March 17, 2013

Abs The Right Way

In fitness (as in life) it seems what we first learn stays with us as the correct or only way to do something.  {Thus my continued frustration at those who insist on stretching before a workout (see post}This is particularly true when it comes to abdominal exercises.  High-risk exercises such as full sit-ups remain common, and even the current darlings of the fitness world, stabilization exercises, are often done with incorrect form.
Stabilization exercises are meant to strengthen the abs in the way we use them.  They can be done standing (see post or lying down.  A common version that is great for the lower back is the dead bug. 
 You perform this by lying on your back and bringing your arms and legs in the air.  Keep your spine neutral, and move one arm overhead towards the floor, and the opposite leg towards the ground.  The key to this is maintaining a neutral spine, yet many persist in believing that the lower back should be pressed into the ground.  Flattening, or pressing the back into the ground involves spinal flexion, which causes stress on the spine, making the exercise less effective.  The best way to find your neutral spine is to lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.  Arch your lower back off the ground, and then press it into the ground.  Do this a few times, and then find the middle of these two positions.  This is your neutral spine.
 It is still common to hear instructors tell people to press their backs into the floor, but most fitness experts now believe that to be more harmful than helpful. We want to counteract the effects of too much spinal flexion (all that sitting and leaning forward), not to add to it.  Train your abs with a neutral spine, and you will see and feel the difference.

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