When I first started working out, I absolutely hated doing abdominal exercises. In truth, I didn’t like them because I had a difficult time performing them. I just didn’t have the muscle. I ended up sore all the time. Once I got a little muscle on me, ab work became a challenge and not a chore. Now I love doing abdominal exercises!
There are quite a few different muscles in the abdominal region, which makes sense because you can bend in all kinds of directions at the waist. Since there are so many, I’m going to list the biggest of them separately.
Rectus Abdominis – This is the muscle most people think about – it runs right up the middle of the abdominal region, forming the “6-pack.” The muscle originates from the pubic bone and hip bones and inserts into the ribs and sternum. This muscle flexes the body at the waist, compressing the abdomen. As a note, this muscle isn’t a bunch of little muscles that form the 6-pack, its one big muscle that has tendinous tissues at regular intervals that make it look like it’s divided into six different sections.
External Abdominal Oblique – These muscles are on the sides of the abdominal region. They originate on the ribs and insert into the hip bones and rectus sheath, angling downwards. These muscles flex the body at the waist and rotate the vertebral column. They are also involved in breathing, specifically inspiration.
Internal Abdominal Oblique – These muscles are also on your sides and run from back to front, angling upwards. They originate on the lumbar fascia (lower spine tissue) and hip bone and insert into the lower ribs. These muscles flex and rotate the vertebral column. They are also involved in breathing, specifically expiration.
Transversus Abdominis – These muscles are also on your sides, run from back to front, and run parallel to the ground. They originate on the lumbar fascia, hip bones and lower ribs and insert into the hip bones, the sternum, and the linea alba (the tissue that runs straight down the middle of the abdominal region). These muscles’ job is to compress the abdomen.
Serratus Anterior – These are finger-shaped muscles that originate in the 1st through 8th or 9th ribs and insert into the scapula (shoulder blade). Their function is to depress the scapula and elevate the ribs.
Since there are a lot of abdominal muscles, there are all kinds of exercises to work these muscles. The ab muscles and the muscles that run all the way around the back are called “core” muscles, because they are the core muscles used to maintain posture. Therefore, they are very important muscles to work and work hard. Since core muscles are endurance muscles (they are used to working all the time), you can punish them quite a bit!
This is a great exercise that you can do at home or even in the privacy of your work space. So, why did I choose the crunch over a regular sit-up? At a certain point when you flex upwards, you stop working your abs and start working your hip flexors. Do you want strong hip muscles or strong abs? That’s what I thought!
To start, lay on your back with your knees flexed and your feet on the floor. Put your hands either behind your head, at the side of your head, or crossed across your chest. Keeping your midsection tight, slowly lift your shoulders off the floor and toward your knees. Once you get up to a point when your shoulders are off the floor, slowly lower yourself back to the floor. That’s one rep. Pretty easy, right?
Things to remember are: 1) do not use your hands to lift your head as you can strain your neck muscles, 2) keep your lower back plastered to the floor – your upper back will curl upwards, but pretend like there is a string pulling your lower spine toward the floor and keep your spine glued to the floor, and 3) squeeze your abs at the top of the exercise.
There are all kinds of variations of the crunch exercise, but I’ll only give you two today. One variation is that I like to put my feet up on a bench or a couch or a chair. That way, it takes the hip flexors completely out of the exercise and you focus solely on your abs. Another variation is to do this exercise on a big exercise ball or even a Bosu ball. Doing this exercise on a ball is much more difficult because you can lean back farther than you would if you were laying flat on the floor. Also, when you are doing the exercise on a movable ball, you have to work more core muscles than you would if you were doing this exercise on the floor because you have to work extra hard to stabilize yourself on the ball.
As for sets and reps for this exercise… do as many as you can! There was a world-reknown bodybuilder named Serge Nubret who was known for his beautiful lines and symmetry, his massive chest, tiny waist and fantastic abs. He came in second against Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1975 Mr. Olympia contest, but many thought he should have won (that includes me!). Unfortunately, he died in 2011, but before he passed, I talked to him online (he lived in France), and he told me that he could still do 1,000 crunches in a single session even though he was in his late 60’s! Personally, I never reached my goal of 1,000 crunches, but I did get up to 540 before I left bodybuilding. As I mentioned earlier, the abdominal muscles are endurance muscles so they can do a lot of work. So, start out small and set yourself a high goal.
If you want to watch a video of this exercise, click here. Bodybuilding.com has a lot of great exercise videos.
Until next time, remember that… there are no excuses when it comes to your health!