Training for six pack abs – FAQ

Posted: 27th August 2010 by Darren in How to get ripped abs
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Q1: How do I get abs like Dexter Jackson?Getting visible abdominal muscles or “abs” depends on reducing the amount of fat covering the abs, see Question 3. Getting hard, lumpy abs depends on developing the underlying muscles, for details, read on. . . ——————————————————————————–Q2: Should I do lots of situps to reduce fat around my middle?No. Exercising the area from which you want to lose fat is called “spot reduction”. Spot reduction is now believed to be a myth. Research shows that fat is lost all over your body, not just in the area that you work. Situps are also bad for your lower back (see Question 5). ——————————————————————————–Q3: How do I reduce the fat covering my middle?The answer comes in two parts: diet and aerobic exercise. DIETTwo principles loom large when trying to “sculpt” one’s body:* Calorie accounting: To lose fat, one must reduce calorie intake and/or increase energy expenditure so that stored fat is utilized as fuel for the body. * Biology is destiny: fat cells, whether increased in size, number or both, cannot turn into muscle cells. Reducing the fat accumulation in one area of the body is not easy. The usual measures to lose weight (including reducing calorie intake, increasing exercise or both) may lead to weight loss but not necessarily in a single area. In fact, short of having cosmetic surgery (such as liposuction), you cannot easily choose the area from which the fat will be lost. This is the reason that some women notice that their breasts (which are largely composed of fat) get smaller when they diet. And weight loss is more than just reducing “calories in” compared with “calories out. ” The difficulty many people have in losing weight probably relates to a well-established phenomenon that seems terribly unfair: As you take in fewer calories, the body’s metabolism changes, so that fewer calories are burned with normal body function. In studies of persons losing 10 percent to 20 percent of their body weight, “calories out” diminished, despite similar activity levels, which slowed further loss of weight. Given this grim reality, you cannot readily transform an abdomen with excess fat into the physique of your dreams simply by doing lots of sit-ups. You’ll lose the fat by diet and/or exercise, and you’ll increase muscle mass by exercising those muscles. Of course, there may be other reasons to do sit-ups — for example, strong abdominal muscles reduce the chances of back problems; but shrinking your abdomen is not one of them. This is controversial, but most people agree that eating very little fat and lots of complex carbs (like rice, pasta and potatoes) helps ensure that you don’t add additional fat. Then you have to work at using the fat you already have stored which involves. . . EXERCISEAgain a bit controversial, but it’s widely agreed that regular, moderate, aerobic exercise 3-4 times per week works best to burn fat that’s already stored. “Moderate” because intense exercise burns glycogen not fat, so keep the intensity at about the level where you are beginning to puff a little. “Aerobic” means (very vaguely) the kind of exercise that requires you to inhale more. Some suggest that building more muscle through weight training helps as well, since muscle burns fat just by being there and moving your body about; so some weight training couldn’t hurt and will probably help. Many misc. fitness people agree that exercise periods of more than 20 minutes work best. But note that the longer you exercise, the more prone you are to injury since your muscles also begin to weaken. Two things which help prevent injury are:a good warmup 5-10 minutes of light exercise to warm your muscles, try to break a sweat stretching cautious 20-30 sec stretches for every muscle . ——————————————————————————–Q4: How do I exercise the abs?The abs are designed to perform one main task, to shorten the distance between your sternum, or breastbone, and your pelvis. The only way to do this is to bend your spine in the lower back region. In short, any exercise which makes you move your sternum toward your pelvis or your pelvis toward your sternum is good. To do this safely, the lower back should be slightly rounded, not arched. In general when exercising the abs, try to maintain the natural arch of you lower back. The lower back will round slightly as you perform the exercises. Don’t fret about pressing your back into the ground. ——————————————————————————–Q5: What’s wrong with situps?Traditional situps emphasize sitting up rather than merely pulling your sternum down to meet your pelvis. The action of the psoas muscles, which run from the lower back around to the front of the thighs, is to pull the thighs closer to the torso. This action is the major component in sitting up. Because of this, situps primarily engage the psoas making them inefficient at exercising your abs. More importantly, they also grind the vertebrae in your lower back. They’re inefficient because the psoas work best when the legs are close to straight (as they are when doing situps), so for most of the situp the psoas are doing most of the work and the abs are just stabilising. Putting the thighs at a right angle to the torso to begin with means that the psoas can’t pull it any further, so all of the stress is placed on the abs. Situps also grind vertebrae in your lower back. This is because to work the abs effectively you are trying to make the lower back round, but tension in the psoas encourages the lower back move into an exaggerated arch. The result is the infamous “disc pepper grinder” effect that helps give you chronic lower back pain in later life. Q6: What are good ab exercises?We’ve divided the exercises into upper and lower ab exercises. Note that there aren’t two separate muscles that you can truly isolate, so all the exercises stress the whole abdominal wall. However there are “clusters” of muscle separated by connective tissue (these make up the “washboard” or the “six-pack”). You can focus on the upper clusters by moving just the torso and the lower clusters by moving the pelvis. For the lower abs, in increasing order of difficulty:lying leg raises reverse crunches vertical lying leg thrusts hanging knee raises hanging leg raises For the upper abs:ab crunches 1/4 crunches cross-knee crunches pulldown crunches Lower Ab ExercisesLying Leg RaisesLie on your back with your hands, palms down under your buttocks. Raise your legs about 30cm (12″) off the floor and hold them there. Now trying to use just your lower abs, raise your legs by another 15cm (6″). Do this by tilting the pelvis instead of