Building Abdominals

Abdominal crunches work only one area of your abdomen–the part along the front of your belly above the belly button. Unfortunately, this happens to be the one area of the stomach that’s often strongest for most people. So, crunches simply make an already strong area of the abdomen even stronger, ignoring important weak spots that are the true source of your problem.
The ABS are actually more than just one muscle. The abdominal muscle group is made up of the oblique muscles (internal and external), the abdominus rectus and the hidden transverse abdominus.

The obliques are thin muscles that form a continual wrap around the torso, enclosing your bony structures and internal organs in a protective support. Unfortunately, even the most developed obliques can be hidden under layers of fatty love handles.

The rectus abdominus is what forms the classic and sought after six-pack. It attaches the sternum and ribs to the pelvis. Buried beneath the rectus is the transverse abdominus, which remains virtually unseen, but acts as a girdle to flatten your midsection. Fat, however, can mask the most developed muscles.

Abs crunch:

  • Lay on the ground with your legs bent and your feet flat. Do not pull from your arms, keep your focus on your abdominal muscles. Remember, this is an abdominal crunch not a sit up.
  • Keep your abdominal muscles tight, neck straight and chest up.
  • From your sternum, crunch your weight up and forward.
  • Your lower back should remain flat on the ground at all times.
  • Under control, lower your weight, stop just before your shoulders touch the ground and reverse the motion back up.

Muscles benefited: Abs (rectus abdominis).

  • Lay on the ground with your legs straight and your hands underneath your bottom.
  • Keep your abdominal muscles tight with your head and lower back flush on the ground.
  • Pull your legs up and back to a 90° angle from the ground. Do not lock out your knees and keep your focus on your abdominal muscles.
  • Your lower back should remain flat on the ground at all times
  • Lower your legs, stop just before your feet touch the ground and reverse the motion back up. Muscles benefited: Abs (rectus abdominis).

The Bicycle exercise is the best move to target the rectus abdominis (i.e., the ‘six pack’) and the obliques (the waist), according to a study done by the American Council on Exercise.

To do this exercise correctly:

  • Lie face up on the floor and lace your fingers behind your head.
  • Bring the knees in towards the chest and lift the shoulder blades off the ground without pulling on the neck.
  • Straight the left leg out to about a 45-degree angle while simultaneously turning the upper body to the right, bringing the left elbow towards the right knee.
  • Switch sides, bringing the right elbow towards the left knee.
  • Continue alternating sides in a ‘pedaling’ motion for 12-16 reps.

The Captain’s Chair is the second most effective move for the rectus abdominis as well as the obliques and can be found in most health clubs and gyms.

To do it right:

  • Stand on chair and grip handholds to stabilize your upper body.
  • Press your back against the pad and contract the abs to raise the legs and lift knees towards your chest.
  • Don’t arch the back and remember to breathe smoothly.
  • Slowly lower back down and repeat for 12-16 reps.

The exercise ball is an excellent tool to strengthen the abs and comes out number three for working the rectus abdominis.

To do it right:

  • Lie face-up with the ball resting under your mid/lower back.
  • Cross your arms over the chest or place them behind your head.
  • Contract your abs to lift your torso off the ball, pulling the bottom of your ribcage down toward your hips.
  • As you curl up, keep the ball stable (i.e., you shouldn’t roll).
  • Lower back down, getting a stretch in the abs, and repeat for 12-16 reps.