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 Bonnie Stein

          Bonnie Stein, M.Ed.

The Best and Worst Exercises to Flatten Your Tummy

By Bonnie Stein, M.Ed.

Racewalkers should certainly work on strengthening their abdominals. Strong abs will help to diminish back problems.  By strengthening your stomach muscles you give support to the opposing muscles of the back.  For a racewalker - it's easier to keep the hips tucked under the body (rather than walking swayback) if you have strong abdominal muscles. Lastly, although no ab work will burn fat from your stomach area (for that you have to racewalk or do some other cardiovascular exercise) strengthening your abs WILL give your stomach a flatter appearance, and there's nothing wrong with that, is there?

When you see the advertisements for 6 pack abs on the infomercials are you ready to pull out your Mastercard or Visa and pick up the phone?  Or have you already been suckered into buying the contraptions with promises of getting the abs of the beautiful bodies in the infomercials?  If you're going to spend time on your abdominals - wouldn't you want to know what really works best?

A recent study lead by Peter Francis, PhD, director of the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University, looked at a variety of common abdominal exercises in order to determine what really works. The study looked at 13 abdominal exercises, ranging from the traditional crunch to more complicated activities, using at-home and gym equipment.  Incidentally, Dr. Francis is the same researcher who did the frequency of injuries studies that I referred to in the article that most of you received in Beginning Racewalking class - "Injuries You Can Prevent."  It spoke of the difference in frequency of injuries in runners and racewalkers.

Each of the 13 abdominal exercises was ranked for muscle stimulation (measured with EMG) in the rectus abdominus (the long, flat muscle extending the length of the front of the abdomen) and the internal and external obliques (the long, flat muscles extending along the sides of the abdomen at an angle).

The top three abdominal exercises were:

1. Bicycle maneuver

Lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground. Put your hands beside your head. Bring your knees up to about a 45-degree angle and slowly go through a bicycle pedal motion. Touch your left elbow to your right knee, then your right elbow to your left knee. Breath evenly throughout the exercise.

2. Captain's chair

This was one of the few on the "most effective" list that involves gym equipment. Start with legs dangling and slowly lift your knees in toward your chest. The motion should be controlled and deliberate as you bring your knees up and return them back to the starting position.

3. Crunch on an exercise ball

Sit on the exercise ball with your feet flat on the floor. Let the ball roll back slowly and lie back until your thighs and torso are parallel with the floor. Contract your abdominals raising your torso to no more than 45 degrees. To work the oblique muscles, make the exercise less stable by moving your feet closer together.

Among the equipment studied, the Ab Rocker, by Body by Jake, was the worst piece of equipment tested. The Ab Roller and the Torso Track were better than the Ab Rocker, but statistically they were not much better than the basic crunch. The best piece of equipment was a large exercise ball.

Full Study Results:

Best to worst exercises for strengthening the rectus abdominus:
    1. Bicycle maneuver
    2. Captain's chair
    3. Crunches on exercise ball
    4. Vertical leg crunch
    5. Torso Track
    6. Long arm crunch
    7. Reverse crunch
    8. Crunch with heel push
    9. Ab Roller
   10. Hover
   11. Traditional crunch
   12. Exercise tubing pull
   13. Ab Rocker

Best to worst exercises for strengthening the obliques:
    1. Captain's chair
    2. Bicycle maneuver
    3. Reverse crunch
    4. Hover
    5. Vertical leg crunch
    6. Crunch on exercise ball
    7. Torso Track
    8. Crunch with heel push
    9. Long arm crunch
   10. Ab Roller
   11. Traditional crunch
   12. Exercise tubing pull
   13. Ab Rocker

2007 by Bonnie Stein. All Rights Reserved.

LIMITS OF LIABILITY AND DISCLAIMER - The authors and publishers of this newsletter have used their best efforts in preparing the articles and information contained within it. Additionally, you are advised to consult with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. The authors and publishers make no warranty of any kind, expressed or implied, and shall not be liable in the event of incidental or consequential damages.

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