Crunches

Many of us have weak abdominals and lower backs—two muscle groups that are important when performing any type of daily activity. Crunches strengthen and tone these muscles.

Positioning

Lie on your back on an exercise mat or carpeted surface with your feet planted firmly on the surface. Cross your arms over your chest.

The Move

Using the strength of your abdominal muscles, lift your upper torso off the floor toward your thighs. This movement should be very short. Don't attempt to actually touch your thighs, as this can overstress your lower back. Keep constant tension on your abdominal muscles throughout the exercise. With a controlled motion, return to the starting position, and repeat the exercise for the suggested number of repetitions.

Advanced Tips

There are two ways you can make this exercise more advanced. One is to use weights for extra firming action. Follow the instructions above, only hold a weight plate or light dumbbell in front of your chest for extra resistance as you perform the Crunch.

The other advanced exercise is to perform your Crunches on a stability ball. Using a ball forces your abdominals to work harder just to stabilize you atop the ball. Lie back on the stability ball so that it supports your lower back. Keep your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. As you do in the regular Crunch, cross your arms over your chest and slowly raise your shoulders to no more than a 45-degree angle from the horizontal. Hold, then lower slowly. Continue for the suggested number of repetitions. You can make this version even more challenging by moving your feet closer together.

Oblique Crunches

Here's an excellent waist trimmer that's a great addition to your abdominal work. It isolates the side-

waist muscle group called the obliques and when included as a part of abdominal exercises, ensures a total workout for the waist.

Positioning

Lie on your left side on an exercise mat or carpeted floor. Bend your knees and curl slightly at the hips. Clasp your hands behind your neck.

The Move

Raise yourself up slightly by lifting your upper torso off the floor, contracting your waist. Return to the starting position and continue the exercise for the suggested number of repetitions. Repeat the exercise on the other side of your body. Keep your core engaged throughout the entire exercise.

Advanced Tip

As you master this move, try to increase the number of repetitions you can do each time you exercise. Abdominal muscles benefit from numer ous repetitions.

_ Jim Germanakos's Exercise Tip_

Do not interlock your fingers while doing crunches, ft will strain your neck.

Bicycle Maneuver

This exercise is one of the best abdominal exercises science has to offer. The proof: A study conducted at the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University compared 13 different exercises that target the midsection, ranging from the Crunch to exercises that employed at-home and gym equipment. According to the findings, the top-ranked exercise was the Bicycle Maneuver, an exercise that has been around for a long time and is a staple of exercise classes everywhere. Compared to exercises like the Crunch (which is a great waist-firming move), the Bicycle Maneuver was 2V2 times more effective at working the obliques, and at least 50 percent better at strengthening the rectus abdominus, the main ab muscle that runs the length of your torso.

Positioning

Lie on your back on an exercise mat or carpeted surface. Keep your lower back pressed into the surface and flatten the arch of your lower back; place your fingers on the side of your head just behind your ears. Bend your knees so that your thighs are at about a 90-degree angle to the floor.

The Move

Simultaneously, lift your shoulders off the floor and bring your left knee to your right armpit, while straightening your right leg. Using a slow bicycle-pedaling motion, straighten your left leg, while bringing your right knee in toward your left armpit. Extend your legs out only as far as is comfortable for you, without arching your back. Continue alternating in this fashion for the suggested number of repetitions.

Advanced Tip

Unlike other muscles, you can work your abdominals every day. With the bicycle maneuver, try to work up to five or six sessions a week for a more advanced abdominal workout.

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