I don’t know about you, but abdominal exercises have never been my favorite thing to do. In fact, I can’t remember ever looking forward to doing them. Stretching feels great. So do buttock and leg exercises. Walking, aerobic dancing and jogging are exhilarating. Working on the waist and arms don’t bother me at all. But no matter how hard I try to disguise them as something fun, abdominal exercises never feel good. Some things in life are just plain unpleasant, but we have to grit our teeth and get through it. This is one of those things. The greatest motivator for me is knowing what the benefits of abdominal exercises are and also the possible consequences if I don’t do them.
For example, did you realize that abdominal muscles are instrumental in holding all your internal organs in their proper place? Imagine what kind of problems can be caused by too much pressure against certain organs.
Also, abdominal muscles are crucial to keeping your spine straight and aligned properly. You are less susceptible to back injury and pain if your abdominals are strong. Weak stomach muscles put a great strain on the lower back and result in chronic lower back pain. Improving them will always improve the back as well.
Weak abdominal muscles also result in poor posture, which is one of the worst things for the back. When you slump, you abdominals aren’t used at all and they become weaker. This throws your center of gravity off and it causes the rest of your body to have to make unhealthy adjustments. Either your back will curve and your chest cave in, or the back will sway and the abdomen protrude. If your abdominal muscles are strong, you have better balance and control and much better posture. It’s far more difficult to maintain good posture if you have flabby stomach muscles.
So you see, even though stomach exercises may be everybody’s least favorite part of the body to exercise, and as a result the most neglected, they are actually the most important.
Although most women desire a totally flat stomach like the kind they see in bathing suit ads, a slightly rounded one is more natural. Instead of looking in the mirror to see a totally flat stomach, it’s better to look for stomach muscles that are toned, firm and naturally pulled in. Work toward a flatter tummy instead of a totally flat one, otherwise it’s too easy to become discouraged.
Because the abdomen is made up of skin, muscles and fat, trying to maintain or achieve a flatter stomach by dieting without exercise doesn’t work for most people. This is especially true for those over 35. This is not to say that diet is not important. In order to tone and flatten the stomach you must do three things: properly, do 15-30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week, and exercise the abdominal muscles regularly at least three or four times a week.
Because the abdominal muscles are so important to the overall health of the body, they need to have special care. That’s why finding abdominal exercises that are safe and don’t put a strain on the lower back are very important. It’s also important to remember that when you do abdominal exercises, start slowly and carefully and then gradually work up to higher numbers of repetitions.
If you have any kind of back trouble, do not do these or any abdominal exercises without checking with a physician first. Also, if you eat right, do aerobic exercises, exercise the abdominals regularly, and still your stomach bulges as much as it ever did, then check with a doctor about it as there may be other causes such as food allergies, for example.
Here are a few of my “favorite” abdominal exercises. I like them because they accomplish the most with the least amount of misery. While you’re doing all of these exercises, keep the abdominal muscles pulled in tight. The best way to do that is to envision your belly button touching your spine. If you can only maintain that firmness in the abdomen for five repetitions then that is all the repetitions you should do. Make sure you have the abdominals pulled in that before you start the exercises. If you feel you’ve lost that tension at any point, stop and start again. On all the exercises except #4, keep the small of your back on the floor.
Do not do these exercises without warming up first. Do no more than 5 to 10 repetitions in the beginning to be sure you are not overdoing or hurting yourself in any way. Then, as you are able, proceed to larger numbers of 15, 20, 30, etc. The good news is that all your abdominal exercises need not take more than 10 minutes.
EXERCISE #1: LITTLE LIFTS WITH KNEES BENT
Lie on your back. Knees up over your hips and bent comfortably. Hands behind your head, elbows straight out to the side. Life your head and upper torso up and down slightly using only your abdominal muscles, not your neck or arms. These are little lifts up and down, not more than an inch or two. Be sure to keep your belly button pulled in tight toward the spine. When you come down don’t let your head or shoulders touch the floor.
EXERCISE #2: LITTLE LIFTS WITH LEGS STRAIGHT
Now that you’ve warmed up on Exercise #1, continue to do the same little lifts with the head and shoulders, but now extend the legs toward the ceiling. You are lifting your shoulders up toward the ceiling, not toward your knees.
EXERCISE #3: BICYCLE
Lay on your back with your hands behind your head. Extend the left leg straight, the right leg is bent and the knee is brought in toward the chest. With your stomach pulled in tight, touch the left elbow to the right knee. Then reverse it by bringing the left knee into the chest, straighten the right leg and touch the right elbow to the left knee. Go as fast as you can comfortably alternating legs and arms. Keep the leg straight as you extend it and as close to the floor as is safe and comfortable for you. If you lose the firm hold of your abdominal muscles pulling intoward the spine, then stop immediately and reposition. You don’t want to build stomach muscles out by doing these exercises without the abdominal muscles pulled in tight.
EXERCISE #4: PELVIC LIFTS
Lie on your back. Left knee is up with the foot flat on the floor. Extend the right leg straight up to the ceiling. Keeping the entire upper back on the floor, lift only the pelvic region and lower back with little lifts of no more than two inches off the floor. This exercise is great for buttocks muscles, but as you work them, it forces the abdominals to contact properly with no tension in the back. Do up to 50 little lifts on one side before reversing it with the right knee up and the left leg extended toward the ceiling.
Don’t be discouraged with abdominal exercises if you do not see immediate results. They take longer than other muscles to get in shape. Just know that everything you do for them will make a difference in your total health, whether you are able to find positive proof of it that week or not. Above all, don’t give up. Your hard work will always pay off and even though you didn’t have a great time doing it, you will have a flatter tummy.