In short the abdominals or “Abs” is often related to strength, power and a fit body. This statement could not remain farther from the truth. Abdominals are simply a result of a very low body fat percentage.
It’s not uncommon to find an individual with hard abs, while simultaneously unable to open the mayonnaise jar for his girlfriend. Beside the point abdominals remains the most desired body part. If low body fat levels are achieved, depending on your genetics will determine the look you develop of the specific muscle.
Fortunately because the abs is a muscle, it is possible to cause a hypertrophic effect. Tearing them and rebuilding them for potential growth, improved tonnage and development.
How do we do this?
Well fitness commercials and gyms provide a wealth of equipment to begin your journey for a better 6-pack. However this can be confusing, and leading to the most common question I receive, what are the best exercises for abs?
Following the question I often hear I do X amount of crunches on a daily basis. So let’s begin by exposing why the crunch falls short and why there exist better alternatives to developing the optimal six-pack.
The Visual six pack in anatomy is referred to rectus-abdominus. The rectus-abdominus extends from the top of the sternum (located in the mid-point of chest) to the top of the pelvis.
It is why it may at times seem to be common sense to crunch because the ability to contract specifically the rectus abdominus.
Before I continue on the negative of crunching, you must understand what myotatic reflex is. Don’t worry I will be brief and keep it simple. A myotatic reflex is simply a contraction resulting from a stretch in the muscle and tendons. If the muscle and tendons are stretched forcefully, the result will be a reflex, of greater force contraction or maximum tension. Think of your muscles as a rubber band, when stretched it immediately fires back causing a contraction.
Tension determines the degree which muscle fibers are activated. Muscle fiber activitation is the key to size and strength. A higher quality of muscle tensiondoes remain to be uncomfortable but producing tolerance for it will assure a stronger core and improved tonnage.
As I continue the rectus-abdominus is designed for a stretch backward of the lumbar spine in order to produce a full contraction and maximum muscle tension.
Thus a common negative I find with the crunch is that the exercise requires you to begin on a flat surface preventing the stretch –reflex and resulting in a weak contraction.
A lack of range of motion in any exercise immediately should be classified as less inferior to exercises that require full range of motion. A full range of motion will assure greater muscle tension upon contraction and prevent injury and muscular imbalances.
Another common issue is that the lack of range of motion in the exercise will lead to other muscles being worked. When crunching, once we pass 30 degrees the hip muscles begin to take over. I find many individuals report soreness in the hips and pelvis area from doing great amounts of crunches. Obviously not something we want when trying to target the abs.
Commonly mentioned by a strength coach Charles Poliquin, flat surface crunches can lead to excessive curvature of the lumbar. This will cause you to look like Steve urkel by pushing the pelvis forward, shoulders rounded andforward head posture.
You will look like a nerd with such improper posture leading to injuries if not corrected.
A simple solution
It’s quite simple to fix the common issues I have reviewed. It requires about 10 $ and solves all your life problems. Well not your life problems, but it does solve your training method problems. The Swiss ball, commonly found in commercial gyms, allows for full extension of the spine, and a strong force contraction.
By simply crunching on a Swiss ball, not only will the range of motion be improved allowing for greater tension in the abdominals, but it will also improve stability and balance in the core, which you cannot achieve from flat-surface crunches.
There also exist reverse crunches on a swissball, but this exercise is more advanced and tends to be quite humbling.
Another note is the prescribed amount of reps, as we discussed earlier the quality of tension remains much more important than the quantity of tension. Take the squat for example; by adding weight (intensity) to the specific lift we improve development, tonnage and growth. Obviously you would not do 1,000 reps of squats or bicep curls, you simply increase the intensity or level of difficulty.
Because the abdominal is a muscle like that of your legs and bicep curls, doing 1,000 reps hopefully sounds ridiculous. We simply make the exercise harder, or add weight and add tempo when it becomes too easy. However I guarantee the new and improved range of motion, will leave your abs soar for a few weeks with a lower amount of reps and prescribed sets.
Beginners Start with 1-2 sets of10-12 reps with a 3010 tempo: 40 seconds of sheer painful tension, focusing on a solid stretch and contraction. Become one with the muscle so to speak. Upon the contraction begin by squeezing for 1 second holds.
The following tempo reads 3 seconds down, 0 second pause, 1 second contract or hold.
This post should convince you of the power of range of motion, and choosing swiss ball crunches over flat-surface crunches and cure you of your obsession. If you follow my current prescription I guarantee an improved tone and development of your abs in 8 weeks with consistent training.