How to Get Great Abs Without Hurting Yourself

By Tina Tuszynski

 

What’s the No. 1 accessory you need for the upcoming summer season?  How about a toned tummy?  Even if you’re not planning on donning a swimsuit, clothing just hangs so much better when you don’t have that ab flab.

I wish we could buy great abs at Macy’s along with our swimsuits; unfortunately, they take a lot of hard work and a sound diet, especially the older we get.  Luckily, a toned abdominal area is not impossible, as evidenced by the photo of my client, Anna.  Would you believe this woman is in her 50s?  Her secret: ballroom dancing several times a week, strength training and a good diet with reasonable portion sizes.

Just doing crunches won’t get you those abs, though.  You could do 500 abdominal exercises a day and actually develop great muscles, but they’ll never show through the excess layer of fat that may be hanging around your midsection.  Subcutaneous fat lies just below the skin and above your muscles and connective tissue.  I like to compare it to the Michelin Man. He may have the greatest abdominal muscles in the world, but we’ll never see them because of his thick rubber suit.  Think of any excess fat as that rubber suit.

What does work?  Here’s the recipe

  • A consistent combination of cardiovascular exercise (the more intense, the better)
  • Strength training two to four times weekly to build muscle, which speeds up your metabolism
  • A proper diet made up of lean protein; complex carbohydrates, such as oatmeal, quinoa, whole wheat pasta and vegetables; and healthy fats.
  • Sugar, unfortunately, does not build great abs.  That is why bodybuilders, when preparing for an upcoming competition, will eliminate all sweets and processed carbohydrates from their diet four weeks prior to make their abs look cut.
  • Monounsaturated fats have been linked to less abdominal fat.  Yay! Another reason to enjoy olive oil!

Now, for most people, eliminating all sugar from your diet may be too restrictive. Who wants to give up wine or dark chocolate completely?  Quite honestly, even bodybuilders and athletes cycle in the off season; although their abs may still look good in the off season, they aren’t optimal.  But if you are going to a wedding or on vacation, it may be an easy strategy to practice for a month prior to the event.

An Effective Ab Strengthening Routine

Abdominal exercises will help you to tone and sculpt those ab muscles.  Several effective abdominal exercises, which are shown in the two videos attached to this article, include:

  • a spinal flexion movement, such as the iconic crunch
  • a twisting and/or lateral bending movement, such as the bicycle
  • a core stabilization movement, such as the plank, which helps to protect your lower back and serves as the foundation for all movement

In the attached videos, we demonstrate several exercises, detailing proper and improper form.  Shown are the crunch, the bicycle and the plank, with an advanced form of the first two exercises, done on the BOSU Ball.

Many clients complain of pain while they are doing ab exercises.  While there are certain medical conditions that would contraindicate ab flexion, such as osteoporosis, often pain is a result of performing the ab exercise with your neck rather than your stomach muscles.

Remember that your head, during a crunch, is relaxed and lying cradled in your hands.  The movement is performed by lifting the chest toward the sky while keeping your gaze upward.

Practice these basic exercises regularly along with your diet and cardio/strength training, and you’ll be able to kick those Spanx to the curb this summer!

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