Last Updated on August 10, 2007 by Jimson Lee
Here is a great article on Abs that is no longer on the web.
The original source came from:
Once I find the authour, I will give her or him full credit and correct the URL.
It seems that the abdominal area is a favorite target for exercise in the fitness and aerobics world. There are probably more abdominal exercise experts than any other tpe of fitness expert. Ab experts have given us incredible abs, astounding abs, absolutely marvelous abs, marvelous midriffs, superabs, sexy abs and hundreds of other types of shaped abs.
Machines vs. No Machines
There are also probably more machines on the market aimed at trimming and shaping the abdomen than any other type of device out there. Why? Well, the answer is quite simple: marketing and money! Nothing else. Some of these weird, wonderful and pretty machines are laughably useless, while others are a bit more successful. However, the fact remains that virtually no serious athlete or competitive bodybuilder has ever relied solely on any form of ab machine to develop exceptional abs. And if they are publicly claiming that they did, then you can be fairly certain that they are heavily sponsored to say so!
No research project has ever compared matched groups of subjects working on ab machines with others doing crunches on the mat, cable crunches, jackknives and leg raises. (Yes, I am deliberately including some of the exercises appearing on “hit lists” because some very successful bodybuilders swear by them.) I have also encountered some international level bodybuilders who hardly ever do situps or use ab machines, yet they have phenomenal abs.
I have taken EMG readings and muscle tension measurements of the abdominal erectors while bodybuilders did every imaginable type of ab exercise with and without machines. I honestly cannot conclude that any machine-aided ab exercise is better than traditional ab exercises done with resistance. In most cases, I noted that carefully executed concentration crunches using powerful mental focus and held breath produced greater electrical activity and muscle tension than ab exercises in aerobics or on machines with the traditional breathing in and out patterns. This is not to recommend holding your breath through the entire exercise, but I have noted that greater muscle tension can be achieved when breath is held at the point of maximum effort.
From the Eastern Experts
After a few research visits to Russia and collaborative projects with Eastern scientists and coaches, I learned that many experts regard special abdominal exercises as a total waste of time. They consider that the trunk muscles are strongly involved in stabilizing and/or moving many parts of the body.
At one NSCA (National Strength & Conditioning Association) conference in the United States, I remember one of the top Bulgarian strength coaches, Angel Spassov, laughing at questions from American football coaches who wanted to know the best way of doing situps or crunches to strengthen the abdominal area. His response was that if players were squatting, bench pressing, deadlifting, etc., their trunk muscles were already much more strongly involved than they ever are during situps, crunches or machine training.
His attitude and approach were not unique. I encountered them time and again in Russia and among the world’s finest Olympic athletes from the Eastern nations.
Is It Really Ab Exercise?
Many of us think that only the abs are involved during bent-knee situps or crunches. Unfortunately, that is nonsense. Hip flexors are at work also. Bending the knees to reduce lower back stress is generally of little benefit, because this does not eliminate hip flexors from the action. You decrease, but never totally eliminate, the involvement of the hip flexors by flexing the hips, not the knees. Bending the knees may reduce some of the stretch on the sciatic nerves running down the legs, but it does nothing mechanically to prevent the hip flexors from getting involved.
Yet, most of the experts go on and on about bending the knees. In studies, I have yet to find anything that diminishes dynamic hip flexor activity as much as straight-legged crunches! Does it really matter if the hips are not bent? No, not if you do what the abs are meant to do – namely to flex the trunk forward against resistance or to stabilize the lumbar spine during locomotion, lifting or other activities. If you curl up slowly so that your back rounds like a prodded caterpillar, you are not allowing the hip flexors to tug on your lower spine and consequently you are not stressing the back, no matter how locked your knees and hips may be. Some rehabilitation experts have had spinal patients (even those with metal rods or plates in the spine!) use the straight-legged situp as described above without causing any pain or disability. It is important to realize that there is a safe and an unsafe way of doing any exercise. It is not simply an exercise that is unsafe, it is the way of performing the exercise that can be dangerous. Remember that before throwing out some perfectly useful exercises!
Stabilizers or Mobilizers?
One reason why there is so much controversy in the world of ab training is that people tend to forget that the ab muscles (or rather the entire trunk) play two roles:
â€¢Mobilization or the ability to cause movement.
â€¢Stabilization or the ability to stabilize.
Often it feels as if the abs have really worked during some exercises that involve the abs in no dynamic activity at all, such as leg raises while hanging from a bar. Even during supine leg raises on the floor, it really feels as if the abs are being worked to death. True or false?
The answer is both! Statically, true. Dynamically, false. As soon as you lift your legs, the pelvis has to be stabilized by all the trunk muscles so that the hip flexors can do their job properly. The lever arm length for your raised legs is great, so that the ab muscles have to contract isometrically (or statically). The same situation occurs with many other exercises and this means that your abs often obtain an automatic static workout even during exercises as abdominally remote as bench press or pushups. However, this does not mean that the trunk muscles are being exercised dynamically, and this is important if you are participating in any sport or work activity that requires functional dynamic involvement of the trunk muscles.
