Getting perfect abs is nothing short of an obsession for many people. Tons of programs, products and gimmicks promise “six pack abs” by confusing and misleading consumers. The right ab workouts can help, but in the end, there is only one way to get the abs you want! You need a consistent, effective workout program that will help you burn fat and tone your abs. When it comes to abdominal workouts, here are the most essential things to know:
TARGET ALL FOUR ABDOMINAL MUSCLE GROUPS
One mistake many people make is to only work one or two sections of their abdominal muscles. There are FOUR layers of muscles in your abs! You need to work each layer/muscle group to effectively tone your abs.
- Rectus Abdominis – This is the “six pack” muscle. This paired muscle runs from the front of your ribs down to your pelvis. This the muscle referred to when people say “upper abs” or “lower abs”, but it is actually one big muscle – of which different areas can be targeted. Typical “ab workouts” usually focus on this muscle.
- External Oblique – The external obliques are the muscles that run along the sides of your ribcage, on each side of the rectus abdominis. The external oblique muscles allow the trunk to twist – contracting one of your external obliques twists your body to the opposite side. For example, contracting the right external oblique will turn the body to the left.
- Internal Oblique – Your internal obliques are located just inside your hip bones – just below the external obliques. They work in the exact opposite way as the external oblique muscles. When you do a twisting motion, one external oblique contracts while the opposite side’s internal oblique contracts. For example, twisting or crunching the trunk to the left requires the left internal oblique and the right external oblique to contract together.
- Transverse Abdominis – The transverse abdominis is the deepest abdominal muscle layer. The muscle reaches from each side of your lower abdomen towards the middle. It is primarily responsible for stabilizing your trunk and maintaining internal abdominal pressure. This muscle is especially worked when you do stabilization exercises like planks or other similar ab exercises.
VARY YOUR AB ROUTINE
In addition to working all four layers of your abs, you also need to change up your ab routine so that your muscles are continually being challenged. If you do the exact same ab exercises for weeks on end, your muscles will adapt and plateau – and you will miss out on some of the benefits of your training program.
QUALITY VS. QUANTITY
Have you ever heard someone brag about how they do 800 crunches/situps every day? You do not need to do anywhere near hundreds of reps! You will actually see better results by doing fewer repetitions of the right exercises with correct form.
When it comes to number of reps when weight training, the same rules apply to ab workouts. For longer, leaner muscle, you should do more reps (we’re talking sets of 12, 20, or sets of 30 seconds… not sets of 800!), and for building size (and deeper cuts), you should do fewer reps with more weight resistance (ie: sets of 5 or 8). An exception to this rule is for stability exercises, such as planks, where you will hold a single position for anywhere from 20 seconds to a couple of minutes.
And, just like other muscle groups, you shouldn’t train your abdominal muscles every day – which brings me to my next point:
TAKE TIME TO RECOVER
Your ab muscles are just like any other muscle – they need to be worked hard, and then given adequate time to rebuild and recover before then next workout. Depending on how hard your muscles are worked – as well as whether you are focusing on strength or endurance – you will need anywhere from 36 hours to 2 or 3 days recovery time between workouts.
And finally, (but most importantly)…
Most people focus only on doing tons of crunches and other abdominal exercises in an effort to get flat, defined abs. What many people don’t realize is that no matter how many crunches, situps or other ab exercises you do, you will never see improved definition unless you can minimize the layer of fat that covers your abdominal muscles. The muscles are already there – the key is getting to the point where you can see them! Yes, ab exercises can help improve muscle strength and tone, but burning fat is more effective BY FAR when it comes to overall improvement in the look of your midsection.
When it comes to burning fat, remember that there is no such thing as spot reduction! There just isn’t! This isn’t what most people want to hear, but it’s simply a fact. No product, ab workout or ab exercise alone will make you lose inches solely from your waist – so when someone tries to convince you otherwise, don’t fall for it! The bottom line is that in order to gain greater definition in your abs, you need to have a fitness program that will help you burn overall body fat. In order to burn fat most effectively, your fitness program needs to include regular cardiovascular exercise AND strength training – stay tuned for our next post, which will explain why both are so important! Pair that with healthy, well-balanced eating habits, and you are well on your way to effectively burning fat – and getting flatter, tighter abs.
Following these tips will help you to get the best results possible. In addition to great looking abs, you’ll enjoy other benefits as well. Stronger abs can make a huge difference in your posture and overall core strength, and can also improve your form and effectiveness during other weight training exercises. Minimizing excessive body fat will not only make a huge difference in your abs, but will also improve the rest of your body. Training your body the right way will allow you to get the abs you want and improve your overall health.
The fourth annual Nike Marathon Women’s Marathon took place today! The official race results are now live! You can find the complete list here!
