Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What's Behind Those Six-Pack Abs (Literally)?

Just wanted to share a fitness tidbit with you today.

So I'm in that weight training class that's mostly cardio, right? Well today we went through a practice run of the weight training fitness test. (Thank goodness we did the practice cardio fitness test first...my muscles are on the wimpy side when it comes to these "norms" that are expected of us!)

There are four tests for women: bench press (55lbs.), lat. pull (50lbs.), arm curls (25lbs.), and sit-ups (incline bench). For all of you who read that and thought, "Yeah, and?" I congratulate you on your physical prowess! For the rest of you out there groaning along with me, let me tell ya, I'm groaning the loudest right about now.

I did all but arm curls today. And the repetition "norms" for a woman of my weight (142lbs.) are as follows: bench press (13 reps), lat. pull (23 reps), arm curls (21 reps), and sit-ups (26 reps). For those able to meet the norm, an 80% grade awaits. That's right folks. To get an "A" in this category, one must exceed (and how) the average number. But enough complaining. Really, looking at it now, away from the gym, it doesn't seem quite so bad I suppose. But keep in mind that there is no age adjustment for these norms, only weight. Ok, I think I'm finally finished whining!

So the thing I wanted to share with you specifically related to the sit-ups. I did ten, People, ok? But what I noticed again is that my abs tend to bunch up in a ball when I do sit-ups, and I know that's not good, so I wondered about the physiology of that phenomenon. And then I wondered what effects my "classical" or longitudinal c-section might be having on my AB-ilities.

That sent me off to the library for some online research. I started with the effects of the c-section on the abs and came across a published and lauded professional who suggested that crunches can actually distend the abdominal muscles because they only work the rectus abdominus, or the long muscle extending between the ribs and the pubic bone, aka. the "six-pack" muscle (yes, it's one, big, long muscle). And even working overtime on the obliques (side muscles) isn't enough to offset the pouchy look!

Apparently, there is a much more important group of muscles that lie deeper and are responsible for flattening the abdomen—the transversus abdominus (and less so, the lumbar multifidi). These muscles are often ignored, or at least undertrained. And one thing I have learned in my weight training class is that if you're going to train one set of muscles, you must equally train those muscles which perform the equal and opposite movement.

For example, if you train your hamstrings, you must also be sure to train your quadriceps—the idea being that the muscles work to move the bones at the joint and that the motion goes in both directions. An imbalance in the muscles causes instability in the joint, and instability is the "bad word" when it comes to physical fitness. Now there's no joint in your abdoment, of course, but there is a push-pull relationship between the outer abs and the inner ones.

So not only do these hidden abdominal muscles stabilize the lower abdomen and back, but they also (especially the transversus abdominus) cinch the waistline and pull in the gut. And the basic exercises for this inner group are isometric, meaning that you hold a static, or unmoving, position and then release, so they are somewhat "easier."

Perusing ten or so websites related to exercising these muscles, I saw the repeated recommendation to cease the other ab exercises, like crunches and sit-ups, for 4-6 weeks in order to allow the underdeveloped muscles to catch up, thus creating a much greater strength and stability, and possibly even reducing the waistline in the process (sources say percent body fat in the region contributes to exterior evidence of the effectiveness of these exercises)!!

The really cool thing is that you can do the most basic of the exercises even while driving, and I do an awful lot of driving!

If you're interested in the one easy exercise, click here, or if you'd like a range of exercises with a suggested program, click here. But please remember that old addage: before beginning a new exercise program, do consult with your trusted health practioner. I am only sending you off on your own research starting point by providing these particular links. Always do what's best for you, ok?

I'll keep you updated, so if you'd like to wait and see if it really works, I volunteer to be your guinea pig!

Keep smiling!

© Nicole J. Williams, 2007, all rights reserved.


Allyn Evans said...

Thanks for sharing! I visited the sites and well, let's just say, I've got a new exercise to add to my routine. Oh, and one to drop!

Camellia said...

You're off and running. Happy writing.