Sunday, June 20, 2010

Summer Series: Abs Like Whoa!

It’s still summer! Yes, we can’t all have packs that you can literally count, but we can work to get some abs to show off our bellies on the beach this summer. Mostly, when we speak about abdominal exercises, we envision the regular crunches or sit-ups. But in my experience, these can get boring pretty fast, and can also put a lot of strain on your lower back and neck. So I thought it would be fun to talk about some of the non-traditional crunches that don’t necessarily involve our fingers entwined at the back of our heads or our elbows taped to the sides of our ears. There are so many abs exercises, so it was pretty hard to narrow it down to a few of the best ones.

Abdominal hip lifts or raises: This exercise is great because it works both the front and sides of your abdominal when done right. It’s pretty easy just as the name implies, but it’s also easy to make some mistakes with the posture here. So how does it go?

  • Lie flat with your back on the floor and your eyes looking up to the ceiling. I specify the part about the eyes because when you have your eyes to the ceiling, you probably won’t unconsciously lift your head off the floor.
  • Lift your legs up while keeping your butt on the floor. Your legs should be straight up to the ceiling so the bottom of your foot is facing the ceiling.
  • Put your palms on the floor on either side of your body for balance.
  • While keeping your knees and ankles together, lift your hips off the floor (only your hips; not your head, and not your palms). Make sure you are using your stomach muscles here so don’t bend your legs towards your body because that works your lower back more than your abs. Again, try to lift only your hips off the floor while keeping your legs in their original position.
  • Bring your hips back down to the floor and repeat. I found this great picture of how it looks at the Alaska Stars website.
Plank: The plank is also as simple an exercise as any, but here, posture also matters very much. So pay special attention to holding your butt and stomach muscles tight. It does not involve motion so it can be pretty hard to focus and maintain this position for an extended period. Here’s how it works:

  • Assume the upper push-up position, with only your palms and toes on the floor.
  • Transitioning one arm at a time, move your body to rest on your forearms (part of the arm from your elbows to your wrist). Most people prefer to clench their fists in this position.
  • Try to keep your body as parallel to the ground as possible. This is where you need to tighten your stomach and butt muscles to prevent your butt sticking out or an extra curve in your lower back.
  • Look down to the ground. This helps to maintain the position because if you look up, you could wreck your posture.
  • Just hold this position for as long as you can. I like to do about 20 second holds. Hold for a while, break, and then repeat. Another good picture showing this exercise can be found at the Abs Like Stone website.
Belly Blaster: This is a variation of the plank. Here, rather than maintain the plank position, we turn it into a motion exercise.

  • Assume plank position.
  • Tighten your stomach muscles, and lift your butt up. As you lift up your butt, don’t let your stomach sag forward.
  • Come back down to the plank.
  • Repeat as many times as you can. Here is a picture showing a great belly blaster from Fit Yummy Mummy. I know, the name of the website was what got me too.
Side plank: This one is best done in front of a mirror because it’s a little difficult to feel if your body is straight or not.

  • Assume the plank position above.
  • Using only one of your arms, lift your other arm and your body off the floor, and let your body face the opposite side of the room resting only on one of your forearms, and the side of one of your feet. For example, if you are resting on your right forearm, your body should be facing the left side of the room. Only your right forearm and the right side of your right foot should be on the floor.
  • Make sure your body is in a straight line from your head to your feet.
  • You can put your other palm on your waist so it doesn’t get in the way.
  • Release the fist of the forearm on the ground so the palms are facing the floor. Turn the forearm on the ground so that the fingertips are facing the same direction as your body (which would be the left side in our example).
  • Repeat on the other arm.
  • Make sure your body does not sag in this exercise so that you get the most out of it. Your hips should not be heading towards the ground, and your stomach and butt muscles should be tight. Looking forward also helps to maintain this position. Click the website name below for a picture showing a good side plank from the Abs Like Stone website.
V sit: This position is also relatively easy to describe, but it is something you have to build on because most people don’t have the necessary core strength to hold this position for long periods when just beginning an exercise program. However, it is a great strength exercise for the stomach muscles.

  • Lie flat on the floor on your back with your arms at your sides.
  • Lift up your legs so they are around a 45 degree angle to the floor.
  • Slowly lift your shoulders and extend your arms so your body is in a ‘V’ shape with your arms extended forward parallel to the floor.
  • If you cannot keep your legs straight in this position, you can bend your knees, but make sure your feet stay off the ground.
  • Hold the position and repeat like we did with the plank.
  • Here’s an example of the position from Vibra Body, and here’s a variation with bent knees from Hamilton Spectator.
Well, there you go. If you didn’t know you could get abs without crunches, I hope that has helped to provide you with some useful information. But as I always say, remember that you cannot lose fat in your stomach with strength training alone. You need the three steps: cardio, weight training, and stretching. And you also need to maintain a healthy diet.

Disclaimer: I have to mention though that any exercise advice given here is just that: Advice. I am not a personal trainer or trained fitness instructor, and so I simply give suggestions from my experience. If you are uncomfortable with any advice given here, please seek a second opinion.


  1. Any tips on how to convince/coerce a lazy bum to work out?

  2. Hey Miss fab. Thanks for reading :)
    I would say the best way is to start slow. Do something active that you actually like. Like if you like to swim, do it as a fun activity. Then maybe incorporate something active into your fun daily routines. Like you could do crunches while you watch your favorite TV show, or schedule half an hour a day to just dance to your favorite tunes.
    I believe that once you start, you'll find yourself slowly wanting to do more.

  3. Wohoooo! I did try to incorporate the Side plank into my workout schedule, which I must admit is much easier to stick to. Thanks to eightsandweights! After reading this article I realised I wasn't doing the side plank the right way.
    Thank u!

    A few more sleeps and I’ll have Abs like WHOA! LOL

  4. I just read this and realized I've been doing the abdominal hip lifts wrong :( All that wasted time and effort!
    At least I know how to do it right now. Thanks :)


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