The marathon has been taking place since 2004 and gives women everywhere a chance to come together, accomplish something and support a very good cuase. The theme of this year’s marathon is “run together”. The marathon benefits The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Read more:
As a participant in The Nike Women’s Marathon, your race goes way beyond the finish line. This race benefits The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the world’s largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research education and patient services. The Society’s mission is to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and to improve the quality of life for patients and their families. Over the years, the Society has provided more than $424 Million for research specifically targeting blood cancers. This means that as you complete your marathon, you’ll also be having a positive effect on thousands of people battling cancer.
Last year, (October 22, 2006) there were 3,974 finishers in all – 237 males and 3737 females. The average finish time was 5 hours 15 minutes and 33 seconds. The fastest male finished in 2:43:19 and the fastest female Winner was close behind in 2:50:25. Stay tuned for this years race results!
Find more information about the Nike Women’s Marathon and its causes.
Headed outside for a workout? Wondering what the weather is like today? I saw this picture over at Hem.com.np today, and had to post it. Maybe it was just the day I was having, but I almost fell off my chair laughing…! I hope it entertains a few of you. :) I definitely need one of these so I can check the forecast before I leave for my run! ;)
September is national Fruits & Veggies – More Matters month! During this month, everyone is encouraged to make a special effort to get the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables each day. According to the Fruits & Veggies – More Matters website, over 90 percent of adults and children don’t eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Um.. wow! Ninety percent is a lot!
One of the main reasons many of us don’t get enough is because our lives are fast-paced, and most of us tend to eat on the go. Since fruit and vegetables usually require some degree of extra effort when preparing meals, and are sometimes unavailable when we eat out, they’re usually the first thing to get left out when we’re in a rush. I know how hard it is to get enough fruit and vegetables everyday, especially when you’re busy! But here are a few ideas to help you out:
- Buy easy-to-pack fruit like oranges, apples, etc. so that you can have fruit to take with you when you’re on the go.
- Also try buying dried fruit next time you shop. (All fruit, whether it’s dried, frozen, fresh or in juice, counts toward your daily serving requirements!) And dried fruit is great because it doesn’t spoil as quickly as fresh fruit. So even if you don’t have time to get to the store as often as you’d like. Dried fruit can also be sprinkled over cereal in the morning, which takes a few extra seconds, but gets you that much closer to the recommended servings of fruit and veggies per day.
- Keep a bag of frozen fruit in your freezer. My roommates and I like frozen peaches! They’re actually GOOD! :) They’re also a quick, refreshing snack in the summer and are low calorie as well. Does it get any better?
- Smoothies and juices are also a great way to get extra servings of fruit (and even vegetables). If you don’t have time to fix a big breakfast or lunch at home, choose to grab a smoothie or fruit juice when you do stop for a snack. You can down it in the car without having to stop to sit down and eat.
- Pile on the veggies when you make or order a sandwich! This might require a mere extra five seconds… (which I would bet even the busiest people probably can afford) :)
- Bring a V8, V8 Splash, or another vegetable juice with you to replace your usual soda or snack while you’re at work. You could even bring a veggie juice to have at lunch. And many vegetable juices are available in a diet or low calorie option as well.
This month is a great time for all of us to pay extra attention to our nutrition and eating habits. Eating more fruits and veggies is one of the most important parts of maintaining a well-balanced diet. Make a special effort this September and let us know how it goes!
First, lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground. Put your hands behind your head. Bring your knees up to a 45 degree angle and let your feet come up off the floor. Slowly go through a bicycle motion with your legs. Extend one leg as you bend the other leg and bring it towards your body. Then alternate sides. As you “pedal” your legs, you will reach your left elbow towards your right knee (as it comes towards your body), and then your right elbow towards your left knee (as you switch sides).
As you do the exercise, keep your abs pressed towards the floor! Go slow enough that you can breath evenly throughout the exercise and maintain correct form. (As with most ab exercises, form is more important than speed!)
Keep your eyes focused at an upward angle. This will prevent you from pulling your neck and head too far forward. By keeping your neck relaxed and straight, you can focus on using your abs to do the crunch. Better form means better results.
With the bicycle crunch, the amount you extend your lower leg will determine the difficulty of this exercise. If you are advanced, you can extend the lower (extended) leg until it is completely straight. If you are a beginner, you can keep the extended leg slightly bent. Regardless of your level, keep in mind that it is more important to maintain correct form and do an easier version of the exercise. Once you are stronger and can maintain proper form, you can increase the difficulty of the crunch.
Last week I went to Alaska to go sea kayaking, hiking and camping. I was there for a whole week, and I was worried about not being able to get to the gym. Skipping an entire week of weight training had me a bit concerned! But kayaking proved to be an incredible workout, and I came back just as fit (in both my strength and endurance) as when I left.
Kayaking is fun, and provides an excellent alternative to other types of workouts. Kayaking can help break up just about any exercise program, which is great for overall fitness, strength and endurance. It works both your muscles and your cardiovascular system.
AnÂ ideal fat burning workout, kayaking is great for most people. Since your heart rate is typically within range, your body burns fat instead of muscle for this activity. You also engage your muscles consistently over a longer period of time which helps to build sleek, lean muscle instead of bulk. Total calorie burn will vary and depend upon how hard you paddle, how long you go for and whether there’s a headwind or not.
