Of course, strength training is the best activity for developing your abdominal muscles, so that you have something to show in your leaner midsection. Although some people have more muscle building potential than others, the following strength exercises best address the major midsection muscles.
- Machine Abdominal Curl: Performed properly, this exercise effectively isolates the front abdominal muscle (rectus abdominis), and permits a progressive increase in resistance to maximize strength development.
- Machine Rotary Torso: This exercise targets the oblique muscles on both sides of the midsection. Rotating your torso to the right uses the right internal and left external oblique muscles, and rotating your torso to the left uses the left internal and right external oblique muscles. The rectus abdominis muscle is also involved in both movements, making this an excellent exercise for overall midsection conditioning.
If you do not have access to resistance machines, I recommend a combination of bodyweight exercises performed with as little rest as possible between segments.
As your midsection muscles become better conditioned, you may increase the exercise difficulty by moving more slowly, adding repetitions, or both. I recommend performing high-effort abdominal exercises on an every-other-day basis, as the muscle building process takes place during the recovery period between training sessions.
- Basic Trunk Curl: This is the standard abdominal exercise, and it works very well when performed in a slow and controlled manner. Place your hands loosely behind your head to maintain a neutral neck position, and slowly curl your upper back off the floor until your abdominal muscles are fully contracted. Each repetition should be completed in about six seconds (three seconds up and three seconds down), so that 10 reps require about one minute of continuous abdominal work.
- Reverse Trunk Curl: This more difficult movement is performed by keeping your upper back on the floor, bending your knees with your feet in the air, and slowly pressing your lower back into the floor. Like the basic trunk curl, 10 properly performed repetitions should take about 60 seconds for completion.
- Push-Pull: This is the most demanding exercise in the sequence, and involves the rectus abdominis, internal obliques, external obliques, and hip flexor muscles. Begin by doing a basic trunk curl and remaining in the top position. Lift both knees so that both feet are off the floor. Bring your left knee backwards and try to touch it with your right elbow as you extend your right leg forward. Reverse this procedure by bringing your right knee backward and trying to touch it with your left elbow as you extend your left leg forward. Alternate this push-pull, trunk twisting action at a slow movement speed for about one minute.
For best results, consider a combination of sensible diet, regular aerobic activity, major muscle group strength training, and specific abdominal exercises. While there is no guarantee that you will sculpt a spectacular six-pack, you should develop a slimmer and stronger midsection, as well as a high level of overall fitness and improved physical appearance.
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South
Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA., and author of several fitness books
including the new releases, Building Strength and Stamina and Strength
Training Past 50.