lifting the legs with the psoas. Make sure your knees are slightly bent. If you’re big or have long legs or both, you should probably avoid this exercise. For people with legs that are too heavy for their lower abs strength, this exercise pulls the lower back into an exaggerated arch which is bad (and painful). For reasons why it’s bad, see Question 5. If you have this problem you can either try bending your knees slightly and making sure you keep your lower back fairly flat, or just try another exercise. Reverse CrunchThis exercise can be done on the ground or on an incline situp board. All you need is something behind your head to hold. If you use the incline board, use it with your feet lower than your head. Lying on your back, hold a weight or a chair leg (if lying on the floor) or the foot bar (if using the situp board). Keep the knees slightly bent. Pull your pelvis and legs up so that your knees are above your chest and then return to beginning position. This exercise is very similar to a hanging knee raise, but a little less intense. Vertical Lying Leg ThrustsInitial position:Lie on your back. Put your fists under your buttocks to form a cradle. Raise your legs in the air 20-30cm (10-12″) off the ground, knees slightly bent. If you feel any strain on your lower back, bend your knees a little more. Raise your head and shoulders off the ground slightly if you can to help keep the abs stressed. The exercise itself has four phases:Raise your legs until your feet are above your pelvis; focus on contracting the abs. Thrust your heels to the ceiling, breathe out, keep contracting the abs raising the pelvis out of the cradle of your fists. Lower out of the thrust back to your fists, leaving your feet above your pelvis. Lower your legs back to the initial position. Legendary Abs II recommends these as safer than Lying Leg Raises. Hanging Knee RaisesYou need a chin-up bar or something you can hang from for this. Grab the bar with both hands with a grip a bit wider than your shoulders, cross your ankles and bring your knees up to your chest (or as close as you can get). Your pelvis should rock slightly forward. Pause at the top of the movement for a second and then slowly lower your knees by relaxing your abs. Don’t lower your legs all the way. Repeat the movement using just your abs to raise your knees. Make sure that you don’t start swinging. You want your abs to do the work, not momentum. It’s important that you don’t move your legs too far or your psoas muscle will be doing a lot of work and possibly causing back problems as in a situp. Make sure your pelvis moves, your lower back stays neutral or slightly rounded, not arched, and that your abs are doing the work, not your hips. Hanging Leg RaisesJust like knee raises except you keep your legs straight. This requires good hamstring and lower back flexibility. Although Legendary Abs recommends these, The American Council on Exercise’s Aerobics Instructor book warns that they have the same back problems as conventional situps. This makes sense since, like situps, the legs are kept straight and the hips move. The Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) also regards hanging leg raises as dangerous. For safety you should probably stick to leg thrusts and knee raises. If you do do hanging leg raises, make sure your lower back stays neutral or rounded. There is an isometric variant done by gymnasts called the “L-Support”, which basically consists of taking the leg raise position with the legs held straight at a level just above the hips. The position is held for 10 seconds. When you can complete this easily, try a higher position. The same cautions about back position still hold. Upper Ab ExercisesAb CrunchesLying on your back, put your knees up in the air so that your thighs are at a right angle to your torso, with your knees bent. If you like you can rest your feet on something, like a chair. Put your hands either behind your head or gently touching the sides of your head. Now, slowly raise your shoulders off the ground and try to touch your breastbone to your pelvis, breathing out as you go. If you succeed in touching your breastbone to your pelvis, see a doctor immediately. Although the actual movement will be very small (your upper torso should move through less than 30 degrees) you should try to go as high as possible. Only your spine should bend, your hips should not move. If the hips move, you are exercising the psoas. Do these fairly slowly to avoid using momentum to help. You can increase the difficulty of the exercise by extending your hands out behind your head instead of keeping them at the side. Make sure you don’t jerk your hands forward to help with the crunch, keep them still. 1/4 CrunchesSame as an ab crunch except that you raise your shoulder up, instead of pulling them toward your pelvis. You can do these quickly, in fact it’s hard to do them any other way. Cross-Knee CrunchesLike ab crunches, take the lying, bent-knee position, but this time crunch diagonally so that you try to touch each shoulder to the opposite hip alternately. At the top position, one shoulder and one hip should be off the ground. Pulldown CrunchesDrape a towel or rope around the bar of a pulldown machine so that you pull the weight using it instead of the bar. Kneel facing the machine and grab hold of the towel and put your hands against your forehead. Kneel far enough away from the machine so that the cable comes down at a slight angle. The exercise is the same movement as an ab crunch, but using the weight instead of gravity. The emphasis is still on crunching the abs, pulling the sternum (breastbone) towards the pelvis and making sure you exhale all your air at each contraction. ——————————————————————————–Q7: Is there a specific order I should do exercises in?According to Legendary Abs, you should exercise the lower abs before the upper abs and do any twisting upper ab movements before straight upper ab ones. Twisting exercises work the obliques as well as the upper abs. ——————————————————————————–Q8: How do I structure an ab routine?According to the guidelines in Legendary Abs:Try to do sets in the 15-30 rep range. Follow the ordering rules in Question 7. Pick easy exercises to start with and when you can happily do about 2 sets in a row of an exercise, try harder ones. Only rest when you absolutely must, so take a short (10-15sec) rest between two sets of the same exercise, but none between lower and upper abs. Try to take about 1 second for each rep, except for ab crunches which you do slower (2 secs/rep) for a better contraction and 1/4 crunches which you should do fast (2 reps/sec) because you’re hardly moving.

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