What are abdominal exercises?
Abdominal or abs exercises, help build and strengthen the abdominal muscles. Abdominal muscles support the torso and hold the abdominal organs in place. Abdominal muscles, along with the back muscles, protect the spine, provide stability to the body and help maintain posture.
Abdominal muscles help us breathe, cough, sneeze, vomit, urinate, defecate and help deliver the baby during childbirth. The four main abdominal muscle groups are:
- Rectus abdominis: The pair of muscles that run vertically above the belly
- External obliques: The pair of muscles on either side of rectus abdominis, which help the torso twist to sides
- Internal obliques: The pair of muscles that flank the rectus abdominis on either side inside the hipbone
- Transversus abdominis: The deepest muscle layer that wraps around the belly and spine, helps maintain abdominal pressure and provides stability
What are the benefits of abdominal exercises?
The benefits of improving abdominal muscle strength from exercises include:
- A good posture
- Balance and stability in movement
- Reduced risk of falls in seniors
- Reduced risk for back pain
- Better performance in sports
- Firm and toned torso
Do abdominal exercises flatten your stomach?
Abdominal exercises strengthen the abdominal muscles but cannot flatten the stomach without fat loss from the belly. Losing fat from the belly requires a combination of a healthy diet, aerobic exercise and weight training.
There are two kinds of belly fat:
- Subcutaneous fat that is found under the skin
- Visceral fat that is inside the abdominal cavity
Of the two types of belly fat, visceral fat has a far greater risk for developing diabetes or heart disease. Losing belly fat promotes good health as well as a flat stomach.
How often should you exercise your abs?
Like all muscles, abdominal muscles also require recovery time after workouts. Overworking the muscles can lead to muscle strains and injuries. After intensive workouts, it is generally good to wait for 48 hours before targeting the same muscle group. Abdominal exercises are most effective if done two to three times a week.
What are the best abdominal exercises?
A study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise compared 13 most common abdominal exercises and ranked the most and least effective. The study had 30 healthy adults in the ages between 20 and 45 who went through several exercises in the gym and at home.
Electromyography equipment monitored the muscle activity during exercise. The exercises were ranked higher the more f they stimulated the rectus abdominis and internal and external obliques.
The top five abdominal exercises that strengthen rectus abdominis according to the study are:
- Bicycles crunch: Like abdominal crunches performed on the back, but you lift and move your legs in a pedaling motion
- Captain’s chair: A piece of gym equipment allows you to brace your back against a pad while holding yourself aloft on your elbows, which are placed on the chair arms. This allows you to swing your legs freely, lifting them to work your abdominals.
- Crunches on exercise ball: Crunches done on a large inflatable yoga ball may be easier on your back than crunches performed with your back on the floor
- Vertical leg crunch: Keep your back on the floor as you lift your legs vertically, and then lift your shoulders off the floor toward your extended legs for a full rep
- Torso track: Performed on your knees, often with a wheel or other piece of equipment that allows you to lean forward and slide out to straighten your body, and then come back to your knees for a full repetition.
The top five abdominal exercises that strengthen the obliques are:
- Captain’s chair
- Bicycle crunch
- Reverse crunch: Like a typical abdominal crunch, but the shoulders stay flat on the floor and the motion involves bringing your knees to your chest with each rep.
- Hover: Assume a plank position, either on your hands or elbows, as if you’re about to do a pushup, but hold the position to strengthen abs.
- Vertical leg crunch
Always check with your doctor before starting any exercise routine, and research how to properly perform these exercises.
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