by Andrew Pacholyk MS L.Ac ~
The proper sit up can be easy and very effective in strengthening your abdominal core.
The Abdominals are composed of several muscles: the Rectus Abdominus, Transverse Abdominus, and the External and Internal Obliques. The Abdominal muscles sit on the front and sides of the lower half of the torso, originating along the rib cage and attaching along the pelvis. The Rectus Abdominus flex the spine (bringing the rib cage closer to the pelvis). This is seen in the abdominal crunching movement. The Transverse Abdominus acts as a natural weight belt, keeping your insides in. This muscle is essential for trunk stability. The Internal and External Obliques work to rotate the torso and stabilize the abdomen.
Exercises that work the abdominals include abdominal crunches, side crunches, leg raises, abdominal sit-ups, cable crunches, hanging leg raises, side bends, ab machine crunches, Swiss ball crunches and decline board sit-ups.
The idea is to do a set of exercises in succession in order to exhaust the muscle groups to muscle failure, meaning to the point were the muscles are worked where you cannot do another rep.
Do not stop between sets. Connect all the sets together. Stopping between sets allows the muscles to recuperate and this takes twice as long to reach your goal of muscle failure.
Overkill is often the end results of those who are not sure what they are doing. Increase the intensity, decrease your repetitions. By doing half the amount of sit ups you do now, only more intensely, will produce a more significant result. Try going up slow and down even slower!
Your number one priority is to protect your back, neck and spine from over twisting, strains and pain. There should be no pain, when doing sit ups any where else in your body. In fact, the word “pain” is not appropriate. When doing sit ups, you should feel an exhaustion in the muscle groups of the abdomen or “burning sensation”. You are working the muscle group and there should be a sense of this, but this should not be considered pain.
Everyone’s body is different. You have to listen to your body. What exercise is appropriate for one person, may not be for another.
You want to consider working the three major muscle groups when doing abdominal work; lower abs, upper abs and obliques.
Lay on the floor.
Place your finger tips behind the back of the head (not the neck). Lightly touch the finger tips to frame the occiput or little bone that protrudes from the back of the skull. Do not lace the fingers. Do not carry the weight of your head in your hands. You should be able to do a sit up, without your hands touch your head. The work in raising and lowering the abdominals should come from your center core of muscles.
Imagine a tennis ball ALWAYS under your neck. There should always be space between your chin and your chest. When raising up for a sit up, imagine the chin open and a straight line from the back of the spine to the top of the head lifting you up as if you were laying on a board. One line. Always keep your elbows back in the same line as your ears. Take a moment to picture this in your mind.
Pull the abdomen to the floor. Engage the abdomen from your center each time you sit up. You do not have to sit up very far. Just enough to really feel the abdomen engaging in the lift.
Exhale on the crunch, slowly. Inhale as you move back down, twice as slow. This is called working the “negatives”. This is were the extra “burn” comes from and ultimately your best work.
Always keep the lower back on the floor. This will always guarantee the protection of the lower back and spine.
A basic crunch is ultimately working the entire abdomen, your center core, as well as your upper abdomen.
The lower abs, which seems to be the hardest for most people and often the most neglected (as you can tell when you are walking down the street and see others around you) is essentially as easy as the other areas to work.
Simply place your two fists under the back of your buttocks, on the floor. Keep the lower back securely on the floor at all times. Raise your knees to your upper abdomen, keeping them as close to your body as possible. You only have to slightly raise your tailbone off the floor to benefit from the work. But, hold the lift for two or three seconds before you lower your tailbone back to the floor. The movement should be very small. Keep your knees together and in place. Do not allow your legs to move all over the place. Remember, tight and compact. Keep it small.
Obliques should be done by crossing the body over the midline, the center of your body. Bend your knees and place them flat on the floor. Lightly touch the finger tips to frame the occiput. A variation of this is to place one hand on the back of the head while the other hand slides along the side of your body, palm up, as you do each sit up. Pull the abdomen to the floor. Engage the abdomen from your center each time you sit up, crossing the midline with your opposite arm and chin. You do not have to sit up very far. Just enough to really feel the abdomen engaging in the lift. Exhale on the crunch, slowly. Inhale as you move back down. Do all the oblique crunches on one side, then switch to the other side.
An effective goal is about 30-40 crunches in each position, without stopping in between.
After your sit ups, stretch the feet and hands in opposite directions on the floor as if you are trying to pull the abdomen apart.
You are on your way to a healthy, strong abdominal core.
Do not forget that no matter how many sit ups you do, you will never achieve those ripped abs if you do not complement your ab workout with cardiovascular exercise and a proper diet. Diet is just as much a part of fitness as exercise, and what you eat will affect every aspect of your workout. A proper diet also influences the results of you fitness plan, since it helps build muscle and decrease the percentage of fat in your overall body weight.