Last week, we divided people into categories and realized that a very small percentage of the population possesses all the characteristics required for six, ravioli-shaped abdominal muscles. Just to be clear, the photos featured in last week's column were not of me -- I am on the outside looking in.
While fit, a fitness model I am not, and that's OK -- it only motivates me more. I am aware that my stomach will never look like Brad Pitt's in a movie where he plays a "Pikey-boxer" (big-time man-crush), but the beautiful thing about goals of vanity is that they should be sort of unattainable, as long as they are marked by more realistic, functional goals along the way. So whether or not you are an outlier, strive for perfection.
While one of the most popular questions asked of a personal trainer is "How do I get abs?" a close second is "What is your single favourite exercise?" It's even a question posed between trainers, as was the case two years ago while attending a presentation by Nick Tuminello, a well-known trainer in the States. After his final lecture, I approached him and asked a few questions, and in a roundabout way, we got to talking about the best core exercises.
I stated my case for planks or bridges and the hundreds of progressions of these exercises -- a solid argument. He countered with an interesting combination of Swiss (stability) ball pikes and rollouts, and he had some specific research to back it up. I thanked him, went home and got to work checking his sources and poring over YouTube videos of different ab exercises, including some of his.
After two years of research-based practise, I feel as though I can substantiate the claim made by Nick and his cited studies. The Swiss ball pike and rollout -- and their modifications -- are great core exercises when performed properly and at your appropriate level. In studies, they create the greatest amount of rectus abdominus and internal/external oblique EMG activation when compared to body-weight crunch/sit-up exercises. When put into practice in the real world, I have found the same. Effectively, these two Swiss ball exercises are able to make those muscles work the hardest. Fantastic! But that's not even the best part: When done properly, these exercises also have the lowest amount of force placed on the spine and small muscles surrounding it, as well as the least EMG activity in your hip flexors. (EMG, or electromyography, is the electrical activity measured in each muscle.)
These are the two most limiting factors in core, and more specifically rectus abdominus, training: 1) When you flex your spine, you place an inordinate amount of shear forces on it and its discs, risking injury. 2) When you flex your spine, you instinctively use your hip flexors to help you with the movement and cause less rectus abdominus activation -- which limits your six-pack-ability. When done correctly, these exercises limit risk of injury and maximize abdominal activation -- your golden ticket!
As a trainer, it's reassuring to know there is an exercise out there that can be the safest AND most effective for you to perform, because it is often not the case. That being said, always be careful when adding new exercises to your routine -- there are always many progressions and regressions of an exercise, so ensure you're using one appropriate for your fitness level. Watch the accompanying online video for several options and training tips. (For video, go to winnipegfreepress.com or use your Blippar app.)
Abs -- we all want them, but what are we willing to sacrifice to get them? Do we have the genetics required, the will required and the patience required to say to ourselves, "My ultimate goal in life is to be shredded?" Eat clean, train hard, and you'll experience benefits far beyond your belly.
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Email firstname.lastname@example.org and you may be featured in a future article. Tim Shantz is a certified athletic therapist and trainer.