As women, we want all want sleek, sexy toned abs…
And a lot of women mistakenly believe that tons of crunches and sit-ups or complicated machines are necessary to achieve this result.
When it comes to ab training your main focus should be on your form, your breath, and the contractions of your abdominal muscles.
Certain exercises and methods of ab training are more dangerous than they are helpful and doing them will leave you frustrated and possibly injured.
If you want to learn the 3 worst ways to train your abs as well as 3 better alternatives, then keep on reading. So let’s start with the worsts:
A lot of women head towards abdominal machines in the gym because they think using them must be the most effective way to get results. Possibly thinking that in some way the machines must be superior to exercises done on the floor of with no equipment.
Unfortunately, these machines are designed for advanced trainees and/or bodybuilders who have already developed good core strength and are looking to fine-tune.
For the average or newbie gym-goer, these machines can cause more harm than good.
If you are new to training and have yet to develop basic core strength it’s best for you to stay off the machines and work on fundamental core exercises done with proper form and mechanics.
For those of us who are not bodybuilders, these machines offer little value compared to basic core exercises. And I recommend you stay off the ab training machines and follow the exercises mentioned at the end of this article instead.
A lot of women believe doing weighted side bends will help them get rid of the “muffin top” (the pocket of fat just above the waistline).
There is really no such thing as spot reduction. When you lose fat from all over your body you’ll also lose your muffin top.
Doing heavy weighted side bends DO NOT increase the fat burning from your waist, they actually help you build the muscle called your obliques.
For most women, building stronger obliques is not desired. In order to keep your hourglass shape, you should still train your obliques but not in a way that encourages muscle growth.
You can still include side-bending exercises in your routine, but lose the weight and focus on muscle contraction, your breath and bodyweight movements such as side crunches or side planks.
Captains Chair Leg Raises – Flexing only at the hips. A common mistake made with this exercise is to flex only at the hip joint, failing to contract the abs and only hinging at the hips. Notice the abs are not contracted.
Crunches – Pulling on the Neck. When fingers are interlaced behind your head, your elbows are forward and your hands are pulling on the neck with your chin tucked towards your chest the strain and tension is in the wrong place.
When crunches are done correctly there should be zero tension on the neck. The reason for placing hands behind the head should be only to increase the challenge of the exercise and support the weight of the head. Never pull on your neck during a crunch movement.
Sit-Ups – Hinging at the Hips. Many people struggle with proper sit-up form. The right way to do a sit-up is to curl up rather than hinge up. When abdominals are too weak we end up compensating by using our hip flexors, bending at hip joint instead of flexing our trunk.
If your spine forms a straight line on the way up this is a clue that you are using your hip strength to complete the sit-up instead of your abdominal muscles.
Planks – Sagging or Avoiding Tension
One common mistake with planks is to hold the position but without engaging the abdominal muscles. Without lifting and tightening your core muscles the plank is nowhere near as effective and can actually be harmful to your lower back.
Alternatively, if the hips are lifted too high during a plank, tension is lost and the core muscles are no longer active. Doing a plank like this puts too much pressure on shoulders and legs and misses the purpose of the plank exercise.
There are multiple ways to have “bad form” when training your abs. These are just some of the most common examples.
BOTTOM LINE: If you find that you’re feeling the strain or fatigue more in your hips, back or neck when doing abdominal exercises these are clues that your form is not right.
When training your abs, the only strain or fatigue you should feel is directly in your abdominal muscles. If you’re feeling it elsewhere stop what you’re doing, reassess your form, and regress the exercise to an easier version that will allow you to focus the muscle tension where you want it.
Now that you know what to avoid, let’s talk about some stuff you SHOULD add to your core training if you want to see results, stay safe, and feel great.
A good Crunch should look like this:
A good Sit-Up should look like this:
A good Plank should look like this:
A good Captains Chair Knee Raise should look like this:
Even if you are an advanced level trainee, instead of going for the heaviest or most extreme exercises, turn your focus to increasing your muscle tension, this simply means the strength of the contraction of your muscles.
No matter what exercise you are using, you always have the ability to contract harder, focus better, and get more out of the exercise.
There’s no use in doing 500 weighted crunches if they are all sloppy and you don’t even feel anything in your abs.
Instead of focusing on outside factors like how many reps or how much weight, focus on the internal, like what you feel and how intense of a contraction you can create.
Breathing is key during any type of exercise, but especially so when training abs.
Remember to inhale with each eccentric movement (lengthening of the muscle fibers) and exhale with each concentric movement (shortening or contracting of the muscle fibers).
Mastering your breathing technique will not only help your stamina and endurance with your training but it will also help you connect more with your muscles helping you feel the tension in the right places.
I hope this information was helpful and you’ll put these tips to use!
As always, practice patience, consistency, and dedication for the best fitness results, as fitness is a lifelong journey rather than a short term race.