You might not want to admit it, but you are getting soft. You have been presented with life and it has come handed to you with decadent food and drinks. Sometimes the lure of fast living and fast food has to be stopped though. Look down and see the results of it; the spare tire, muffin-top, squishy middle – that is you. Blame it on your kids, job or whatever you want, but in order to do something about it, you have to fight back. The tools we offer today are the plank and crunches.
The plank – it sounds so ominous. In actuality, it is a fairly simple and very effective abdominal exercise though. Are you ready? Let’s dive right in.
Lie on the floor face down. Don’t get comfortable, as you are not going to stay there. Bend your elbows at a 90 degree angle underneath your torso. You want your elbows to be directly underneath your shoulders. Keep your legs straight out behind you in a push-up position. Your weight is now resting on your forearms. Now hold this position for as long as you can, maintaining a flat back. That is the plank exercise!
While you are holding the plank position, think about the benefits of this exercise. The plank works all of the muscles of the core, as well as the shoulders, arms, back and glutes. While it looks fairly easy, it is surprisingly difficult. Don’t get discouraged if you can only hold the position for a few seconds at first. Also, if this is too much at first, start with your knees bent on the floor. You will be able to get the rest of yourself up off the floor soon enough. Work your way up from 10 seconds and strive to hold the position for up to two minutes. The key is to maintain that flat back and not let your hips and back sag.
If you want to take this exercise further, try lifting one leg, and then the other while you hold the position. Alternately, you can try to lift one hand and then the other, but make sure that you keep the rest of your body stable to maximize the effects of your hold. Another variant you can try is the side-lying plank, where you lie on your side instead of facing the floor. Perform this by resting on your right elbow, keeping your other arm on your left side. Once you are more experienced, you can even attempt to prop yourself up on your side using just your hand for support.
Now that you have mastered the plank, let’s move on to the dreaded crunch. Considering it is one of the most common abdominal exercises, you would think it is also one of the easiest. Surprisingly though, many people do it incorrectly and leave themselves open to injury. So let’s look at our form, before we do any damage ourselves.
The first step is to lie on your back on the floor. Keep your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. You can either rest your hands behind or beside your head, or cross them across your chest. What you want to avoid though, is using your hands or neck to pull yourself up. This will cause strain to your neck muscles, and is not the desired effect.
Once you are lying supine, curl your shoulders upwards. Do this by pushing your lower back into the floor and pulling in your belly button. Lift until your shoulders are just off the floor. Make sure you do not raise into a full sit-up though, as this will work your hip flexors. Crunches are all about the abs, and you want to focus and isolate there. Make sure that you keep your neck and head in line with your spine. Curling your chin in towards your chest leaves you open to neck injuries. Lower yourself back to the floor and repeat.
While you are doing your crunches, make sure that you maintain control. Performing crunches in a slow and controlled movement intensifies the workout. If you want to add a little more difficulty, you can raise your feet towards the ceiling and lift your chest upwards. Another alternative is placing your feet on a step or bringing back your exercise ball to further work those abdominals.
And of course, don’t forget to breathe. While you might forget and hold your breath from the intensity of the workout, know that controlled breathing also helps to work the abdominal muscles. In fact, if you hold the position while you are raised, and breathe in and out for a few times, you will help to tighten those ab muscles. Crunches are all about the abdominal workout, and with practice and repetition, you will feel great and see the results before you know it.