Most who decide to embark upon the road to a rippling set of “six-pack” abs find that it is a road fraught with sit-ups – lots and lots and lots of sit-ups! This can leave a person feeling less than excited about their exercise regime, at least where abs are concerned, because let’s face it: you can only do so many sit-ups before you lose your enthusiasm for it. The focus on one exercise can also hamper results as your body “adjusts” to the repitition. When it comes to workouts it is important to switch things up – both in order to keep the workout exciting and bearable, and to maximize results. I will discuss a number of other ab exercises that you can incorporate into your workout to help ensure that you keep getting those results you want.
1) MEET THE EXERCISE BALL
You’ve probably seen exercise balls at the gym sitting quietly in the corner waiting patiently to be used, or possibly in use by other gym-goers to perform what look like bizarre contortionist workout moves. If you’re as clumsy as I am, you may slide around and fall off the first few times that you try to balance on one of these contraptions, but don’t despair! It does not take long to get a feel for it and the exercise ball can quickly become a favorite tool for use in your abdominal workout.
If you are a first-timer, take some time to get accustomed to the ball by laying on it on your back. Use your feet to adjust where the ball sits on your back until you are balanced and it comfortably supports your lower back. If you feel you need assistance getting started, corner one of the gym’s employees and request some quick help with technique. Exercise balls can now be found in most gyms but if you do not attend a gym the balls can also be purchased for reasonable prices, and are a worthwhile addition to your exercise equipment collection.
There are a number of potential workouts that can involve the exercise ball (and not just for abs either…) One of my personal favorites involves a variation of the sit-up, performed while balancing on the ball. Position yourself so that you are laying on the ball with it supporting your lower back. Keep your feet a comfortable distance apart so that you feel balanced (note: the closer your feet are together the harder the exercise will be). Next, use your abs to lift your upper body (“sit-up style”). The ball will help to keep your posture right and keep the focus on your ab muscles. You can do this exercise the usual way (straight up and then straight down) or you can try one of my personal favorites: a “3-way crunch”. This workout involves alternating between doing three different types of sit-ups on the ball – one to the right, one to the front, then one to the left. For example, while lifting the body, turn your entire body, from the waist up, to the right, then on the way down bring yourself back to the starting position. Next, do a straight “up-and-down” crunch, and back down. Next, come up and turn to the left. This variation targets not only the front ab muscles but the sides as well. For both of these exercises, you can try doing three sets of as many reps as possible, resting for about 30 seconds between sets.
This is only one example and there are many exercises that can incorporate the ball, making it a great tool to add variety to your workout.
2) THE “AB-MACHINE”
Chances are that your gym may have one of these contraptions and, if it does, you can use it in your ab. routine to switch things up. The ab. machine consists of a chair that you sit in (with a plate to put your feet on), and a padded bar in front of your chest. There is also a stack of weights attached and you can adjust the amount to use based on your needs. Basically, the starting position involves sitting straight up. To perform the exercise, you do a crunch from the sitting position moving downwards, pushing the padded bar down slowly with your chest, and then slowly moving back up to the starting position. You can grip the bar underneath with your hands to hold yourself in position if needed. You should feel your front ab muscles doing the work, and if you feel other parts of your body (such as your thighs) taking over you may need to decrease the amount of weight that you are using. Focus on isolating the abs as much as possible and use enough weight to make it challenging.
3) TONE THOSE SIDES WITH SIDE-BENDS
Side-bends are one of my personal favorites and I use them once a week as part of my ab. routine. This exercise uses a dumbbell and works on the side abdominal muscles. It helps to sculpt your abs from the sides and creates great results (including the much-coveted “smaller jean size”…).
To perform a side-bend, first select a dumbbell (I started with a 15lb. one for this exercise). Stand with your legs shoulder-length apart and hold the dumbbell in one hand at your side – the other hand is placed on your waist. Next, bend the body (from the waist) to the side, towards the side of the hand containing the dumbbell (the result is that the arm with the dumbbell will move towards the ground). Take care to move straight out to the side – it helps to be in front of a mirror so that you can watch yourself. When you have gone as far down as you can, slowly move your body back into the starting position. Repeat this for the required number of reps then switch sides when finished (I like to do 3 sets of 15 reps each, for each side).
4) GROUND-WORK YOU CAN DO ANYWHERE…
We do not always have props such as ab machines, exercise balls or even dumbbells readily available of course, so it is good to have a repertoire of exercises that you can do on the mat, anywhere. Sit-ups are of course the well-known staple in this category, but there are others as well and each targets the ab area in different ways.
One such exercise involves lying on the back on the ground, then lifting the legs slowly off the ground and returning them slowly to the starting position again. This is difficult for someone new to the exercise so don’t worry if you have trouble – it will get easier as the muscles gain strength over time. This exercise is great for the lower abdominal muscles. Another challenging ab. exercise involves doing a sit-up while at the same time lifting the legs up off the ground and towards the chin. This works all of the ab. muscles simultaneously (and you will feel it)!
Yet another abdominal exercise that you can do on the mat is a trusty exercise called the “bicycle”. To do this one, the person lies on their back on the ground supporting the head with the hands (fingers intertwined and elbows out to the sides) and lifts the upper body slightly off the ground using the abs. The legs are also lifted off the ground and are pumped back and forth parallel to the ground as if you are riding a bicycle. The upper body is coordinated with the lower in such a way that when the left knee comes toward the chin, the right elbow and upper body moves so that the elbow touches the opposite knee. This exercise works the abs. and to a smaller extent the legs and arms as well.
When it comes to your ab. routine, the more exercises that you know and try out, the more you will enjoy the workout and the greater the results will be. While sit-ups do have their place, they now share this place with other exercises as well to help gym-goers sculpt those abs and build those “six-packs”.