If you normally bypass the ab machines at the gym, reconsider. A few simple—yet surprisingly powerful—exercises add variety, resistance and strength training to your workout, with very little time required.
Even if you are one of the few who aren’t desperately seeking six-pack abs, you need to introduce abdominal exercises into your weekly routine. These critical muscles don’t get enough of a workout from regular day-to-day activities and will weaken dramatically without regular exercise.
Let’s look at the basic anatomy of the abdominal muscles, which comprise three layers:
1. the transversus abdominus, the deepest of the muscles, provides stability to your torso and assists in the exhalation of your breath;
2. the abdominus rectus, which is what most of us think of when we picture ripped abs, enables you to flex your spine;
3. finally, the internal and external oblique muscles are what allow you to turn, rotate and perform lateral movements.
These muscles, along with the hip flexors and the stabilizing muscles of your back, form the core: the region from which all of your movement originates. Without exercise, your abdominal muscles will weaken and you will be subjected to a host of problems, including muscle spasms, back pain, injury and imbalance.
To strengthen your abs, you need to make sure your workout targets your lower and upper abdominals as well as your obliques.
Here are a few key exercises using common ab machines that you could easily introduce into your workout.
1. Ab crunch machine
Follow the directions on the ab crunch machine at your gym as there are differences between some models. If you have ever performed a traditional stomach crunch the movement of this exercise will be familiar to you. The main benefit of performing crunches on ab machines is the added resistance, which increases the impact of the exercise significantly. Take the time to perform the exercise slowly and methodically. Concentrate on using your abs to push the weight rather than your legs or your feet.
2. Ab roller machine
Sit on the floor, facing the ab machine. Resting on your knees, grip the ab roller with both hands. Slowly roll forward while straightening the body. Go as far as you can but do not touch the floor with your upper body. Pause. Slowly pull yourself back to the starting position.
3. Cable crunch
Kneel on the floor beneath a high pulley. Grasp the cable rope attachment. Hold it in both hands against your head. Flex your hips then allow the weight to hyper-extend your lower back. Keeping your hips locked, flex your waist so that your elbows draw the pulley toward your mid-thigh. Pause. Slowly return to the starting position.
Complete three to four sets of each exercise, beginning with 10 repetitions. Increase the number of reps as you progress.
Still thinking about it?
Most gyms have personal trainers on site who can give you a free, comprehensive introduction to the weight room, with step-by-step instruction on how to use the various pieces of equipment, including the ab machines.
If your gym offers this option, look into it. It offers a valuable opportunity to get some one-on-one coaching and personal demonstrations of proper exercise techniques. You may also wish to consider hiring a fitness trainer for one or two introductory sessions, until you feel competent using the ab machines without supervision.
You may also wish to purchase one of the many ab machines designed for home use. Just make sure the model you buy targets all three abdominal muscle groups. It should also be comfortable, adjustable and easy to use. Try before you buy!
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