Can you see how difficult it can be to know whether a given exercise is working the abs safely and effectively? It is more difficult to identify any exercises or daily activities which do not involve the abs and other trunk muscles either as stabilizers or moers. You don’t need an EMG machine to check – just touch your abs, or those of any exerciser, to discover how often the abs are involved.
Ab Exercise for What?
So why on Earth all this ab mania? I could hardly believe the fanaticism about ab exercise when I was invited to run a workshop and lecture at IDEA (The International Association of Fitness Professionals) on abdominal and trunk exercise – nearly 900 delegates attended. So many people just for abs…it was like a religious revival! My colleagues Douglas Brooks, Len Kravitz, Paul Chek and several others always find the same – people will leave their deathbeds to be at an abs workshop!
It appears that most people exercise the abs for one or more of the following reasons:
â€¢To shape the midriff
â€¢To strengthen the abdominals
â€¢To minimize or prevent back injury
â€¢To strengthen the abs for childbirth
Let’s consider a few of these reasons. First, it is highly unlikely that any amount of ab exercise, with or without machines, will trim you down and take off fat. On the contrary, ab exercise will probably increase the muscle bulk around your waist and increase your girth.
Do situps, crunches, machine ab exercises and so on strengthen the abs, as is so often claimed? If you are doing dozens or even hundreds of repetitions, then the answer is no, unless you are a novice to training. If you want cardiovascular or aerobic fitness, then you must do thousands of reps with little resistance for a prolonged period, as in distance running, cycling or swimming. If you want bodybuilding hypertrophy, then 8-12 reps are most commonly used. If you want strength, then 5-8 reps with heavy weights are most popular. If you want to develop dynamic (not static) muscle endurance with resistance, then you might do anything from 20-100 reps with a moderate weight. If you want power (like Olympic weightlifters, shotputters and jumpers), then you do as few as 1-3 reps at a time, naturally with very heavy loads. Remember that there are individual variations to these formulas, but for the general client, they still offer reasonably valid guidelines.
If you are doing high rep ab exercise, you are using a method that – at best – will produce local muscle endurance and a mild increase in strength and muscle bulk in the initial few weeks of a training program. After that, only your ability to perform more reps will increase, but certainly not your strength. So, everyone who is doing high rep ab exercise to produce major abdominal strengthening is wasting time.
If you disagree with this remark, let us return to some basics about strength. Maximal strength is usually measured by having a person perform a one rep maximum (1RM). Have you ever tried a 1RM situp or crunch with the heaviest weight you could ever lift on your chest or behind your neck? If not, try it to obtain a feel for the difference between ab strength and ab endurance. Some bodybuilders do kneeling cable crunches with big loads and have some idea of what ab strength really is. The type of ab routine offered in the average fitness or aerobics class does little to increase ab strength significantly after the first few novice weeks. So, it is nonsense to talk about crunches or situps or any other form of ab exercise increasing strength unless you are using heavy weights for a few reps.
Abs and Neck Pain
Frequently fitness fanatics complain of sore and stiff necks after doing situps, so they are told to place their hands either behind the neck (supposedly to offer support to the head) or just touching the side of the head. Nobody appreciates that it is these actions that increase the stress on the neck and other muscles associated with the stabilization of the head during situps.
If you do not believe this, just feel your muscles, or someone else’s, while doing situps with hands behind the head or raised anywhere near the head. Now feel the same muscles while doing situps with the hands crossed on the chest or sliding up to meet the knees during trunk flexion. You will notice that there should be far less neck tension when you use the second method, not the first.
Let us examine the logic behind the traditional method of reducing neck stress by putting hands behind or near the head. It is said that this supports the head and helps the neck muscles to relax. Hasn’t one fitness expert realized why this is complete nonsense?
Let us return to some basic anatomy to prove the point. When you sit up from a supine position, which neck muscles support the head, those behind the head or in front? Obviously, the muscles in front support the head – not those behind, where so many people complain about discomfort after situps. It is biomechanically impossible for the muscles behind the head to be supporting the head during situps.
Following are a few ways of reducing neck pain associated with supine situps.
â€¢Do some other exercise instead of supine crunches and situps (with or without machines). Many bodybuilders obtain a far better training effect from standing or kneeling cable crunches.
â€¢Forget about continuous high rep sets of situps. If you really have to crunch or situp, or a few concentrated reps and rest your head in between each rep.
â€¢Join your boxing pals for medicine ball drills or punching drills aimed at the abdomen.
â€¢Don’t pull faces, clench your jaw and deliberately strain the muscles in front of the neck while sitting up. Look serene (though determined) and forget about adding to the stress by making it look as though you are suffering.
â€¢Do any form of resisted trunk flexion which does not require your head to be supported against gravity.
â€¢Forget about dedicated abdominal exercise and realize that these muscles work extensively during other exercises (if you are using a wide variety of well-resisted exercises).