Fab abs are top of the wishlist for men and women alike.
Get real - Your abs won't really show until you've burnt off the fat that's covering them and for men that means getting down to around 15 per cent body fat or low 25 per cent or lower for women.
There's no such thing as spot reduction, so you can't bum fat off one place on you body just by working that area, which means that real abs work is done on the treadmills and aerobics studio floor. What you can do, however, is tone up those muscles to help reduce back strain, improve balance and prepare for the day when butterfly-like, they emerge from your wobbly chrysalis. To help with that it's best start with a little bit of anatomy.
Instructors in ab attack classes (or legs, bums, turns - whatever your gym calls them) often refer to upper and lower abs. This is slightly misleading since they're really referring to the upper and lower sections of the same muscle, the rectus abdominis (the celebrated six-pack). The classic crunch works the upper abs; leg lifts, heel taps and bicycle kicking work the lower. To complete the picture you should also work the obliques down the sides which pull your waist in and help shape the stomach, and the transversus which lies deep beneath the abs and gives strength and shape to your whole midsection.
Ever wondered why you do abs exercises at the end of combination workout classes (like Bodypump or Hi Lo)? The idea is that if you did them before you'd run the risk of working out with tired ab muscles which could lead to bad posture. That's a lesson worth taking into your own individual workouts too, especially if you are going to be doing anything like squats, lunges or free weights where proper posture is what you rely on to prevent putting your back out.
Stomach muscles don't have the ability to bulk up like other muscles so don't worry about working them too hard. You can work them too often though - light abs work can be done daily but after a hard session they need a day off just like any other part of your body if they are to repair damage and grow stronger. Remember that it's while you rest that you get stronger.
Good exercises to focus on if you only have a few minutes to spare for the mat are twisting oblique raises and bicycling. These together hit pretty much the whole midsection.
For twisting oblique raises, adopt the normal crunch position on your back with legs bent.Now drop both knees to one side and keep them there as you lift the shoulders off the floor. Don't come up too high. After about 30 degrees your hip flexors take up the movement and the effort on your abs and obliques is reduced. Take it nice and slow.
For bicycling, start on your back with your legs straight and raise them both a few inches off the ground. Don't rest either leg back on the ground for the duration of the exercise. With hands on ears lift your shoulders off the ground in classic crunch style. You should bend your left knee and bring it up towards your chest, simultaneously twisting so your right elbow reaches down to meet it. Alternate elbows/knees and keep the whole movement as slow and smooth as you can.
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