pack" abs.
David Petersen is a Personal Trainer/Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and the owner and founder of B.O.S.S. Fitness Inc. based in Oldsmar, Florida. More articles and information can be found at http://www.bossfitness.com
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