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Be Consistent. First of all, you will never get anywhere if you are sporadically exercising. If a strong and toned midsection is what you’re after, then keep your workouts consistent. Our bodies change when they are forced to adapt. The constant work on a muscle is needed for it to develop the strength and stamina to perform movement. This goes for any physical system in your body, i.e. muscular, neurological or cardiovascular.
Abdominal Anatomy. Abdominals are comprised of the Rectus Abdominis (the “six pack”), internal & external obliques (sides), and transverse abdominis (what pulls your belly button in). Ab muscles are highly striated, meaning they have more muscle fibers than they have nerves sending impulses to move them. Once you work a set of reps and take a break, the neurons move from the worked ab muscles to new ones. This makes them high endurance muscles, a necessity, because our bodies depend on the abs for movement and strength ALL DAY LONG. The abs aide the back erector muscles to protect the spine, especially the lower vertebrae that are not protected by the ribcage or hip girdle. If your abs are deconditioned and weak, your spine is way less protected.
What To Do. Incorporate a mixture of different ab exercises, targeting the various ab muscles to be well rounded and develop a strong core.
Plank It. The most common and basic plank is also called a front hold, hover or abdominal bridge. It’s an isometric core strength exercise that involves maintaining a position, similar to a push-up, for the maximum possible time. This can be performed on the forearms (low plank) or hands (high plank). If your wrists begin to ache at first, that’s common. Most people find as they plank frequently, their wrists strengthen and get much better. There are actually several varieties that make the mighty plank even more challenging. Once you can master a basic plank, with good form, holding between 30 – 60 seconds, then it’s a great idea to venture into other varieties. Working on the different plank varieties incorporates the entire body, through body weight, making it ideal for home workouts. Some common varieties are side plank, reverse plank, single leg plank, moving from elbow plank to hand plank for reps, “spider-man’s,” rocking planks, single knee and double knee taps, plus many more.
Watch your form. Protecting the spine is MOST IMPORTANT. Shoulders should be aligned directly over your elbows or your wrists. Keep your low back from sagging. If your spine continued to the sky, it would continue from the neck and extend posteriorly from your head. So, to perfect the plank, elongate the spine from that part of your head, to your tailbone, then to your heals. Your body becomes a 2×4, a.k.a. a solid PLANK. Keep your abdominals pulled in (Transverse Abs), and thighs engaged super tight. Don’t forget the legs!
Correct The Crunch. The crunch is losing its popularity, but I strongly feel it is an essential movement. The abs are responsible for flexing the spine. We flex every day—the epitome of “functional.” The issue is people aren’t engaging the TRANSVERSE ABDOMINIS. This is imperative to perfecting the crunch. Failing to pull your belly button in can result in the belly “pooch.” But performed correctly, avoiding straining, focusing solely on the ab muscles, minimizing back contractions, crunches will increase strength and aesthetics.
Incorporate Balance (Core). Not only should you perform balance work, but create balance within your body by keeping your repetitions EVEN on each side when doing one-sided movements. Practicing balance work is an entirely extra conversation. I’ll give you some ideas and more explanation next month. Stay tuned…
Remember, form is very important! If you are unsure if you’re doing it correctly or how to begin core training, I’m available to help you. Text or call (850.974.2005), email (email@example.com) or visit me on Facebook @LisaTurpinFitness. “Be Active, Stay Active!”
Lisa Turpin is a degreed and certified health and fitness lifestyle coach who has devoted her life to motivating and strengthening the bodies and minds of others. With over 20 years’ experience as a group exercise leader and an independent personal trainer in the Destin area, she is diverse and extensively trained in classical and modern Pilates, lifestyle management, personal training, group exercise and post-rehabilitation.