What do most women do to work their stomach muscles? That's right -- sit-ups and crunches. But look around your gym and count how many women have flat, defined stomachs. It's probably not many. This is because sit-ups and crunches are generally very ineffective at burning fat. The idea that you can reduce fat from a specific area by training is false. To target your stomach you need a weightlifting routine that works your whole body.
Dangers of Crunches and Sit-Ups
Crunchers beware -- the two most common ab exercises aren't doing anything for your stomach and could be wrecking your back. Spinal flexion movements like crunches and sit-ups place a tremendous amount of strain on your spine and put you at risk of a disc herniation if performed repeatedly, claims Dr Stuart McGill, professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo. While these may be the two go-to beginner stomach exercises, you should avoid them.
Beginner Weighted Stomach Exercises
With crunches and sit ups on the black list, there are still plenty of exercises you can keep in your repertoire. McGill recommends the curl up instead -- performed like a crunch but with your knees bent and with just a small range of motion, really focusing on squeezing your stomach muscles. To turn these into a weighted exercise, hold a light dumbbell directly above your head, grab a medicine ball, or do them in front of a cable machine with the handles held close into your chest. Side bends are a highly effective move for your obliques -- the muscles at the side of your stomach. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in one arm and bend sideways as low as you can, then use your stomach muscles to pull you back up.
Weightlifting for the Stomach
Here's the big revelation -- all free-weight moves work your stomach. You may not think it, but squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, dumbbell rows and any other standing moves you can think of all hit your abs hard. Training with free weights requires a huge amount of core stabilization, writes trainer Cassandra Forsythe in "The New Rules of Lifting for Women." Even simple exercises are far better for your stomach muscles than machine weights or exercises performed sitting down.
Train your whole body three times per week and make the basic exercises like squats, lunges, presses and rows the foundation of your routine. Pick four exercises per session and perform three sets of eight to 12 on each. After this, hit your stomach directly. If you've worked hard on your first exercises, you're abs should be fatigued already, so a few sets of the aforementioned weighted curl ups and side bends, along with Russian twists or weighted hanging leg raises will be ample to get you a strong, hard stomach.
- ExRx: Fat Loss & Weight Training Myths
- University of Waterloo: Enhancing Low Back Health Through Stabilization Exercise
- "The New Rules of Lifting for Women": Cassandra Forsythe and Lou Schuler: December 2008
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.