Preconceived notion #1: working your abs will cause you to lose weight.
That is not exactly true. While sit-ups, crunches and other moves meant to strengthen your abdominal muscles will in fact tone them, doing them will not trim your waistline.
More specifically, doing only them will not trim your waistline. Exercise physiology dictates you need an entire fitness program for overall health and fitness.
Preconception #2: people tend to overlook that poorly toned abs, painfully evident in those with bad posture, can lead to worse musculoskeletal problems: back pain, trouble breathing and, because of improper oxygen intake, fatigue.
A final incorrect notion often held about stomach muscles: it is difficult to get them in shape.
To get the flat stomach you crave, it is simply not enough to do exercises targeted to your abdominal muscles.
Total body strength and conditioning is what a corrective exercise specialist would prescribe.
You have to make sure your back is toned and strong, with well-developed muscles.
You have to hold good posture to ensure that your lumbars, cervical and thoracic muscles all work in concert to support your every physical endeavor.
Let's follow this technical guide to how your skeletal muscles work together, before we see how to tone your stomach.
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Know Your Body
Anyone who is knowledgeable about physical education will tell you that you have to be aware of your body composition before you can know how to work it.
A personal trainer would tell you that you have to know which muscles your abs consist of.
Your abdominal girdle is made up of:
- the rectus abdominis
- the internal and external obliques
- the transverse abdominis
A critical difference in these muscles is how they are worked. Effective flexing and conditioning exercises should work all of these muscles.
A gym instructor could demonstrate a training course tailored to your abs, or you could find a local or online personal trainer to design a fitness and nutrition regimen targeted to building, working and developing your abdominals .
Traditional exercises targeted to the stomach – those fondly-remembered sit-ups, for example, target only the long muscle strips that give the coveted six-pak abs look.
A certified personal trainer, before permitting you the first stomach crunch, would conduct a physical assessment to see what condition your abs are in.
S/he is also checking your endurance levels and what stage of strength training you are at in order to prescribe a bespoke fitness regimen.
Injury prevention is foremost on every personal trainer's mind.
Nationally – all across the UK, every personal fitness trainer, whether in a gym or an in-home fitness specialist, must undergo First Aid Certification training before qualifying to work in any aspect of the personal training business.
You can rest assured that your fitness trainer is not being overly cautious in discouraging your from sit-ups straightaway.
S/he is only trying to protect you from serious lumbar injury or disc herniation as you work your way to a healthier, fitter you.
The following three signature moves benchmark progressive levels of abdominal strength and tenacity. They make up part of the fitness assessment every private training coach might instruct you on prior to determining your scope of practice.
Lay face-down on the floor. Angling your elbows at ninety degrees, prop your upper body on your forearms.
Plant your toes firmly on the ground, and then raise your lower extremities, so that your back is ramrod straight.
Your entire body should rest on your elbows and toes. How long can you hold the pose?
To meet your fitness goals, you should strive to keep planking for one minute, and then release. Optimal repetition is three times.
You will feel a burn in your abs, but that is good: it means they are working.
Your fitness instructor will stop the test either when your hips dip toward the floor, or when your glutes peak – when you point your bottom to the ceiling.
This abdominal muscle test consists of laying flat on your back, with your legs positioned at ninety degrees.
Your hands should be laced behind your neck with elbows touching the floor.
Your fitness professional will then assess your lift – head and torso off the floor, and how long you can hold the pose. S/he will end the test once your shoulder blades or head dip down.
If you can hold the pose for two minutes, the standard for this test, your personal fitness trainer will modify your training program to reflect relatively good muscle tone.
This move is preferred by professional athletes. It consists of stretching along an exercise table with your hips and lower extremities restrained, while your torso hangs free.
On your athletic coach's command, you should lift your torso so that it is in line with your hips and legs, and hold as long as you can.
This strenuous pose, held for three minutes, will test not only your stomach muscles, but also those of your back, neck and arms.
And it will test your lung capacity: don't forget to breathe while you hold yourself straight!
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Rules to Remember When Working Your Abs
Tightening your abs should be an integral part of your overall fitness training, but there are inherent risks if not done properly.
Consider the advice we've all heard: lift heavy loads with your knees, not your back.
Training techniques such as how to move, lift and work out are all a part of the knowledge you would gain when you work out with an online personal trainer, a one to one fitness specialist, or even a coach at the gym.
In personal fitness training, you must respect fundamental rules (and avoid grave mistakes), such as:
Do Not Brace Your Feet
Athletes at beginner level tend to do sit-ups by bracing their feet under the couch, or getting their workout partner to hold them down.
