The following exercises are designed to gradually increase the strength of your abdominal muscles. These exercises are meant to complement the back exercises we presented in the January 2005 On the Go column (“Preventing a Pain in the Back”), with the intention of developing a total training program for the core body. The core muscles include the muscles of the abdomen and lower back, which are responsible in part for good back and spine health.
|Exercise 1 – Pelvic Tilts
Lie flat on your back with hips and knees bent and feet flat on floor. Try to roll your pelvis (hip bones) backward (this procedure can be described as trying to suck your navel inward toward your spine). Hold for a count of 15 seconds and repeat 5 to 10 times.
|Exercise 2 – Single Leg Raises
Lie on your back with one leg straight and the other bent at the hip and knee. Get into the pelvic tilt position as for Exercise 1, then raise the straight leg about 3 feet or until you feel a pull in your stomach muscles. Hold this position for 3 seconds. Perform 10 repetitions, then switch to the other leg. Remember to breathe regularly, with this and all the exercises, and do not hold your breath.
|Exercise 3 – Controlled Leg Extensions
Lie on your back in the pelvic tilt position with your legs outstretched, then flex your knees into your chest. Return to the starting position by sliding your heels along the floor. Repeat 10 times.
|Exercise 4 – Curl-Ups
Lie on your back with hips and knees bent and your feet flat on floor. Assume the pelvic tilt, tuck your chin to your chest and then very slowly curl your trunk up by first lifting your head, then shoulders, then the shoulder blades until they are 4 to 6 inches off the floor or you feel a pull on your stomach muscles. Slowly lower yourself to the starting position. Start with 10 repetitions.
|Exercise 5 – Trunk Curls with Twist
Lie on your back with hips and knees bent and feet flat on the floor, and assume the pelvic tilt. Come up slowly as in the curl-up exercise, but twist the trunk as you come up so your right elbow is directed toward the left knee. Bring knee to meet elbow (but they do not have to touch). You will feel a pull in the side stomach muscles (obliques). Start with 5 to 10 repetitions.
|Exercise 6 – Push-Ups
Lie on your stomach with your hands under your shoulders and your feet together. Use your arms to push your chest off the floor until the arms are fully extended. Hold for 3 seconds, then slowly lower yourself to the floor. This exercise can be modified to make it less difficult by keeping your knees on the floor.
Perform this series of exercises three times each week for one month. If you are successful, then you will have graduated to the Advanced Abdominals Club—Congratulations!
Q: I have tried working my stomach muscles but cannot perform the movements while holding my arms behind my head. Is there an alternative?
A: For every exercise, there is always another way. In this case, try folding your arms across your chest.
You can also increase the intensity of the trunk curl by holding a weight in your hands.
Q: If all I want in life is six-pack abs, do I really need to do any exercises other than those for my stomach muscles? I am about 20 pounds overweight.
A: The number of calories expended for any given activity is proportional to the amount of body mass that is in motion. While training your abdominal muscles may strengthen and define the abdominal muscles, you may not burn many calories because the activity involves only a small muscle mass. If you have a substantial amount of fat covering the muscles, you may never see the fruits of your labor. In a nutshell, “spot reducing” does not work.