Tummy Toners vs. Time Wasters
Have you been faithfully performing daily sit-ups — but not seeing any change? Read on to find out what works and what doesn't in the quest for a toned tum.
Most of us know what a sit-up is and what it's supposed to do. Not many, however, know how to perform a sit-up correctly. There have been many articles and books written on achieving perfect abs, and machines designed to target the tummy, but how does the average person find the best route to flat-abs success?
Like many things in life, sometimes simple is best. The abdominals respond extremely well to correctly performed, controlled crunches, and machinery or equipment isn't necessarily required.
Using momentum: Rocking your body back and forth will lessen the workload on your abs. Crunch slowly and with control.
Misplaced arms: Placing your hands behind your head and pulling your head and shoulders up will lessen the load on the abs, and can damage the neck. Place your hands by your ears and use the abs to curl up.
Ab cradles: This is the apparatus in the gym which supports your head and arms on a metal rocking frame. The problem again is that momentum and pulling with the arms will lessen the load on the abs, so work slowly and keep your arms and hands lightly resting on the supports.
Poor technique: Allowing your tummy to curl upwards as you crunch forward will waste your time. See below for how to prevent this.
Poor posture: Tight lower-back muscles or slumping posture will make your tummy stick out. Stand up tall, pull your tummy in and tuck your bottom in for an instant sleeker look. Pilates classes or DVDs will teach you how to improve your posture and strength.
Ab toning tips
To get the most out of your exercises, you need to locate your deepest abdominal muscle — the transversus abdominus. This muscle is like a built-in corset, and will improve posture and strength as well as flatten the tummy.
To engage these muscles during any exercise, inhale, then exhale and pull your belly button in towards your spine, flattening the abdominals. Aim to keep the tummy flat throughout your exercises. Another great tip is to connect your ribs to your hips before each exercise. Lie on your back, knees bent, and place your thumbs on your lower ribs, and your little fingers on your hip bones. Inhale and as you exhale draw these two points closer together by gently contracting the abdominals. Try to keep this connection throughout your exercises.
The basic crunch
Works the transversus and rectus (six-pack!) abdominus.
- Lie on your back, feet flat on the floor, knees bent and hip-width apart.
- Place your hands by your ears or gently support head in hands.
- Inhale, exhale and pull belly button down connecting rib to hip and curl shoulders slowly off the floor (don't pull your head with your hands!).
- Inhale slowly back and repeat slowly 10 times.
Works the above muscles plus the obliques (side muscles).
- Lie on your back on the floor and carefully bring your knees up until they are above your hips and bent at a right angle.
- Place your hands by your ears or gently behind your head.
- Inhale, exhale and bring left shoulder over towards right knee, while straightening the left leg away from you.
- Inhale back to center.
- Exhale and bring right shoulder towards left knee and repeat slowly 12 times, keeping rib to hip connection.
Pilates exercises are also a great way to tighten up your core. A good Pilates teacher, gym instructor or a DVD will teach you how to locate and work your abdominals correctly.
Cardiovascular exercise (running, swimming, cycling etc) is also important, as it will help to burn off any surplus fat, which is the only way you will reveal your sleek, toned abs.