On the Internet you can find 1001 ABS trainings, but a very small number of them would actually inform you that crunches, bends, scissors and sit ups bring no results in terms of reduction of body fat. For example: a movie containing one exercise on abdominal muscles titled "how to lose belly fat in 1 week" has been viewed by over 12 million people. A slim girl presents a bizarre exercise, the description of the film talks about the loss of belly fat in one week! Oh, how wonderful!
Meanwhile, more and more people you can see on the streets have a waist girth firmly above the norm, what's worse, there are more and more morbidly obese people. If getting rid of fat from troublesome areas was possible within 7 days, each person would have a perfect figure. In fact, slimming down a fatty belly means months and months of heavy weight training and cardio - backed up by proper nutrition. Each kilogramme of fat stored in adipocytes has many thousands of calories. Within an hour of intense exercise (eg. jogging or weighlifting) you can count on burning of barely a few hundred calories, most of which will come from energy substrates other than fats (eg. carbohydrates). Additionally, you should take into account individual factors such as insulin resistance - poor glucose tolerance, which means fat deposited in critical areas (eg. "bellies"), the effect of estrogen (easily fat gaining "female areas") and cortisol influence (fat in the middle of the abdomen). Instead of running and working out with weights many people busily run the program: "Weider's 6Pack Training." Interestingly, the training system assigned to Weider is seen mostly on... foreign web pages, such as Polish one. At America's largest online bodybuilding web page there is no trace of the "best program on the ab". If you want to get rid of fat, change your way of eating. Improving the diet brings results even without conducting training. Speaking of exercise: making bends and tensions is not a good idea, because it burns fat from all over your body, not locally. To stimulate the metabolism spend more time on cardio training and interval training (eg. marching, running etc.).
The latest scientific research has shed a new light on the ABS training.
Training of core muscles is necessary to:
- Prevent injuries in athletes,
- Increase efficiency, functionality,
- Improve strength performance (abdomen plays a key role in most of the exercises performed on free weights such as squats, deadlifts, rowing, clean, jerk or shoulder press).
Unfortunately, popular programs like aerobic Weider's 6 or ABS contribute to... decrease in strength of the abdominal muscles and disruption of the ab muscles functioning: abdominal rectus, oblique and back extensor. Any form of imitation of endurance training (eg. bends without load, performed many minutes a day) is harmful for the functioning of the core muscles.
The more you train the abdomen, the worse you run, swim and lift weights. Chronic overtraining of stabilizing muscles ceases to fulfill its role during intense exercise.
How to strengthen and shape the abdominal muscles?
Contrary to popular beliefs, there is no need for any prolonged exercise (such as hundreds of situps, scissors or crunches of your abdomen). Just a regular strength training, including exercises such as barbell squats, the deadlift, clean and jerk, lunges, pull-ups, Bulgarian split squats, bench press, shoulder press, thrusters etc. will do. Important: polyarthritis exercises play their role right if they are performed without weightlifting belts. Usage of the belts increases intra-abdominal pressure and reduces the involvement... of core muscles. If you train 3-4 times a week, you can also use 1-2 times 2-3 sets of complementary exercises for abdominal muscles.
In a recent study published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" compared (by means of the EMG method) activation of trunk muscles during isolated and complex exercises. Isolated exercises involve only certain muscles of the trunk / back, eg. crunches: classical and oblique (rectus abdominis muscle, oblique and to a lesser extent rectifiers). Complex exercises involve the abdomen as well as the shoulders, buttocks and deeper layers of back muscles - examples: the plank, the moutain climber or the bird dog.
It turned out that polyarthritis exercises involve the abdomen and back muscles to a much greater extent the isolated exercises. An additional advantage is the simultaneous training of buttocks and deltoids which serve to maintain balance, stability. During the exercise called plank (maintaining a static position in forward support on your forearms, in another version the support is done on one hand, the other pulled ahead) abdominal rectus and oblique muscles were recruited by 27% stronger in comparison to the crunches (an exercise in isolation). Erector spinare muscles were involved 2-3 times more in complex exercises than they were in isolated ones. The biggest number of muscles were involved in the bird dog.
In this study, the most powerful exercises which involve core muscles - such as the deadlifts, squats and lunges, were not mentioned. The results of an experiment, published a few years back demonstrated that the deadlift already with the weight of 70% of maximum resulted in activation of 88% muscles around the spine. For the sake of comparison lifting body in back extension resulted in activation of only 58% of muscles, and in lunges: 46%. The researchers found that regular performance of complex exercises contributes to preventing pain in the lower part of the back.
To sum up: recommendations for training of abdominal muscles:
- To get rid of fat - follow a proper diet and perform interval and cardio training (2-4 times a week for 20-40 minutes). Abdominal muscles have no connection to the fat that is in these areas.
- Instead of isolation exercises (crunches), do complex ones: such as the plank or the windshield wiper - that is alternating movements of legs while hanging to imitate the wiper in the car, and so on. They engage the abdominal muscles in a much greater extent.
- Do not perform exercises on the abdominal muscles from TV shows (ie. Weider's 6, ABS, "8-minute ABS workout," etc.). They are detrimental to the stabilizing muscles and can lead to injury, for instance a spine injury.
- If you train with weights, swim or run (2-4 times a week), an additional abdominal muscle training (in many cases) is not required, and may even be harmful. People who regularly jog (eg. medium distances), after an intense training of their ab and back may not be able to run (exactly the same muscles hold upright posture: erector spinae, abdominal rectus.
Sources: 1. Tip 573: The Best Bulletproof Ab Exercises: Squats, Deads, Chins & Olympic Lifts Charles Poliquin. 2. Gottschall, j., et al. Integration Core Exercises Elicit Greater Muscle Activation Than Isolation Exercises. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2013. 27(3), 590—596. 3. Colado, J., Pablos, C., et al. The Progression of Paraspinal Muscle Recruitment Intensity in Localized and Global Strength Training Exercise is not Based on Instability Alone. Archives of Physical and Medical Rehabilitation. 2011. 92, 1875-1883.