Muscles worked include your shoulders, your arms’ extendors and flexors, your chest and back muscles, as well as your abs, glutes and legs. Your arms and shoulders are obviously extensively used while paddling. However, experienced kayakers use their other muscle groups just as much as their arms and shoulders. A strong back and core is just as important as arm strength. You can get a killer core workout and increase the power of your stroke if you engage your core while kayaking. I came back from Alaska with tighter abs than when I left! Legs are actively used in kayaks for steering and stability, especially in rough water. Kayaking is also good for your glute muscles, which should be flexed to ensure good posture in the kayak.
You’d think that kayakingÂ would take a long time to learn. However, for most people, kayaks are actually pretty easy to use. Once you get the hang of it, you can start getting the fitness benefits of kayaking while continuing to improve your form and technique over time.
I had been kayaking a few times before, but had never received any tips from anyone who really knew what they were doing. While we were in Alaska, my sisterÂ gave me some pointers to help improve my speed, strength and efficiency. (My sister works as a river guide and has years of experience in river rafting, kayaking and canoeing… she’s aÂ little outdoor genius.) Here are some pointers:
- Dig your paddle in close to the side of your kayak each time take a stroke. This helps you to move in a straighter line, instead of veering a different direction each time your paddleÂ switches sides.
- Engage your core muscles to help you have more strength in each stroke. Instead of just using your upper body to paddle, use the strength from your core to give you better results.
- Use your legs! You wouldn’t think that your legs would be important when it comes to kayaking. However, your legs sit in the kayak slightly bent with your knees pointing slightly outwards. Your knees are actually touching the inner sides of the front end of your kayak. Using your legs helps to steer your kayak and maintain your balance.
Kayaking is a great workout, and is a perfect activity for most seaons. In Alaska it was pretty cold (50 degrees tops), and there was snow in the mountains, soÂ cold weatherÂ gear was a must. In these colder conditions, you will want waterproof pants and a jacket in addition to any other warm layers of clothing you may need. In the spring and summertime, you won’t need quite as much gear. You can enjoy the warmer weather and catch some sun. You may want a hat or sunglasses. Since the water will reflect extra rays, don’t forget your sunscreen! Ovearll, kayaking is something you can do almost any time of year. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there!
I love summer! I feel especially motivated to work out because I love being outdoors when it’s warm. I get excited to spend as much time outside as possible.
But, for those of us who do a lot of our workouts outdoors during the summer (and even during other seasons), avoiding over exposure to the sun is important. Finding the right sunscreen is essential. Choosing the right one can be more complicated that you’d think. You will find sun tan lotions, sunscreens, sunblocks and sunless tanners everywhere you look. Each are different. Here is a breakdown of each:
Sunblocks are products that actually block sunlight by reflecting or repelling it. True sunblocks are the only products that literally block the sun from your skin. These products contain ingredients such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide which physically repel sunlight. These materials – which are usually opaque – are typically referred to as mineral or physical blocks. Sunscreens (discussed below) contain absorptive materials, usually referred to as chemical blocks.
Sunscreens are different from sunblocks. They contain ingredients that protect your skin from UVA rays, UVB rays or both. Most sunscreens contain an organic chemical compound that absorbs ultraviolet light (such as oxybenzone). Some sunscreens contain both physical blocks and chemical blocks. Sunscreens are available in different levels of SPF (Sun Protection Factor). They typically range anywhere from SFP 4 to SFP 60. A higher SPF means better sun protection. The SPF for each sunscreen equals the number of hours of protected sun exposure that would equal one regular hour of unprotected sun exposure. For instance, applying SPF 15 would mean that you would get the same level of sun exposure in 15 hours that you would get in one hour with no sunscreen on. Keep in mind that during those 15 hours you would need to have on sunscreen continuously. Sunscreens and sunblocks alike need to be reapplied to be effective. They should be reapplied to exposed areas of skin every couple of hours and after excessive sweating, swimming or using a towel.
The best sunscreens protect against both UVB (ultraviolet radiation with wavelength between 290 and 320 nanometres), which can cause sunburn, and UVA (between 320 and 400 nanometres), which damages the skin with more long-term effects, such as premature skin aging.
Suntan Lotion is mainly used as a moisturizer and is usually applied to maximize UV exposure, not block it. Suntan lotions often do not contain any level of sun protection at all. Suntan lotions include everything from SPF 4 lotions, to indoor tanning lotions, to outdoor suntan oils.
Sunless tanners are rapidly gaining popularity. They give anyone a sunkissed glow or suntan without the sun damage. These tanners are a safe alternative to overexposure to the sun. High quality sunless tanners are being developed all the time and there are many that give you a completely natural looking suntan.
Sunblocks, sunscreens, suntan lotions and sunless tanners are each available in lotions, creams, sprays and other formulas. Choose the best sun protection possible so that you avoid sunburn and excessive tanning. Protect your skin and invest in your long term health so that you can enjoy outdoor workouts for years to come.