by Luci Gabel
Abs exercises aren’t only for those who want to sport a set of washboard abs on the beach. Of course, if you have strong abdominals your midsection is more likely to look good. But, your abs work intricately with your back muscles to support your spine. Strong abdominal muscles will help you keep good posture, and even more importantly, help you avoid back pain that comes from sitting and standing at work all day.
You may be relieved to hear that in order to get results from your abs exercises you don’t need to:
- Do hundreds of crunches at a time, or be able to hold a plank for 2 minutes at a clip.
- Be a fitness junkie.
- Know any special kinds of abs exercises (they can all work).
Believe it or not, the most important factor in the success of your abs routine is whether you’re mind is appropriately connected to your muscles while you do them (what I call mind-body abs).
The reason is because abdominal muscles are different from other muscles in our body. For example, with the bicep muscle in the arm, if you have a weight in your hand and simply bend and straighten your elbow you will be exercising your bicep. It doesn’t matter if your mind is wandering. On the contrary, while doing a crunch, leg lift, or any other abs exercise, if you’re not paying attention you can easily use other body parts to do the work that your abs should be doing, like your neck, back, legs or arms.
At best, sloppy abs exercises can make the time you spend unproductive. At worst, they can cause neck and back pain.
How do you know if you’ve got a good mind-body connection with your abs? Try this simple exercise (video and notes below):
- Pull your belly button and front ribs down so they, in turn, push your back into the floor.
- Think of yourself as making an imprint of your back on the floor. Press both shoulders, both sides of your ribs, and hips evenly into the floor.
- Keep your low back as close to the floor as possible, and keep your hips from moving (no rocking or arching) while doing the movements. This will require all of your ab muscles to work together in concert.
Now that you’ve got everything in place, keep your body in position for the rest of the exercise:
- Start with your legs up, knees bent (“tabletop shins”), and arms overhead. Straighten and lower one leg to the floor at a time for a total of 10. (Only lower your leg as far as it can go without arching your back or shifting your hips – pull those abs in tight!)
- Holding your shins in tabletop, lift one arm at a time and reach your fingers to the ceiling, then lower your arm back overhead. Do both sides for a total of ten times.
- Lower your opposite arm and leg together. Complete 15 times on each side for a total of 30.
If it takes you a few tries to get this exercise, you’re not alone. It takes a little time to get the mind-body connected. Don’t be discouraged, keep working on it!
If you can do the first exercise with no problem, try this one next, using the same principles as above. Here’s another secret: The slower you go with abs exercises, the more intense they get, and the fewer repetitions you need to do. That means you get more bang for your buck out of the time you spend.
Get the most out of the exercise!
Luci Gabel- MA, MBA, ACE, ACSM – Exercise Physiologist, nutritionist, content manager and owner of LuciFit, LLC.
Luci helps clients and students drop the fads, sort out the myths from reality, and understand food and fitness in a way that works for their body, and for life. She has over 20 years of experience working with a wide range of clients, from professional athletes to the business savvy woman. You can count on Luci to be your truth-teller, and your myth dispeller when it comes to mass media information about food and exercise. And she’ll always be a cheerleader on your side!