The Do’s & Don’ts of Ab Training for Women

Yesterday, I attending a mini quarterly fitness training for my group exercise education and credentials. I absolutely love taking these trainings because I am able to see new techniques and get new ideas from the master trainers as well as the fellow trainees.

It was an interesting thing though. I took 2, hour long master classes and they were hard core, but I was still able to do more once they were done. This, of course, due to the fact that I’ve been an avid exerciser for umpteen years and my body can just do more than when I began.

But then, I took a HIIT cycle class which is sweetly referred to as “Sprint”. Sounds harmless enough, right?

WRONG!! It was 30 minutes of freaking HELL on stationary wheels!!! 😦

One. Thirty. Minute. Class.

My body wouldn’t stop shaking. I was worn out and had to find my breath and focus throughout the workout. This is HIIT. This is AWESOMENESS!!!!!!

Why am I sharing this when today’s topic is clearly related to ab training? Because, my dear, you ALREADY have amazing abs! You just have some gorgeous fat covering your awesome abs. So what do we do to expose those gorgeous midsections? I’m here to help!

Before we get to some focused ab exercises to follow – and to avoid; let’s share why HIIT Training is the secret to amazing abs. 

  • Don’t have time to spend on working out; either at home or the gym? No problem with HIIT! It’s the ideal workout for busy schedules. You can squeeze in a quick workout just before you jump into the shower in the morning, or during your lunch break or even after you get the kids to bed at night. Seriously, there are NO excuses with time when it comes to HIIT workouts. Research has shown that you can achieve more progress in just 15 minutes of HIIT workouts (done 3X a week) than jogging on the treadmill for an hour. (boring!)  Want more good research info? According to a study presented in 2011 at the American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting, just 2 weeks of high intensity intervals improves your aerobic capacity as much as 6-8 weeks of endurance training. Whaaaat?????
  • You’ll not only have better results during your HIIT workout, you’ll also be burning more calories after your workout for 24-48 hours! This is commonly referred to as “EPOC”; or exercise post oxygen consumption. (you had me at burning more calories at rest, right?)
  • You’ll build a healthier heart! Let’s be honest, most of us aren’t used to pushing into the anaerobic (or “without oxygen”) zone. This is pretty much how you feel when you can’t breathe and you feel like your heart is trying to jump out of your chest. But when we are consistent and do our very best every sweat session, we receive extreme results. One study done in 2006 found that after 8 weeks of doing HIIT workouts, the subjects could bicycle twice as long as they could before the study, while maintaining the same pace. See? Heart = Happy! ❤
  • It’s also pretty awesome because you don’t even need equipment to get these results! You can choose running, biking, jump roping, and rowing when doing HIIT workouts but the greatest thing is that you don’t need any equipment to get it done! High knees, fast feet, or anything plyometric like jumping lunges work just as well to get your heart rate up. Fast. In fact, some equipment, like dumbbells can make HIIT less effective because of the fact that you aren’t focusing primarily on getting the heart rate up…you tend to split that with the weight training aspect.
  • Weight and fat loss “secret”! Anyone who has been on a diet knows that it’s hard to not lose muscle mass along with fat. While steady state cardio seems to encourage muscle loss, studies show that both weight training and HIIT workouts allow dieters to preserve their hard-earned muscles while ensuring most of the weight lost comes from fat stores. Win/win!
  • Your metabolism becomes more efficient at rest (what we talked about above). In addition to increased fat burning and more muscle preserved, HIIT stimulates production of your human growth hormone (HGH) by up to 450 percent during the 24 hours after you finish your workout. This is great news since HGH is not only responsible for increased caloric burn but also slows down the aging process, making you younger both inside and out!
  • Get sexier leg definition and strength! The largest muscle group in your body is seriously taxed during HIIT training and the effects are to be proud of! Who doesn’t want lean, sexier legs as you’re losing body fat all over and shedding those extra pounds?
  • You can do it anywhere so no more excuses on where to workout anymore either. You can workout at home, the gym, outside, in a lobby, in your hallway…anywhere!!! Since it’s such a simple concept—go at maximum effort for a short period of time followed by a recovery period and repeat—you can adapt it to whatever time and space constraints you have.
  • Beat the boredom workout blues! I don’t know if you’re like me but I HAAATE to be bored!! If I feel bored in my workouts, my mind starts to wander and guess what happens to the intensity of my workout? It suffers because my mind is thinking of things other than what I’m doing at the moment and this seriously messes with our results! Solution? HIIT workouts! This is not a workout you can do while reading a magazine or chatting with your friend. Because it’s so short, you will be working hard the whole time. The trade-off is this format offers seasoned exercisers a new challenge and new exercisers a quick way to see results. You may be in pain, you may be sucking wind, but you definitely won’t be bored!

