At Boot Camp the other night I had a student ask about proper abdominal contraction during ab workouts. My response was the often heard “…ensure your belly button is drawn back towards your spine”. She looked at me like this ————–>
Here is a better explanation of this concept…
Are you sitting down? Okay, sit up straight, and try this.
Suck in your gut as much as you can. Notice how you feel as if your belly button turns up. Your waist sucks in. It’s also quite difficult to breath.
Let that out. 🙂
Now, imagine you are using your stomach muscles (abs) to pull your belly button backwards. Not back and up, just straight back. So that your belly button touches (of course it won’t literally) your spine.
You should notice that it feels more muscular, less tummy-sucking, and that your belly button feels straighter, not tipped up, and that breathing is a lot easier than sucking in your tummy.
I notice that when I suck in my tummy my spare roll above sucks in nicely. But when I pull my belly button to my spine it doesn’t anywhere near as much.
Check out the blog entry Is Your Ab Workout Hurting Your Back for a better explanation of the reasoning as to why your back may hurt when doing an ab workout. Here is a great brief article from Livestrong.com too…
When doing ab exercises, make sure to use muscle on the way up and down, and pause in between each movement. Don’t let gravity bring you down after an upward movement. This will create concentric, eccentric and isometric muscle contractions. You’ll get the most benefit from eccentric muscle contractions, such as lowering yourself during a crunch or sit-up. Don’t let yourself fall back down after you sit up — slowly lower yourself using your core muscles. Introduce constant tension by not lowering yourself all the way after a crunch, sit-up or pull-up. If you keep your shoulders off the floor after lowering yourself from a sit-up or crunch, you’ll keep tension in your ab muscles, creating isometric contractions.
To increase the benefit of your ab workouts, move side to side, not just forward and back. For example, in addition to doing crunches by moving up and down, reach across your body with one elbow toward the opposite knee. Lie on your side and raise your shoulders off the floor to work your obliques, located on the side of core. Use a medicine ball to do twists. Hold the ball at arms’ length in front of you. Turn to the side using your core, then hold the ball. Return to the center, then move in the opposite direction. Change the technique by placing the ball on the floor, next to your hip each time. If you use an ab wheel, roll forward and backward, then add forward rolls veering to the left and right to work the obliques.
You can work your abs using a variety of exercises. You can use an ab wheel, kettlebell, stability ball, medicine ball, weight machines or do body weight exercises such as sit-ups, crunches, hip raises, bicycle kicks or kipping pull-ups. With all of these exercises, it’s important to use your core muscles to perform the movements to prevent back and neck strain. As you begin to tire during your workout, avoid using your hips and back to help you move up or down — this could lead to a back injury. Don’t pull yourself up with your hands if you have them behind your neck during sit-ups and crunches.