Abdominal Exercise- Fact & Fiction

If you watch TV on a weekend morning you can be introduced to hundreds of abdominal exercise devices.  You go to a health club and see a slew of abdominal exercises undertaken.  Unbeknown to most who fall victim or waste their time, 90% or more of these exercise methods are nothing short of garbage. 


If you want to get a better understanding of how to effectively exercise your midsection, listen up.  There are three very basic "golden rules" of resistance exercise that differentiate the good exercises from the bad. 

1.        When muscles contract they shorten.  This means that the tendons attaching the muscles to the bones actually move toward one another.

2.        If a muscle contracts but shortens only slightly or not at all, the exercise becomes less productive.

3.        The best exercises incorporate as large a range of motion as possible so the muscle(s) work more, each repetition.

Taking a look at an anatomy book, you will see that the abdominal muscles are connected to various attachments at the ribs and pelvis.  This means that these attachment areas must move toward each other during abdominal exercise.  In practical terms, this means that any abominal exercise you perform needs to round out your lower and middle spine.  And although the same nerves supply the lower and upper abs, you can place more stress on either by performing different exercises.  Keep in mind that since your spine does not flex more than 40-degrees, the movement produced by contracting your abdominal muscles is quite limited.

Because your abdominal muscles are slow-twitch in nature (meaning they possess large blood flow and are endurance-oriented) they must be trained accordingly.  And that is with a slightly higher volume (more repetitions) than most other skeletal muscles and a slow speed of movement.

The order you exercise your midsection muscles is also important.  Since your upper abs are worked to a lesser degree when you train your lower abs, it is important to train your lower abs first.  This should be followed by oblique exercises where your upper abs are also worked some.  And finally, you train your upper abs.

What most resistance-training individuals do not realize or experience, is that you must fatigue these muscles for optimal toning and strengthening.  How many people do you know feel the same after training their abs as they do after squatting.  In my nearly 20 years of dealing with exercise myths and truths, I have seen very few.  Most ab-conscious exercisers simply do not work hard enough and more often than not, perform 50, 60 even 100 reps per set.  If you do this, you might consider taking a nap, it will be just as good!

You should not be able to perform more than 20 repetitions in any abdominal exercise.  If you can, you have well-prepared for a cesarean section and that’s about it.  Remember, the resistance must be great enough to produce adaptations in the muscles.  This translates into strong, toned abs.

One other reminder:  If you don’t follow a low-fat diet, you can expect to hide those toned abs under layers of fat.

Good luck with your training!



These resources are for the purpose of personal trainer growth and development through Continuing Education which advances the knowledge of fitness professionals. This article is written for NFPT Certified Personal Trainers to receive Continuing Education Credit (CEC). Please contact NFPT at 800.729.6378 or [email protected] with questions or for more information.