It seems most of us want our abdominals (abs) to be leaner, tauter, hotter. Maybe you want to bounce a quarter off them! Yes, we want to have good-looking abs, but we also need strong abs for practical purposes. We need to provide protection for our lower back, to increase our core strength, to increase our endurance and to improve our athletic performance.
The marketplace is inundated with every possible ab gadget, promising to give you the six- or eight-pack abs you’ve been dreaming of. You might have purchased one and it’s gathering dust, or you might have seen a few of them at Ochsner Fitness Center (the Ab Dolly and the Ab Wheel, for example). But are they worth it? Do we need to buy these or use these to get sculpted?
The American Council on Exercise recently completed research to compare the most popular abdominal gadgets alongside the typical ab exercises and the standard abdominal crunch exercises. Researchers used electromyography (EMG) to determine a baseline of abdominal strength in 16 healthy men and women. EMG records the electrical activity of the muscle tissue to see how the muscle responds to a stimulus. Looking at the upper and lower rectus abdominis, external obliques and rectus femoris, measurements were taken to see how the subjects contracted their muscles during abdominal exercises.
The results of this study found that, when comparing the traditional crunch against abdominal gadgets, including the Ab Wheel, Ab Circle Pro, side plank and front plank, the crunch had greater activation in the upper and lower rectus abdominis muscles. For the external obliques, there is a higher muscle activation in ab machines than the traditional crunch, and these include two machines in the weight room at Ochsner Fitness Center: the decline bench curl-up and the captain’s chair crunch. We can activate the lower abdominal muscles (the rectus femoris) by performing a bicycle crunch, front plank and the captain’s chair crunch.
It’s true you can use several of the ab gadgets that are out there and still tone your abs. ACE suggests that if you use these gadgets and they motivate you to do the workouts, then it’s worth your time at the gym, or money, if you purchase them for home use. Otherwise, good old-fashioned crunch exercises are your best bet. Performing the standard crunch with either arms and fingers interlocked behind the head or with arms folded across the chest made no difference with reference to muscle activation. Certainly, folding your arms across your chest might be better than the other position, wherein you may pull on your neck.
Ab Crunches Exercises: Do these on a floor mat or cushioned floor. Work up to 10 of each of the six crunches. Take 30 seconds or a minute between sets.
- Standard crunches: Take your arms overhead and cradle your head with your hands. Keep your elbows out to the side of your head. Lift your back off the ground to crunch toward your knees.
- Cross crunches: To work your obliques, again with arms behind your head and elbows at the sides of your head: Lift your back up and cross your elbow to the opposite knee. Do one side at a time.
- Long arm crunches: Lifting your back the same way as before, but this time extend your arms overhead and keep them straightened as you lift off the ground.
- Bicycle crunches: Lift your back from the ground and bring your elbow to your opposite knee and switch sides, making a continuous bicycle movement.
- Knee crunches: Crossing your legs at the ankle, lift your arms to reach towards your knees into a crunch.
- Reverse crunches: With both hands on either side to support your back, roll your knees into your chest and then bring then back to the starting position.
If you want more detail on specific exercises, and you want to make sure you are using the correct form, talk to your personal trainer, or take a class such as CX WORX. Standard crunches can include cross crunches, long-arm crunches, bicycle crunches, knee crunches and reverse crunches.
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