With fingers laced at the nape, lift after painful lift is assayed, all in the name of muscular endurance.
While bracing the ankles does make sit-ups easier, you are in effect working your hip and thigh muscles more so than your stomach.
A bit of kinesiology would teach you that doing sit-ups in this manner could actually hurt your back, especially if your abs are not ready for that level of work.
Anyone in the fitness business will tell you: if a defined six-pack is what you are looking for, it would be best to train that muscle group with your legs extended and...
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The Hands Behind the Neck
Whether doing crunches or the reviled sit-up, putting your hands behind your neck is counter-productive.
Unwittingly, the novice sports practicer will use those laced hands to lift the head.
Try it: do your elbows struggle to join in the lift, only to point at the ceiling?
Pulling on your neck takes effort away from your stomach, so that you don't get the full effect of the work you are doing.
Worse: you risk injuring yourself while working out.
The better place for your hands is at ear level, with the fingertips just touching the cup of your ear.
If you are more advanced on the fitness spectrum, you could try crossing your arms over your chest as you work through your training programs.
Keep Tension on Your Abs
This is a fundamental health rule: no matter what the activity, even standing or walking, keep your abs tense.
Beyond that, every move you make should cause an abdominal contraction.
Your abs and lumbar muscles work together to hold you up. Weakness in the abdominals forces the lumbars to work harder, possibly leading to long-term back injury.
Besides, it is more difficult to rediscover your flat stomach under that body fat if you don't keep your abs flexed as you walk.
Maintain a Straight Spine
Many who have just enrolled at the fitness center, in their quest to get fit quickly, tend to follow bad form.
They curve their shoulders inward and hunch their upper back while exercising, for example.
If you are doing so, you are compressing your rib cage, limiting the amount of air your lungs can take in.
And, you are overworking your back while under-working your abs.
Bad form has no place in your exercise program.
Your training specialist will tell you: shoulders and hips should always be in line, and stretched as far apart as possible.
Another strong recommendation from the fitness industry: keep your perineum tight in order to force all of the work to your abdominal muscles.
New mothers doing post-natal workouts should be especially aware of this suggestion.
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Ways to Work Your Abs Effortlessly
You are motivated to tone your tummy. You are ready to engage in functional training to become the best you.
How can you do it without any personal training sessions or knowledge of exercise science?
Indeed, you can establish a personal training program to tone your abs without personal training certification.
Before You Get Up
Whilst still in bed, you can do a few gentle sit-ups. They will be most effective if your legs are kept tightly together.
After a hard day's work, who would be motivated to do any exercise programs or resistance training?
Instead of a visit from a certified personal trainer, you could do a few flexes and stretches, just before bed.
Check out these functional moves that you may already be doing.
Ease your torso slightly forward and pull your arms back. Feel the tension on your stomach as your chest opens up. Take a deep breath, and then release and repeat.
This is a textbook move practiced in gyms, in group training and during aerobic cool down sessions.
Next, pull you legs straight up, and touch your ankle with your fingertips.
This move is great for working obliques and busting up fatty tissue in the belly.
Breathe Through Your Stomach
Yoga trainers embrace this move as a way to cleanse airways prior to their workout session.
This training technique requires minimal effort to show great results: breathe through your stomach, so that it is completely inflated, and then exhale with maximum force.
You might see small groups following this technique in the gym, after a vigorous cardio workout.
This deep breathing technique is great for releasing tension and stress from your everyday activity, just before bed.
Tighten as You Walk
Follow fitness programs while on the phone, while dealing with clients, while coding, while editing, while reviewing graduate papers, while punching a cash register...?
The sad fact is, most of our day is sedentary: too many of today's jobs require sitting for long periods of time.
Still, even while sitting at your desk, you can do some isometrics, strength training, resistance work and other general sports conditioning, all with no health club membership required.
You can reach your goal for a tight stomach even as you answer the phone.
You might not be able to get a cardiorespiratory workout in while sitting at your desk, but you can certainly have fun flexing various muscle groups in sequence and breathing deeply is not forbidden at work, that we know of.
To summarise: you hold complete accountability for your personal fitness.
If you want to lose weight, get a toned body and sculpt your abs, you can start while at work, continue on the way home and even work your body while walking to bed.
Let every footstep be an opportunity to flex your stomach muscles – gently.
You don't want to walk around like a penguin, after all!
You will soon see a difference in your body mass and composition.
Capitalise on that and let your motivation to train grow!
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