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How to do abdominal exercises properly

As we tend to store excess fat in the tummy area, it’s one of the hardest places on your body to tone up. Abdominal exercises are part of almost everyone’s fitness routine, but they are often done poorly which can result in injury. Read on to learn how you can train your abs more effectively and safely:

Abdominal exercises should be felt in your belly
If you’re feeling ab exercises anywhere other than your stomach (such as in your neck or lower back), then your technique is likely to be incorrect.  The reason you will be feeling it in another area is because that part of your body is taking the strain of the exercise rather than your abdominals. It’s important to troubleshoot your form to keep yourself injury-free and also to make sure you’re actually gaining benefit from doing the exercise in the first place!

Tips to correct ab exercise technique

Remember A-B-C:

  • Alignment – Try to keep your neck in a neutral position (i.e. the same position your head would be in if you were standing normally) and don’t strain it. Keep your chin off your chest.
  • Breathing – Breathe out as you do the most difficult part of the exercise. For crunches, this means breathe out as you crunch up, breathe in as you unfold. If you get into this pattern you should be able to breathe comfortably.
  • Core - Turn on your core muscles – draw your belly button back in toward your spine (think of tensing up your belly and creating a vacuum/sandwich effect in your stomach).

You can practice core activation on its own: Lie flat on your back and bring your heels up to your butt. Place your hands on your stomach just above your hips and tense your belly – if you poke yourself in the stomach where they are resting, it should feel firm if the muscle underneath is tight. See if you can maintain this feeling for 10 deep breaths in and out. Practice this every day and it will become second nature!

Ab exercises still leading to a sore neck or lower back?

We know it sounds odd, but if you’re doing crunches, try pushing your tongue into the roof of your mouth, this can sometimes help take the strain out of your neck. If you have hands behind your head, try just putting two fingers behind each ear – this will prevent you from pulling your head forward as you come up. If your head is too heavy to be supported by just your fingers, clasp hands behind neck loosely but don’t pull on it.

You could also try the next step down for the exercise you’re doing and aim for smaller movements (i.e. ‘pulse’ crunches instead of full crunches). You can get great results without coming all the way up as long as you are feeling it in the right place! Focus on keeping your movements slow and controlled.

It may also be an indication that you’re doing too many and your abs are tired. Try concentrating on perfect form and do three sets of 12-15 repetitions.

A friendly reminder about belly fat…

Don’t forget that abdominal exercises don’t burn off belly fat, they just tone up the muscles that lie underneath. Overdoing crunches without doing a balance of other exercises could cause your posture to pull forward or may even make your tummy increase in size if the muscles are getting bigger but the belly fat’s not budging!

If you want to lose weight around your stomach area, the best way to address it is by doing some cardio exercise such as running, cycling or swimming.

Photo / FreeDigitalPhotos.net – Stuart Miles

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