Truth be told, no amount of abdominal crunches will get rid of your love handles. Spending 30mins on a treadmill will do more for that spare tyre than 30mins of crunches. If you want to lose the annoying flab around your middle, first determine is it fat or muscle. If you bear down and grab the loose skin around your belly button, that is not muscle, it is fat (and skin). Dig deep with your fingers and you will feel the muscle. Does that feel firm or flabby? In fact most of us have a pretty good six pack, it’s sometimes just hidden under a doona of body fat!
The core abdominal muscles underneath our body fat are extremely important for stabilizing our entire body and protecting our backs from injury. They can certainly affect the shape of our torso even if there is excess body fat around them. So just because you can’t spot
reduce fat, doesn’t mean you skip your abs session, you still should be doing some strengthening of your core. Your internal and external oblique muscles (see diagram) are responsible for any twisting movement your torso makes. They stabilize the trunk and help protect the back. Well defined obliques help to narrow the waist giving men the V shape they want and women their sexy hour glass figure. Follow these five effective oblique exercises and your sides will be aching tomorrow!
Protecting your back and neck:
Try to stay as close to spinal neutral during these exercises. Spinal neutral is where your head, shoulders and lower back are in one line with a small curve in your lower back (see diagram). If your back starts aching, stop, rest, and check your form before commencing. These exercises are designed to fatigue your abs not your back. For people with pre existing back injuries be very careful of twisting exercises such as these. Don’t force your range of movement. Finally never let the arch in your back get greater than 1-2cm (1/2 inch). Abdominal exercises are so great for strengthening the torso area and protecting your back, but do be smart and listen to your body.
Your neck should also remain in neutral which means not wrenching it forwards or leaving it behind the movement. Before a set I suggest swallowing and leaving your tongue on the roof of your mouth
which stabilizes your neck flexors. If the front of your neck (throat) gets fatigued, it’s actually a good thing, so persevere, but if the back of your neck gets sore, stop and rest, or support it with your hands. Neck support is a controversial topic with many suggesting that neck support simply causes the imbalance between neck and back to worsen. I suggest minimal support but do stop if there is pain. Your neck will improve as you get stronger.
Variations to the sets and reps:
Instead of performing 3 sets of each exercise, try treating it like a circuit and do one set, quickly move onto the next exercise and so on. Take a minute to recover then repeat the circuit three times. It flows nicely, it still hurts, and you can really build some incredible strength. Most importantly have fun with it, go hard and ‘feel the burn, love the burn!
1. Standing Side Raises:
Holding a 5kg (12.5lb) hand weight for women, or 10kg (22lb) hand weight for men. If you are at home, use two cans from the pantry. Slide the weight down your leg until your opposite side stretches, go as low as you can, taking about 5 seconds down, then 2 seconds up (ie slow down fast up). The key with this exercise is to get that stretch on the opposite side. You are working the oblique on the opposite side of the dumbbell. No twisting, or rotating, stay facing the mirror. 3 sets 12 reps each side. No rest in between and alternate one set each side.
2. Seated Russian Twists:
Taking the same weight as above (or use a medicine ball), sit on the ground at a 45 degree angle with a straight back. Gently twist around as far as your flexibility allows, not forcing the first few reps while your back warms up. Ideally when you twist the weight/ball should touch the ground on either side. Keep your eyes on the weight/ball so your neck stays in alignment with your spine. Move at the same rate as this animation, or slightly faster for a dynamic workout. 3 sets 12 reps each side. 20sec rest between sets.
3. Oblique Crunches:
Opposite elbow travels to opposite knee. do 12 on one side then switch sides. You are working the external obliques on the elbow side (see anatomical diagram) and internal obliques on the lifted knee side. The key is to make sure both shoulders lift off the ground and you get a really good twist. It’s an easy exercise to cheat on, so just keep reminding yourself to ‘feel the burn, love the burn!’ If it aint burning, it’s not working! 3 sets 12 reps then change sides. No rest between sets.
4. Bicycle Crunches:
Upper body moves similarly to the the oblique crunches above however legs scissor so that opposite knee and elbow come in at the same time. The closer your straight leg lowers to the floor the harder, so start by only lowering the legs 45 degrees then over the next few weeks take them closer to the ground. You do not want your back arching when your legs lower. If you feel your lower back come off the floor, bring your knees closer to your head. 3 sets 12 reps each side. 20 sec rest in between sets.
5. Side Bridge:
This is a nice one because you don’t have to move! The diagram shows the tougher option (although I like to raise my top arm in the air). For an easier version drop your bottom knee onto the floor. Make sure your hips and your shoulders are directly on top of each other and you aren’t twisted in any way. The obliques closest to the floor are the ones you are working. For a variation, try lowering your hips to the floor slowly and pushing up five times during each set. Hold 2 min each side, 1-2 sets.
I would suggest doing this workout no more than 2 times per week. If you want some more ab variations, be sure to check out my Core Stability series, Part 1-A Remedy
for Back Pain, Part 2-The Spinal Neutral Test, Part 3-Challenging Your Core, and Part 4- Functional Exercises: The Plank and it’s Wacky Variations and alternate days between all the exercises. Why don’t you get out of your chair, have a quick stretch and give them a go! Leave a comment and tell me how you went, it will take less than ten minutes, so what have you got to lose, crank up Itunes and get moving!