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The mechanics of abdominal training

‘The mechanics of abdominal training’

To ensure that you get the most out of your training, it pays to be aware of the anatomical mechanics that relate to the abdominal exercise you are doing. 

When you are at the gym punching out the reps, working up a sweat, have you ever wondered if you are really doing the exercises correctly? It is really common to see people working out, even experienced trainers, doing some of the exercises incorrectly. Now, sometimes this may lead to an injury, but mostly it means not getting full value for effort. So let’s look at Ab. crunches or sit-ups call them what you will, but I’m referring to the exercises you do to for the abdominal muscle that forms the ‘six-pack’, Rectus Abdominus (Rec Ab).

Firstly, this is not one of the ‘core’ muscles. That’s a topic for a later date.

So, how do you know if you are wasting some of your efforts? Well, we need to look at what exactly does Rec Ad do? Essentially it flexes the trunk, curves the spine forward if you like. What it doesn’t do is flex the hips, or bring the knees up, it can’t. The Rec Ab. muscle doesn’t cross the hip-joint so it can’t move the legs in any way shape or form. I make this point because you see so many people doing crunches with their hips at 90 degrees and their knees at 90 also, or with their hips at 90 and their legs straight up. Whatever, this practice, in my opinion, is wasted effort. All that is happening here is that the hip flexors are being worked, and yes, maybe Rec Ab. too, but a lot of effort is being wasted. Use all of your energy and effort to target Rec Ab. after all, that’s why you are lying on the floor isn’t it?

Okay, how to do the exercise correctly? Keep your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent. your hands can be in a variety of positions depending on the current strength of your Rec Ab. but never behind your head as this will inevitably put strain on the neck during the exercise. Now for the sit-up part, flex your trunk to bring your shoulders closer to your knees, relax and repeat. When flexing the trunk the bend should be at the naval and NOT at the hips. The feet must not come off the ground or be secured under something. Remember, Rec Ab. has to do the work.

The movement itself is quite a small one, your spine will only curl forward so far and that’s it; that is as far as Rec Ab. can contract. The way you strengthen Rec Ab. is by adding load. One might start off by simply sliding the hands up the thighs to the knees, but the object is to progress to doing the exercise with the arms above the head (in a ‘Superman’ pose). When you can do this without lifting your feet your Rec Ab. is quite strong.

There are various other ways to target Rec Ab. some using a weight stack, but, the principles I have explained above must be adhered to in order to work Rec Ab. and not a bunch of other muscles and just look flash doing it.

I have not gone into sets, reps or frequency here; there are countless theories of what works best and you need to find what works best for you. The important thing regardless of how many sets, reps or how many times a week you train your Abs, is that you are performing the exercise correctly.

So there you have it, on your next Abs day you should be getting maximum reward for effort if you do it right!


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