Now back to our main topic; AB workout do’s and don’ts! 

If you’re like most women, we tend to wish for abs and want for abs so badly that we hope that our random sit-ups, crunches and plank challenges will do the trick. But let me share how you can get better results and stay away from moves that will actually make you look thicker around the middle! (no good!) Following these tips (as well as adding HIIT training to your routines) will help you get those rock hard abs – or at least tighter abs if you prefer. Bikini and tank top season is always just around the corner!

Ab exercises you should NEVER do! 

I’ll go out on a limb and guess that although you want tighter, leaner abs, you also don’t want a thicker waist.

Am I right? I knew it!! 😀

Then you’ll definitely want to stay away from weighted side bends.

Stay away from these!

 

The problem with this exercise is that it directly targets the oblique muscles with large amounts of resistance. The reason this is a “negative” exercise for lean abs, let’s talk about how the abs and obliques function. The obliques are two different muscle groups that originate from the lateral (aka: side) part of your lower ribs and insert into the front portion of your iliac crest. The obliques wrap around your sides and help you turn and bend your torso which helps your spine stability.

 

Normally, the obliques are visible only when you start getting rid of body fat layers. But when you target these muscles with extra resistance (such as dumbbells and weights) it makes them look bigger. This is because the obliques are positioned along the sides of your torso, and the effect is to actually thicken your waist. I don’t think this was your focus if you’ve done this move before, right?

It’s important to mention that the weighted side bend isn’t a bad exercise; in fact, many people like it because it strengthens your core, and some lifters actually want to increase the size of their waist. But if you’re looking for that hourglass figure, you’re better off skipping this move on ab day.

Exercises to help tighten your midsection

  • Add resistance to your main ab muscles (such as the rectus abdominis or “six pack muscles”) themselves. You can also still target your obliques (in fact, you’ll want to hit all the areas) but eliminate the added weight in this area and stick to higher reps instead. Want to start with some great moves today?  Here are some of the best to get started with:

 

1. Lying Leg Raise                                             

2. Decline sit ups with twist (no weights) 

 

3. Hanging Leg Raise                                       

 

 

4. Stir the Pot                                                       

 

How Often Should You Work Your Abs?

If you regularly do compound movements like lunges, squats, and deadlifts, you’re most of the way there. These exercises involve a lot of core work and stabilization so you’re getting a good ab workout without doing any specific “ab /core” exercises. But if you’re looking for better (and faster results), consider adding a HIIT workout 1-2 times per week and 1-2 of these ab moves above about 2-3 days per week. Perform 3-5 sets of each exercise for at least 10-20 reps per move. Rest 30-60 seconds between sets.

There’s no reason that you need to spend a full day on “core work” this way. If you start now by working these tips into your regular program (and avoiding those side bends), you’ll have a more toned core and your body will be summer ready all year long!

Let me know if you have any questions or comments and I’d love to get you into a transformation challenge if you’re up to it! Shoot me an email and let’s chat! www.kathyprofitness@gmail.com