Strengthening abdominal muscles seems to be at the top of the exercise to-do list for many exercise enthusiasts. However, according to exercise pros, many people are going about it the wrong way. And it doesn't help that abdominal workouts are still shrouded in myth. The big ab myth, of course, is "spot reduction," the belief that targeting a specific muscle will result in fat loss. That brings to mind another popular myth: that you need to perform an excessive number of repetitions. I remember a client who proudly told me she had just competed 500 crunches using an ab roller. That not only is excessive, it is unnecessary. Here are some of the common ab exercise errors that will hinder your progress:
Strengthening abdominals, neglecting other core muscles: Abdominals are just part of the core, which includes erector spinae, hip flexors and gluteal muscles. To strengthen the core, you need to target many muscles, not just the abs.
Overtraining abdominals: This can cause neck and lower back problems. Think quality, not quantity. Abdominals need to be treated like any other muscle in the body. Strengthen them two or three times a week and do 10 to 12 repetitions per exercise, using correct form. Perform a variety of exercises so you target different areas of the abdominals.
Moving too fast: Using momentum for strength exercises will decrease the effectiveness of the movement, and in many instances it may put you at risk for injuries, particularly in the joints and the back. When you use momentum, you are not allowing the muscles to do their job. Slowing down and controlling your movements will keep abdominal muscles under tension longer — safely.
Lack of variety: Our amazing bodies get so used to repeating the same old pattern of movement that they can lose their efficiency. In addition to isolated ab exercise movements, performing compound ab exercises, which work many muscles at the same time, such as the forearm plank and shoulder press demonstrated in the accompanying box, will add interest to your workout.
Crunches can also be the source of mistakes:
Chin drop: As you lift your upper back off the floor, pulling down on your head and allowing your chin to drop toward your chest can cause neck strain. To prevent this, place fingers, rather than hands, behind your head or ears and look forward and slightly upward while performing the lift.
Lifting too high: Throwing your upper body toward your knees in a situp-type movement can place undue stress on your back. You only need to lift your upper body to shoulder level.
Forearm planks are not without possible missteps too. These include:
Basic mistakes: Arching your back and dropping your hips places too much pressure on the back and generally is caused by a weak core.
Poor neck alignment: This can cause upper back and neck pain. Keep your head and neck in alignment with the rest of your body and look down at the floor.
Misplaced elbows: If your elbows are not directly beneath your shoulders it can strain them. Same goes for wrists. Keep them under your shoulders.
Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but can't respond to individual inquiries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.