Abs workouts. They’re a dime a dozen. But the products aren’t.
Those are a little more expensive.
Whether you want a highly unfashionable belt, a really big kickball or a stripped-down rocking chair, you are going to have to pay. Sure, we feel more motivated because our hard-earned dollars are at stake, but what if it just doesn’t do it for us?
Let’s face it: We can be fit without paying.
So, abs workouts. They’re free for a dozen. But with so many options, how do you choose? And is it possible that only one works while the rest are duds? Not likely. The truth is there could be a number of options that work for you.
At one point, I had a habit of hopping from one workout to the next without getting results. I did exercises in two-minutes. I did them while watching TV. I even memorized some of the routines so I could do them whenever I wanted to.
But it didn’t work. I didn’t realize until later (that abdominal kick didn’t last long) that it wasn’t because I found the wrong systems. It was because I didn’t do the right ones the right way.
So rather than spit out another option you might already know about, let’s break down HOW to exercise to get the abs you want. We’ll go over each part of the abs in detail followed by some home-ready exercises to help you work them. At the end we’ll go over a framework for creating your own program.
Where is it?
The rectus abdominis, or upper abs, is a muscle group that, when done right, resembles the “six pack.” It is two parallel muscles in the center of our torso. They run down from the chest and connect at the bottom to the lower abs. While visual appeal might be the biggest reason to tighten these, the muscles are helpful in stabilizing our midsection when we do any sort of lifting or exercise.
Here are three effective ways to target the rectus abdominis.
Bicycle Maneuver: Ranked as the top abs exercise by About.com Fitness, the Bicycle Maneuver can go a long way to a washboard stomach.
- Lie flat on your back with your hands clasped behind your head.
- Lift your legs to a forty-five degree angle.
- Raise your head and shoulders off the ground (it’s okay to look at the TV).
- Breathe out to tighten your abs muscles.
- Pretend to be peddling – your left elbow touches your right knee and vice-versa (I imagine this is how Lance Armstrong goes to sleep at night).
- Alternate motion continuously (contract your abs through the entire exercise).
- Put up your kick stand.
TIP: Try not to pull your head towards your legs when contracting. It puts strain on the neck, which lowers the benefits of the exercise.
Abdominal Hold: This will be the only exercise on the list that requires a prop, but you just have to walk into the kitchen to get it. It’s most effective on wooden chairs without arms to get in the way, but folding chairs work, too. It’s least dangerous when you make sure your chair isn’t broken.
- Sit straight on the front edge of your chair.
- Put your hands on the chair with your fingers pointing at your knees and your thumbs pointing at each other.
- Crunch your abs and raise your toes 4-6 inches from the floor.
- Lift your butt off the chair.
- Stay in this position as long as possible.
- Lower yourself down and repeat.
TIP: When holding your body above the chair, 10 seconds is a good length of time to aim for. One set should last for a whole minute.
Vertical Leg Crunch: A different take on a classic move, the vertical leg crunch is another great way to make your upper abs hate you. The difference is rather than crossing and bending your knees, your legs are straight (making you a human right angle).
- Extend your legs straight up with knees crossed.
- Lock your hands behind the head.
- Tighten the abs to lift the shoulder blades off the floor (as if moving your chest towards your feet).
- Keep your legs fixed and contract your abs to pull your belly button towards your spine before going back to the resting position.
- Lower and repeat.
TIP: Just as with the Bicycle Maneuver, pulling with your arms can strain your neck, and that defeats the purpose of a good workout.
Other rectus abdominis exercises include: Vertical Leg Crunch, Long-armed Crunch and The Hundred
Where are they?
Technically speaking, the lower abs are the lower part of the rectus abdominis. Exercises that target the rectus abdominis hit the lower abs and the opposite is true for exercises that target the lower abs. For maximum effect, though, it is best to approach the two areas separately.
Here are two of the best exercises for whipping your lower abs into shape.
Reverse Crunch: Everything is better in reverse. In fact, we’re all just trying to reverse to the way we looked when we were 18, right?
- Lie down with your hands on the floor or behind your head.
- Pull your knees to your chest until they’re bent at a right angle (your feet can be together or crossed).
- Crunch your abs while straightening your legs towards the ceiling.
- Raise the hips off the floor (3 inches) at the top of the movement.
- Lower and repeat.
TIP: Your hips should only make a small movement (not more than 3 inches from the floor). Avoid swinging your legs in order to raise your hips. Using momentum decreases the effectiveness of the exercise.
Jackknife: AskMen.com rated this one of the best moves for exercising abs. It’s effective and it’s simple.
- Lie on your back with your legs straight.
- Stretch your arms above your head, parallel to the ground.
- Lift both your arms and legs toward the ceiling (like a closing bear trap).
- Lift until your fingertips reach your toes (or as close as you can get).
- Slowly return to the starting position.
- Repeat the move 10 times.
TIP: Because it has such a wide range of motion, using a mat is definitely recommended when doing The Jackknife. Unless, of course, you have fond memories of rug burn as a child.
Other lower abs exercises include: Legs lifts, Hip lifts and Windshield Wiper
Where are they?
The obliques are the muscle groups on either side of the rectus abdominis. If you’ve ever seen Brad Pitt in “_________” (insert movie title here), you know exactly what good obliques are, and you want them for you or someone you love.
Here are the best ways to sculpt the ever-jiggling love handles.
Windshield Wipers: AskMen.com offered Windshield Wipers as one of the best ways to mold the obliques. Because the exercise has such a wide range of movement, it can be used as a secondary way to target your lower abs as well.
- Place a mat on the floor (recommended) and lie on your back.
- Put your arms in the “T” position for stability.
- Straighten your legs to bring them perpendicular to the floor.
- Rotate your hips, keeping them in contact with the floor.
- Move (not swing) your legs from left to right (think dirty windshield).
TIP: In order to get the most from this exercise, the motion should be done slowly. This allows you to best target the obliques and not let motion take over.
Side Jackknife: Rated highly by Men’s Health, the side jackknife is an exercise with a small range of motion but a big amount of upside. Pay closer attention to the tightness of your stomach than to how much your legs move when doing this exercise.
- Place your left forearm on the floor and raise your torso (from the waist up) off the ground.
- Put your top hand behind your right ear and point your right elbow at your feet.
- Lift your legs off the ground as far as possible while keeping your torso still.
- Stop at the top of the motion to feel the tightness on your right side.
- Lower your legs slowly and do it again on the opposite side.
TIP: Remember, keeping tightness in your stomach is the most important thing.
Other oblique exercises include: Side crunch and Oblique V-Up
Making Your Program
Now it’s just a matter working out your program. And then, of course, working out your program. Keep in mind:
An effective abs workout should do two things. It should work out all of the sections mentioned before, and it should work them out to the fullest. In addition, there is a fine less between resting your muscles and negating your workout.
Here are guidelines for getting the maximum results from your workout plan:
- Four abs workouts each week is enough. Make sure to give yourself between 24 and 48 hours of rest.
- Always start with 5-10 minutes of cardio. It helps to get you stretched out.
- Stick with 6-8 exercises, alternating the different muscle groups as you go.
- Slower is better. It puts more focus on your muscles. The less you use momentum, the more you use your muscles.
- Do 3-5 sets per exercise, with each set consisting of 8-12 reps.
- By the last repetition of each exercise, make it so you are exhausted.
- Change up the routine after 4 weeks (if you aren’t already ripped) and keep working. Do more reps, change exercises or even add weight, otherwise your muscles will not respond as well to the routine.
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