Friday, February 10, 2012

The Lowly Crunch: Defining Your Abdominals

So there I was, a gangly, ungainly guy standing in a giant aerobics studio surrounded by mirrors. Next to me on the floor was a fitness ball. I had never used a fitness ball, in fact I had never even heard of a fitness ball. None the less, there I was. My work out partner, in far better shape then I, was going to show me how to use the ball to make my ab routine more excruciatingly effective.
The whole premise of this heightened routine was to center around the crunch. For those of you who don't know what a crunch is, a crunch is like doing a sit up without actually sitting up. In fact, the whole motion of a crunch is to keep your abs constantly flexed. I had always thought that crunches were like doing push ups on you knees – a bit of a cop out. I was wrong.
The thing about your abs is that unlike other muscle groups they can take a lot. When you work your abs, it takes a lot to get them going. What is really different about abs is that they bulge in their relaxed state and are stretched thin when flexed. Think about your leg muscles for a second. Your quads bulge when you flex them. Abs are the other way around.
Getting myself on to the fitness ball was an exercise in patients. Having never used one before, it was awkward and it felt really odd. This is due in part to my rather uncoordinated nature, and yes I am a horrible dancer. What really made it difficult for me to position myself correctly on the ball was the fact the I was laughing hysterically. Being in the aerobics studio surrounded by mirrors, gave me multiple angles from which to watch my floundering.
Abs are largely responsible for holding you up. They are part of what is known as your core. Your core is what keeps you stable when standing, allows your body to twist at the waist, rise after bending over, and remain, well, upright. While there are other muscle groups involved with your core, abs have a special place in the eyes of the world. Defined abs are a sought after symbol of good health and fine physique.
For the average person, getting setup on the ball, in proper position for crunches, is a relatively easy affair. It merely involves resting your hips and lower back on the ball while planting your feet squarely on the floor. It's like slouching in a chair that has no back. Like I said, really no big deal – unless your me.
I finally nailed the proper setup and once the laughter subsided, I was ready to start. Like all exercises, form is critical. Crunches require very little motion. To begin, lean back as far as your balance allows. Place your hands on your temples with your elbows out. Focus on pushing your lower back into the ball and using your abs pull your shoulders up. In very real terms, you should only be raising your shoulders up about four inches. At the top of the crunch. Hold it for a two count and slowly let yourself back down slowly without disengaging your abs. Repeat. It's really a simple and effective exercise.
In my case, now firmly set up on the ball, I went at the crunches with gusto. Crunched until I simply could crunch no more. It is here that I would like to point out that you need not do this. You should work your abs in sets as with any other muscle baring in mind that you should do more then your average set. Aim for about three sets of fifty and go from there.
In my case, I woke up the next day smiling to myself about the difficulty I had getting used to the fitness ball, after all, it really was easy once I got the hang of it. I smiled as I recalled my impressive display of abdominal endurance. I smiled, and smiled right up until the time I tried to sit up.