The holidays are just around the corner, but that doesn’t mean your fitness plan has to take second place to the tempting foods and their consequences that can crop up around this time of year. Now is a good time to “kick off” extra pounds with targeted ab work. Of course, if you’re serious about your abs workout and expecting results, you need to eat healthy (abs really are made in the kitchen) and increase your metabolism to use up the fatty tissue that can lodge on your waist. Weight training increases your metabolic rate for several hours even after you’ve completed your last set or step, so it’s very important not to miss time at the gym. You also need to ramp it up a bit by adding 30-50 minutes of cardio each workout day. Assuming you’re in good health, the bike ride or run/walk should be vigorous enough to get your heart rate up to 70 percent of your maximum (your predicted maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age).
If you have the time, it’s best to do your cardio at a different time of the day than your weights, as this gives you twice a day a chance to boost your metabolism. If your schedule is just too hectic for that, then pack in both your weight training and cardio on the same day, it’s better than skipping part of your training quest.
Superior abdominal exercises always shorten and tighten the fibers at the front and/or sides of the abdominal wall and never lengthen the muscles. It’s important to stay away from exercises that include excessive stretching components. The curl-up crunch does just that, inducing powerful contractions that tighten and tighten your waist.
The rectus abdominis muscle is the primary anterior abdominal muscle activated during curls-up crunches. The rectus abdominis is divided into left and right halves by the linea alba, a thin tendon-like vertical line. Usually three or four rows of horizontally arranged tendons cross the rectus abdominis. The short fibers of the rectus abdominis muscle run from one horizontal tendon attachment to the next. When the right and left sides of the rectus abdominis contract simultaneously, the trunk flexes forward. The curl-up crunch accomplishes this by moving the head and chest closer to the hips.
The lateral obliques are also activated by curls-up crunches, although to a lesser degree than the rectus abdominis. The external oblique muscle consists of two halves. Each half runs from the lower ribs through small bundles of muscle fibers angled in the same direction your fingers would be pointing if you put your hands in your pockets. When both the left and right side of the external obliques work together, they flex the trunk and move the head toward the feet.
The internal oblique muscle sits just below the external oblique muscle. It attaches to a thick layer of connective tissue in the lower back and also on the pelvic bone of the hip. Its fibers run laterally around the trunk at right angles to the external oblique muscle and insert on the lowest three or four ribs. Similar to the external oblique, the internal oblique flexes the trunk at the waist and moves the head toward the feet as the left and right parts contract.
1. Lie on your back on the floor and bend your knees 90 degrees or slightly more. Your feet should be flat on the floor. Don’t anchor your feet as this would allow your hip flexors to help with the movement, reducing the impact on the anterior abdominal wall. Cross your arms loosely in front of your chest.
2. Exhale as you lift your torso (shoulders and mid-back) off the floor. Slowly and deliberately roll your shoulders forward (i.e. not quickly or jerkily) and tuck your chin into your chest as you come up. This will help you get into the practice of a curling crunch. You don’t want to come up like a flat plank because it doesn’t shorten the fibers in your abdomen enough.
3. Most people won’t be able to get too high, especially in the beginning, but that’s okay; Just go as high as you can in good shape. If you have particularly strong abdominal muscles, you can lift your lower back off the floor. If you are able, do not raise your torso higher than at a 45 degree angle to the floor. Hold the top position while counting to two.
4. Slowly return to the starting position by straightening your shoulders and torso and inhaling as you come down. However, don’t stop or rest once you reach the starting position, immediately roll your torso forward and resume the crunch part by trying to lift your torso off the floor.
As your abs get stronger and tighter, you can increase the intensity by holding the top position for up to 4 seconds on each repetition. Another way to increase intensity for the internal and external obliques is to add a slight twist to one side, then the other as you come up on consecutive reps. Be sure to turn slowly, not quickly. Moving your feet closer to your hips also makes this exercise more difficult. Finally, as you progress and your abs really get into shape, you can make the exercise more challenging by placing your fingers on the side of your head (not behind your head) instead of on your chest.
You should do up to 3 sets of slow curl crunches of 25-30 reps. Don’t expect to do this quickly, however, as it will take a while for the abs to handle the demand. By combining curl-up crunches with a more toned diet, frequent cardio and resistance training, your thin, toned and flat stomach will soon be on display!
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