There are many exercises for developing your abs muscle. Crunches are probably one of the most common exercises done to tone up your middle. An effective way to tighten and strengthen your abdominal muscles is to do the traditional abdominal crunch exercises. They are very versatile and convenient because they can be performed basically anywhere whether it is lying flat on the floor, using a weight lifting bench, a Swiss ball or an abdominal exercise machine. It is important you work with your trainer to make sure you have the right balance of exercises to get the best workout, and to make sure you are doing it properly to avoid injury and get the best results.
The basic crunch is a vital part of any crunches workout. If done correctly, this exercise will help flatten and tone both your lower and upper abdominal muscles and you will be able to get hard rock abs. The key to getting the flat abs you want is to do the crunch correctly, making sure that you are really working those abdominals.
Lie your back flat on the ground with your knees bent at a 90 degree angle, then place your hands behind your head or across your chest.
Pull your belly button towards your spine, and flatten your lower back against the floor.
Slowly contract your abs while bringing your shoulder blades just an inch or 2 above the ground.
Exhale as you rise up. Your neck should be straight, chin up.
Hold that position for a few seconds while breathing continuously.
Slowly lower your back down to the floor but don’t fully relax.
Repeat for 20 to 25 times with perfect form.
For more variety, bring your knees and upper body towards the torso to perform a full body crunch.
To make it more challenging, try the crunch while balancing on an exercise ball.
There are three main mistakes people make when trying to perform the crunch. The first is that they pull on their neck to get them up, rather than lift with the abdominals. In this instance, the best you can get is a sore neck instead of strong abs. Another big mistake people make is not breathing through the exercise. When performing the crunch, always exhale up and inhale down. Finally, many people attempt to just lift themselves straight up rather than perform the crunching motion. In a proper crunch the torso should be rolled up to the top of the movement, using your abdominals to do the lifting.
Other ab exercises to add to your workout routine include:
Planks – laying on your stomach raise the body up supporting on your feet and forearms. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute, rest and repeat. Planks are an excellent core exercise and will strengthen your stomach muscles and your back.
V-sits – while laying on your back with your arms above your head, lift your torso up keeping your back straight. At the same time bring your legs up until your hands are almost touching your feet. Lower your legs and upper body back to the mat and repeat.
Knees to Elbows – hang from a chin up bar, keeping your stomach tight bring your legs up and lean your body back until your knees touch your elbows. Stay controlled while performing the exercise to prevent swinging.
There are many other great core exercises including moves and poses from Pilates and Yoga. Many machines in the gym can be used to strengthen your abdomen. To achieve that six pack abs or a flatter stomach, work with your trainer to work all the angles of the abdominal area. You must work different muscles with different exercises by using various resistance levels.
What’s hot in the world of abdominal and core training today seems to change as fast as the latest clothing styles. New gurus, new infomercials, new machines – today’s fitness marketplace is all about “what’s new.” I often write reviews about the latest, greatest ab and core training gadgets, usually debunking most of them, but this time I’m actually going to do the opposite.
As new products push their way into the fitness scene, some truly legitimate, cost effective devices get pushed out, forgotten, or even worse – dismissed as “fitness fads.” Such is the case with the swiss ball (also known as a “exercise ball”, “gym ball” or “stability ball”)
Why Some Fitness Experts Condemn The Swiss Ball
Swiss balls have been around a long time in physical therapy and rehab settings and when they crossed over into the mainstream fitness world, they were probably hyped a bit too much. It’s not that they didn’t deserve the attention, its that many fitness “experts” placed the swiss ball up on a pedestal as the end-all be-all of abdominal, core and fitness training, rather than representing the ball for what it really is – a single training tool among many- just like barbells, dumbbells, cables or any other fitness equipment.
As a result, entire training systems were built around the swiss ball (neglecting other forms of training), and people misused and overused the ball. Some trainers used the ball for “exercises” that were nothing more than circus acts. I’ve seen it all – everything from standing on top of the ball and squatting to bench pressing on the ball with 400 pounds..
As a result of the over-hyping and misuse of the swiss ball, some coaches and trainers have recently spoken up and publicly renounced the ball as a ” gimmick.” This has caused a flood of emails to pour into my office as consumers and fitness enthusiasts have become more confused than ever.
