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50+ Fitness

Strengthen abdominals and build strength in your core

Ten-minute abs" . . . "eight-minute abs" . . . even "six-minute abs," all telling us that they can miraculously take the flab off our abs! In reality, they are just some of the many misleading claims to whittle your middle. "There's always somebody else coming up with some newfangled idea," says Robin Spector, a lawyer with the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "We try to get consumers not to fall for these claims," Spector said. Here is a little Abdominal 101 to help you better understand the role strong abdominals play in our daily lives and to help dispel some of the myths and misconceptions concerning abdominal training.

WHY? Abdominals are one of the core stabilizer muscles that help you to stay balanced when you move. Eliminate arms and legs and what is left is referred to as the "core" — basically abdominals, chest muscles, back and hips. Strengthening abdominals will help to increase core strength, which will improve balance, help to prevent back pain, maintain good posture and improve your sports performance.

SPECIFICALLY: The rectus abdominis, a long, flat muscle in front of the abdomen that extends from the breastbone to the pubic bone, is responsible for forward spinal flexion. The transverse abdominis, the deepest of all ab muscles and located directly beneath the rectus abdominis, acts as a girdle that wraps around the pelvis and helps to hold internal organs in place. When it is strong, it helps to support your lower back and maintain good posture. The oblique muscles, located diagonally on your sides, help to curl your spine forward and enable you to turn and bend to the side.

THE SPOT-REDUCING MYTH: There is no such magic. Abdominal exercises will strengthen and tone muscles lying underneath layers of fat, but they do not remove fat above muscle. You might say that losing abdominal body fat begins in the kitchen, not the gym. The best way to lose "fatty abs" is to eat a sensible diet and perform whole-body exercises with cardio and strength training; cardio (aerobic) exercises will help to burn calories — thus, fat — throughout the body.

100 . . . 101 . . . 102: Some people think more is better, but you should treat your abs as you would any other muscle group and perform eight to 15 repetitions of each move two to three times a week. Think quality, not quantity. According to Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise, "If you can do more than 25 reps you are either performing them too rapidly or with improper form."

SITUP VS. CRUNCH: Situps are when you lift your shoulders all the way up to the knees. In addition to the risk of hurting your back, it is not the most effective way to strengthen the abdominals. When you do crunches, you want to minimize the hip flexor muscles (muscles in the upper thigh area) from assisting with the movement. When you throw yourself up to the knees, hip flexor and lower back muscles kick in and do most of the work; your abs are only involved in the early part of the movement.

CRUNCH-TIME TIPS: Lift from your abdominals, not your neck; do not allow your chin to fall forward.

Place fingertips behind your head, not your neck, with elbows slightly curved.

Curl forward until head, neck, shoulders and a little bit of upper back come off the floor. Contract abdominals, exhaling as you lift.

Avoid fast movements. Moving slowly with control offers more stimulation to the muscles.

When lying on the floor, bent knees and contracted abdominals will offer support for the back.

Focus on the movement.

If you are 50 or older and have not been exercising, check with your physician before beginning any exercise program. Trainer Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. She can be reached at

SEE THE ACCOMPANYING PHOTOS (ABOVE RIGHT) FOR THIS MONTH'S EXERCISES: This month we've got some exercises to strengthen your core. JoJo Zasoski, 53, of St. Petersburg, demonstrates. Sally Anderson

Strengthen abdominals and build strength in your core 06/22/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 22, 2010 12:21pm]
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