Tight 'washer board' abdominal muscles are associated with the extremely fit. You should realise that there are some people who will be stuck with an abdominal bulge. When you decide to add some abdominal exercises to your exercise program, be careful about which ones you choose. Some 'abdominal' exercises that used to be popular are dangerous and ineffectual.
Avoid toe touches
Never bend forwards to do toe touches as an exercise. Toe touching puts dangerous stress on the lower back, hip joint and knee joint. This exercise will do absolutely nothing to strengthen your abdominals. All the muscles involved in this exercise are in your lower back. If you do this exercise you will almost certainly get lower back pain. Your body is just not designed to absorb the forces generated when you bend forwards at the waist. If you need to pick something up off the floor, keep your back upright and bend at the knees.
Correct situp techniques
- Never do a situp with your legs held down. Supporting the legs stops the abdominal muscles from getting involved, and the muscles that do get involved (the hip flexors) put stress directly into your lower back. The legs should always be relaxed during abdominal exercises, you should rest on the floor without support.
- Never do fast situps. The faster you go, the less you will use your abdominals, and the more you use those hip flexor muscles that go through the hip joint and into your lower back. Fast situps will reduce your abdominal exercise and will lead to back injury.
- Don't hang onto your neck or head when doing situps. If you do, you will pull on your neck with each situp, leading to neck pain. Don't lace your fingers together behind your head.
- Try the following fixed hand positions—arms straight, across your stomach, across your chest, or behind your head holding the opposite shoulders. Keep your arms in the fixed position. If your arms jerk forwards during a situp, you will take work away from your abdominal muscles.
- Keep your knees bent when doing situps. Straight legs favour those hip flexor muscles, they will do the work instead of your abdominals.
The best basic exercise for developing strong, flat abdominal muscles is controlled, slow, half situps (abdominal curls).
- Lie on your back on the floor, bend your knees until they form an angle of 90 degrees.
- Rest comfortably on the floor, never hold your legs down.
- Fix your arms across your chest, so that the hands hold the opposite shoulder, and push the elbows against your chest.
- Start the exercise by contracting your abdominals and pushing your lower back onto the floor, flattening out the hollow between your lower back and the floor. Tighten your abdominals, and slowly lift your shoulders and upper back off the floor. Curl your spine until you can't get up any further, then relax back down to the floor. This is one rep.
- Count to 6 as you do one rep—up, 2, 3, down, 2, relax. Do 15 reps each day, after a warm up.
- To exercise the muscles at the side of your abdominals (the oblique abdominals) put yourself in the same position as the abdominal curl. Lift one shoulder instead of both shoulders. Lead with this shoulder as you do an abdominal curl. Relax down, and lead with the other shoulder for the next rep. Do 10 each side.
Lower back exercises
Don't forget to exercise the muscles in your lower back.
- Lie on your stomach on the floor. Bend both knees, leaving your thighs resting on the floor. Rest your head on your hands.
- Reach out along the floor with one hand, then lift 10 centimetres off the floor. Lower the arm down, and repeat with the other arm.
- Do this exercise slowly, taking about 5 seconds to get up and down. Do 5 reps each side.
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