It’s no wonder: Trainer A says, “The ball is the best thing since sliced bread” and trainer B says “the ball is and always was a gimmick.” I believe the ball is a very valuable training tool and that the truth is somewhere in the middle, so I’d like to help put things back into proper perspective.
Swiss balls are powerful, portable, inexpensive and versatile training tools
I use swiss balls nearly every day in my own workouts and in workouts for my clients. The versatility of the swiss ball is simply unmatched as proven by the fact that I can use a swiss ball to help a 65 year old sedentary woman overcome muscle weakness and improve balance or use the same ball to help a professional boxer build stamina and add power to his punches. I can also show you how to use the swiss ball to develop “six pack abs” as well as train literally every muscle in your entire body.
New Research Reveals That The Swiss Ball Can Make Abdominal Exercise Up To 104% More Effective
To give you a research-proven example of just how effective a swiss ball can be, let’s focus on one of the most basic and well-known of all abdominal exercises: The Crunch
As most people know, the crunch is a modified (partial) sit up that involves raising the head, neck and shoulder blades up off the floor. Many personal trainers believe that the crunch is highly overrated and overused. I won’t argue, as I agree there’s a lot of truth to that. However, the crunch can be greatly improved with one simple change: Do your crunches on a swiss ball.
Electromyography (EMG) studies have demonstrated that the swiss ball crunch (unstable surface) effectively recruits more muscle fibers than the floor crunch (stable surface). This leads to greater strength, stability and muscle development in your core region.
In 2000, a study by Vera-Garcia and colleagues showed a significant increase in muscle activity in the core area while performing a crunch on the swiss ball, as compared to a floor crunch. The swiss ball improved the level of muscular activity as well as the co-recruitment of spinal stabilizers. The researchers said:
“Performing the curl over the gym ball with the feet on the floor doubled activity in the rectus abdominis muscle, and activity in the external oblique muscle increased approximately fourfold.”
Although research results have been mixed in the past, the studies showing no increase in abdominal muscle activity using a swiss ball may have been due to the exercise technique used on the ball, including velocity and body placement on the ball. Earlier this year, Dr. Eric Sternlicht and colleagues at UCLA designed a study to test this hypothesis and they measured for differences in muscle activity while using different positions on the ball.
The EMG analysis confirmed their hypothesis and demonstrated that body position on the swiss ball could decrease or increase the amount of muscular activation. When the ball was positioned with the upper back high on the ball (just below scapulae), the muscular activity was less than a floor crunch. But by strategically positioning the ball so it was firmly placed at the lower lumbar region, there was a 66%, 93% and 104% increase in upper abdominal, lower abdominal and external oblique activity, respectively.
More Proof That Form Is Everything And Little Things Make A Big Difference
For years I have preached about proper form on all abdominal and core exercises and I have taught my clients “little tweaks” and “tricks” in technique that look minor, but which can lead to huge improvements in results. This new research is proof. It also reveals how the ball is a versatile tool for exercise progression: The high on back position is easier, while the ball lower on the back is more difficult, accommodating for different strength and fitness levels. Further progression can be added by using resistance (dumbbell or weight plate held on chest or at arms length from chest).
Swiss balls are only one of many training tools, but in my opinion, when used properly, they are one of the best of the bunch. I created an entire core training system that uses the ball for many of the exercises, I put all my clients on swiss balls and I highly recommend that you use the ball as well. Just remember, the swiss ball is only a tool – it’s not the “end all be all” of core training and it can’t work miracles. It will also not burn fat off your stomach – you need a caloric deficit to achieve body fat reduction.
Use the ball as one part of a balanced training program that includes other tools such as free weights, cables and your own body weight. Forget the potentially dangerous “circus act” swiss ball stunts, use good exercise form, purchase only quality, high-strength exercise balls, use them in a clear area, clean them often, check them for leaks and I promise you will have a fantastic versatile training aid that will last you for years and never go out of style. Fitness fads will always come and go, but the swiss ball is still a winner.
Coach David Grisaffi,
About the Author:
David Grisaffi majored in physical education and is a certified high performance exercise kinesiologist with the CHEK institute. David holds a total of 6 certifications, he is a high school wrestling and baseball coach as well as an independent trainer and strength coach, known especially for his work with professional boxers and golfers. David is the author of Firm And Flatten Your Abs, an online best seller which teaches you how to lose body fat and develop “six pack abs’ while improving strength, function and athletic power at the same time. You can contact David or learn more about his programs at www.flattenyourabs.net