Keeping Fit: 10 Step-by-Step Ab Exercises
"I'll Start That Diet Tomorrow, or Maybe the Day After..."
We all know how hard dieting can be. But sometimes even stepping onto the scale just isn't enough to keep us from reaching for that soft, spongy, moist, chocolate-dripping piece of heaven you bought from the supermarket the other day.
I myself am a self-confessed chocoholic and understand your angst when it comes to trying to resist such angelic temptations.
Surely there must be an easier way to get a heads-turn-my-way-where-ever-I-go figure?
Sure enough, there is another way. But I'm afraid no one said it was going to be easier.
The dreaded word. But I promise you, it's not as bad as it sounds once you get to know your body, get motivated, and stick with it (it will get easier, but only if you stick with it!). Once you get active and start burning off some of what you've eaten during the day, you will feel more motivated to make exercise a priority and cut down on eating too much crap, too.
Before I came to university I did zilch exercise. I trudged home from college every day, sat on my computer all evening, ate dinner, and went to bed. But since I arrived at university, I decided to get myself out there and join some clubs. I am now a well-known member of the thai- and kickboxing club, badminton club, and the dance society and I've never felt better for it. Exercise really changes things, both physically and mentally.
Believe it or not, I have more energy during the day because I wear myself out at these sessions and sleep like a baby at night. And have a more positive outlook on life in general!
Forth minutes of aerobic exercise triggers our brains to release what are commonly referred to as "happy hormones," which prevent depression in humans due to a faster flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.
Anyway, I'm pretty sure you don't need convincing that exercise is good for you. You already knew that, which is why you're reading this article. You want to know how to do it.
Step-by-Step Abdominal Work Out
The exercises start off easy and gradually get harder, so listen to your body if you are hurting in the wrong places, and stop.
- Take your time. Build it up. Your only competition is yourself, so don't worry about anyone else.
- If you can only do 5 sit-ups, don't worry. Use that as your starting point and build it from there.
- Try setting yourself a new target each day. Do as many as you feel comfortable with and you can do them in any order. This is just the order I prefer.
By the way, I have given some of these exercises names of my own, purely for my own entertainment, so don't go up to a fitness instructor and ask him to explain "the surfer," because it's more than likely that you'll just get a funny look...
And one more thing: for those of you with asthma or hearth issues, I'm not a doctor but am fairly sure there are risks with these things!
Okay, you ready? Let's go!
1. The Basic Sit-Up
People seem to think that doing loads of high sit-ups really, really fast is the only way to get a washboard stomach. Wrong. To coin a phrase, you want quality, not quantity. As long as your head leaves the ground and your stomach muscles tense, it classes as a sit-up.
- When doing a sit-up, be sure that your chin is off your chest and that your back is flat on the floor. You want to have your knees bent at a 90-degree angle with your feet flat on the floor.
- Many people don't know what to do with their hands. Some find it helps to put them straight out in front of them, some prefer touching their temples. It's a personal choice. So long as you're not physically pulling yourself up, it shouldn't effect the sit-up.
- It is okay to support your head with yours hands if you need to. Your neck may start to ache from the weight of your head. Just ensure your arms don't start to do the work instead of your stomach!
- When breathing, always breathe in a slow and consistent pattern, so as not to: a) hyperventilate from breathing too often, or b) go dizzy from holding your breath! Inhale on the way down (as your chest area is open, enabling air to enter your lungs) and exhale on the way up (as you contract your stomach muscles and restrict your chest). Make sure these breaths are deep and relaxed.
These are the fundamental basics which must be followed to avoid injury when doing any of the sit-ups to come.
These aren't as bad as people make them out to be. They are just the same as a normal sit-up, but you do them lower and twice as fast, "crunching" your stomach, so to speak. Yes, your abs will hurt, but hey, whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger, right?!
I find it helps me to lift my feet off the floor, keeping my knees at 90 degrees and crossing my ankles. I then aim to get my forehead as close to my knees as possible.
Remember to breathe!
3. Twisting Sit-Ups
For those of you who are unaware, you also have abs down the right and left side of your torso, which we call side-abs. Ideally, when doing abdominal workouts, these shouldn't be neglected ("spare tyres" run all the way around the waist, not just at the front!)
Take up the position of a normal sit-up (back and feet flat on the floor, hands touching your head), but this time as you come up twist your body so that your right elbow touches your left knee, and so on.
