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Abdominal Training
by: Jeff Schwartzer

The abdominal wall is the most important part of the human body.  When training, they come into play in just about every exercise or movement that you put your body through.  The force generated by an exercise of the lower or upper body originates, stabilizes, or is transferred through the abdominal wall.  In conjunction with the lower back, the abs are many times referred to as the "center of power" or simply as "the core."  Being that they are the body's link for the entire musculoskeletal chain, they should be trained with great importance, yet when trainees are asked if they take the time to do specific work for them, the usual response is "no."

** The abdominals play many roles in the body.  They assist in efficient and proper movement, help protect vital organs, provide internal pressure that helps to support the spine, which in turn provides the bodies ability to stand erect, thus decreasing low back strain, and they assist in breathing during exercise.**

The abdominals play many roles in the body.  They assist in efficient and proper movement, help protect vital organs, provide internal pressure that helps to support the spine, which in turn provides the bodies ability to stand erect, thus decreasing low back strain, and they assist in breathing during exercise.

The abdominal wall can be broken down into their anatomical terms.  The rectus abdominis, know by many as simply the abs.  These are the muscles that give a lean body that six pack look.  They allow the body to flex the spine.  The muscle that run on the outside of the abs that help move the body side to side are called the external oblique.  Understanding the function of these muscles will aid in the proper training of them.

Proper training of these muscle is essential to prevent any injuries.  NEVER sacrifice proper technique for the sake of adding extra resistance or repetitions.  Allowing for these improper habits to begin may cause them to become a pattern which in turn may develop muscle imbalances and ultimately cause injury.  When beginning an ab training program, always start slowly with little resistance and low repetitions and gradually build them up over time.  

Some guidelines to follow:
Keeping training frequency to at least two to three times a week.

Perform exercise in the zero to 45-degree range. Anything greater than 45-degrees increase the flexion of the spine and causes increased pressure between the lumbar (low back) discs.

The position of your hands affects the amount of resistance placed on the working muscles.  Considering the waistline is the point of axis, keeping your hands close to that point will place the least amount of resistance on the abs.  Crossing your hands over your chest will increase the amount of stress on the abs, while keeping your hands near your head will affect the abs the greatest.  Start with the easiest form and change form to increase tension as your programs progresses.

When beginning an abdominal training program, maintain a balanced workout!  Train opposing muscles equally to prevent any muscle imbalances.  Maintain a tight contraction throughout the entire set.  Pay close attention to form, not allowing it to get sloppy when fatigue sets in.  Train the obliques first, followed by the lower abs and finishing with the upper abs.  This is because the upper abs assist in the movement of the obliques and lower abs, thus it would be counterproductive to fatique the upper abs first.  As with any body part, always warm-up thoroughly before beginning your training program.

The Exercises
First in the order of training is the obliques.  The side crunch either with straight legs or bent legs targets the obliques.  Lie on one side keeping legs either bent or straight.  Place the arm of the same working side behind your head while placing the opposite hand on the working oblique.  Slowly contract that side oblique by lifting your shoulder nearest the floor off of the floor anywhere 2-6 inches.  Contract and squeeze the obliques before returning to the starting position and then beginning again.  After completing your target number of repetition, roll over to the other side and repeat the process.

The next exercise for the obliques is called the squirm.  Here you lay on your back and keep knees bent with feet flat on the floor approximately 12 inches from the buttocks.  While keeping arms by your side, tuck chin to chest and raise shoulders slightly off the ground.  Begin by reaching your left hand down toward your left foot while squeezing the oblique.  Return to starting position and alternate to the right side before returning to the starting position.  Repeat sequence until desired repetition goal.

The last exercise for the obliques will be the broomstick twist.  This is a simple exercise that I'm sure you have seen countless times.  Sit on the floor with a straight back, legs spread and holding a broomstick behind your head across your shoulders.  Begin by rotating your torso to the right contracting the obliques before rotating to the left contracting the left oblique.  Continue rotating to each side until desired repetition goal.

Lower Abdominals
The lower abdominals are next in the order of training.  The first exercise is the roll back.  Begin by laying on your back with knees flexed at 90 degrees and feet flat on the ground.  Tuck your chin to your chest and keep your hands behind your head.  While contracting the lower abs, roll your legs toward your chest while simultaneously lifting your hips off the floor and pushing them toward the ceiling.  Contract the abs at the top of the motion before lowering your legs in a controlled manner to the starting position.  Repeat the sequence until you reach your desired repetition goal.

The next exercise is the seated bent-knee tuck.  This exercise can be performed either on a bench or on the floor.  Sit on the floor or side of a bench.  Lean back while flexing the knees to 90 degrees.  Hands are kept on the side of the bench or floor behind your hips to assist in stabilizing the upper body.  Begin by contracting the lower abs by bringing your knees to your chest.  Squeeze in this position briefly before returning to the starting position,  Repeat immediately without resting until desired repetition total is reached.

The last exercise is called cycling.  Begin by laying on your back with knees flexed to 90 degrees and hands behind your head.  Bring the left knee in toward your chest while simultaneously extending the right leg out straight.  At the same time the left knee is in near the chest, bring the right elbow as close as possible to it.  Return to starting position and immediately repeat sequence now to the opposite side.  This time bringing right knee toward chest touching it with the left elbow and simultaneously extending your left leg.  Repeat motion until goal is obtained.

Upper Abdominals
The final part of the abdominal training program is the upper abs.  The first exercise is the wrist-ups which is the basic sit-up seen over and over again.  Here you lie on your back, keep knees flexed to 90 degrees and feet are keep flat on the floor.  Place your hands on your thighs (as you strengthen, place them behind your head) and tuck your chin towards your chest.  Begin the movement by lifting the upper body off the floor in a count of two sliding your hands across your thighs until your wrists touch your knees.  At this top position, your chin comes away from your chest and you hold this position for a count of one.  Return to the starting position before beginning again.  Make sure to keep the abs flexed throughout the entire range of motion.

The next exercise is the 90-degree wall reach.  Begin by placing yourself near a wall.  Your legs should be straight and placed on the wall above you.  Try to get as close to 90 degrees as possible with your legs perpendicular to the floor.  Reach up with your arms and come as close to touching your feet as you can.  Feet and hands are kept together throughout the entire range of motion.  As your reach toward your feet, contract the abs before returning to the starting position.  Repeat immediately.

The last exercise for the upper abs is the Russian twist.  This is an advanced exercise and should only be completed after you feel you are ready.  Begin by laying on your back and bend knees to 90 to 120 degrees.  Feet are keep on the floor while arms are crossed across your chest.  Raise your upper body to roughly 30 degrees above floor and hold in this position.  While in this position, twist your upper body to the left for a count of one before twisting the upper body to the right for a count of one.  Repeat sequence twisting right to left until fatigue sets in.

* Pick at least two exercise for each area of the abdominal wall, obliques, lower abs and upper abs. Keep repetitions in the 10-20 range.

* Rests between sets should be limited to 30 seconds or less.  Allow yourself to gain conditioning before progressing to more exercises. 

Best of luck and train hard and smart.

"Best of luck with your new training program and any questions can be directed though this web site to me and I will do my best to assist you in any way possible."
Sincerely, Jeff Schwartzer

The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.

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