With so many diet tips and fashion advice out there for women, here’s something for you men looking to tone up ready for those tight summer T-shirts.
It might be that the closet thing you’ve got to a six pack all year is that case of beer you drank last week, but there are some top exercises you can do to really tone and define your abs – so prepare to make the ladies swoon!
Before you start doing hundreds of stomach crunches each day in an attempt to tone up, it’s a good idea to know what you’re trying to achieve and have an idea about what the traditional six-pack actually consist of.
The most well-known and in most cases prominent abdominal muscle is the rectus abdominus. This is the long, flat muscle that extends vertically between the pubis and the fifth, sixth, and seventh ribs. This is the muscle that gives the typical washboard look in very fit athletes. Its job is to help flex the spinal column and it is used when using side bending actions and it stabilises the trunk when the head or extremities are being used.
The external obliques are the next set of muscles that make up the abdominals. These are located on either side of the rectus abdominus and allow the flexion of the spine, torso rotation, bending to the side and the compression of the abdomen.
The last group is the internal oblique muscles - a pair of deep muscles situated just below the external oblique muscles. These muscles have the same role as the external obliques, but as they lie at right angles to each other the two sets of muscles work opposite each other.
When you’re targeting your abdominals, remember that each of these muscles benefit from a different type of exercise.
A study by San Diego State University which looked at 13 different types of abdominal exercises found that the following three were the most effective at targeting the three muscle sets. They are:
The Bicycle Crunch
Lying on the floor with your lower back pressed into the ground you need to contract your core muscles. With your hands gently holding your head, lift your knees to a 45-degree angle. Using your legs make a bicycle pedal action. An alternative to this movement would be to touch your elbows to the opposite knees as you twist back and forth. Breathe evenly throughout.
The Captain's Chair
This exercise requires gym equipment, but most gyms will have this. Starting with your legs dangling, you slowly lift your knees towards your chest. It should be controlled and deliberate as you bring your knees up and then return them to the starting position.
Crunch on an Exercise Ball
Other exercises that target the abs include:
The reverse crunch
Lying down, stretch both legs straight up and lift the pelvis up as you exhale. Lower the legs and bend your knees to 90 degree angle.
Draped Leg Crunch
From a lying position lift your shoulders and upper back off the floor as you exhale, move your left shoulder toward your right knee. Reverse your movement, move your right shoulder toward your left knee as you inhale.
Lying down, lift your shoulders off the floor then lift your arms over your body and reaching forward to form an angle with your knees. Reverse the movement, lowering your shoulders toward the floor with your arms stretched overhead, but keep your head slightly above the floor.
Again, from a lying position keep your knees bent and together. Lift your buttocks off the floor, bringing your head and shoulders toward the knees. Reverse the move by pulling down the head and shoulders toward the floor.
The key with abs training is all about quality, not quantity. Make sure that you start slowly and make sure you are doing slow, strong exercises. It might be that you start with two to three abs sessions a week, to ensure you don’t get too sore when you’re working them hard. It’s important to let the muscles rest as well, so don’t try and train your abs every day because this becomes counter productive.
For the best results pick a few of the above abs workouts and repeat each exercise 20-30 times, depending on how you feel. Your abs sessions should not exceed 15 minutes – and when you’re starting out it’s best not to go over 10 minutes. Remember not to do them every day and to alternate which exercises you do.
To get the best of your abs workout try and combine these exercises with other training throughout the week, such as strength training for about 45 minutes, and cardiovascular workouts twice a week.
Diet also contributes to the overall look of your abs, so if you try and cut down on the fats and sugars, then together with your abdominal training you’ll soon be looking hot to trot!
by Kath Webb
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