4. This Little Piggy Went to Market
This exercise can be a little tricky if you struggle to touch your toes, as it requires lifting your feet off the ground, straightening your legs, and holding them above your head while you reach up to touch your toes with the opposite hand (right hand, left foot etc). This exercise also concentrates on side-abs as it involves twisting the torso.
If you are unable to reach your toes at the moment, don't worry about lifting your legs up at all. Just pretend they're there and reach up into the air as far as you can.
Remember: breathe in going down, breathe out going up.
5. The Bicycle
- Start with your feet off the ground, knees up in front of you at a 90-degree angle again, but don't cross your legs this time.
- Hold your head up off the floor with both your hands and start the bicycle.
- Outstretch your right leg as your left leg comes in towards your body. At the same time, sit up so that your right elbow touches the left knee that is coming into your body.
- As your legs swap positions so that your left is straight this time, lie down and come back up so that your left elbow is doing the touch.
In short, opposite knee to opposite elbow.
Aim to control your kicks rather than flinging your legs in and out as fast as you can - control is the key to working those tummy muscles.
6. The Rocking Chair
I suggest getting a mat or something comfy to lie on when doing the "rocking chair." (I've found a hard sports hall floor without a mat hurts. A lot.)
- Start in the normal sit-up position. For the more advanced among you, lay your arms on the floor beside your body with your palms up. For the rest of us, lift up your legs and shift your weight backward so that your legs are stretched up straight in the air and your bum has left the floor.
- Bring yourself back down slowly and carefully and repeat the exercise. You can use your hands to hold your waist with your elbows resting on the floor if you need to.
Breathe in when your legs go down, breathe out when they go up.
7. The Surfer
Roll over so that you are lying flat on your stomach and, as if lying on a surfboard bobbing on waves, push your upper body off the floor and back down again. It is very important that you keep your feet on the floor when doing this exercise.
There are two versions of this, a hard one and an easy one, depending on where you put your arms.
The hard version involves folding your arms in front of you and resting your forehead on them so that when you lift up, there is more weight for your stomach to push off the floor.
The easy version (yeah, your ears have pricked up now, haven't they?) is to hold your arms out to the side of you so that your torso doesn't have to worry about their weight at all.
Breathing is tricky during this exercise. I would suggest breathing in when you come up (as your chest is most open at this point) and breathing out when you come down (which naturally pushes the air out as you press down on your chest).
8. The Plank
Dum dum DUMMM, the dreaded plank! I'm not going to lie, this is a hard exercise, so don't collapse in a state of self-deprecation if after 5 seconds you find yourself in a heap on the floor. It's hard. It takes practice, stamina, mental stubbornness and abs of STEEL! But don't give up, you'll get there, I promise!
- Lie on your front just as you did when you were "surfing."
- Put your forearms on the floor in front of you and hold your hands, interlocking your fingers.
- When you're ready, lift your whole body (including your knees and pelvis) off the floor and hold that position for as long as possible.
See? Told you it was hard...
Don't stick your bum up (that makes it easier). You want your body to be as straight as a plank, hence how the name cleverly ties in ;)
If you want to try an easier version (which the majority of the Earth's population probably does...) lower your body so that you are on your knees. It's slightly easier. Not much. But slightly.
9. The Side-Plank
This does exactly what it says on the tin: it's the plank, but on your side.
- Lie down and roll over onto your hip and support yourself with your arms.
- When you feel ready, lift your bum away from the floor and prop yourself up with your arms, keeping your body facing the wall.
- If you're feeling brave, try taking the arm furthest from the floor out of the equation and see how you do.
- Keep your stomach muscles tense so that the focus stays on the abs and doesn't shift to the arms.
10. Cool Down
Well done! This is the easy part where you get to relax. But please don't skip this because you think it's not as important. If this isn't done, it's more than likely that stomach cramps will come your way the following day.
- Lie on your stomach as you did for "the Surfer" and place your hands on the floor in front of you.
- Push up until your arms are straight.
- Keep your pelvis and feet firmly on the floor. You should feel your muscles being stretched right across your abdominal region.
- For those of you who did any of the side-ab exercises, do the same, then come back down and reposition your hands so that one is in front of your body and one is to the side.
- Push up again and twist your body this time, so that you feel the stretch along the side of your torso. Do this for both sides of your body.
You made it! And you're alive! So that proves it. Exercise doesn't kill you. If you do some of these exercises every day, including a little aerobic exercise to burn some fat, it'll be Kate Moss being jealous of your figure, not the other way around!
Keep up the good work and be sure to check out some of my other health and fitness hubs which are coming soon to a computer near you!
Adios for now amigos!
© 2010 DaniellaWood