Abs! When it comes to muscle toning, abs workouts usually top the list. Health clubs, exercise DVDs and infomercials, so much has been dedicated to shaping the middle. But one problem with most ab exercises is that one key component is missing: the lower back. Lower back muscles need equal attention, but you’ll never see a DVD titled “Back Muscles of Steel” or get excited about fifteen minutes of lower back exercises.
What’s So Different About This Workout?
The below moves work both sets of muscles actively (when they contract) and as stabilizers (to keep your torso stable when you’re in motion). The result? You develop a firm, toned midsection and a balance between your front and your back muscles that lets you move with more fluidity and grace.
Note: As you do this workout, don’t just count the reps. Pay attention to the shapes that your body forms and focus on the feel of your muscles contracting. Think about it: you create these arcs and angles every day in almost everything that you do – when you pick up something that just fell to the floor and when you lift your baby over your head. With stronger abs and a stronger lower back, you’ll be able to lift heavier weights without injury; as a result, you’ll become leaner, stronger and faster. An added plus is that, by adding back exercises to your ab routine, you’ll look slimmer as the exercises work to improve your posture.
The Program: Do these exercise in order. For all back exercises (2, 4, 6), start with 1 set of 2 to 4 reps, and gradually progress to 1 set of 6 to 8 reps. For ab exercises except #3, begin with 1 set of 8 to 12 reps. As you get stronger, add 1 set at a time until you can do 3 sets of 12 reps. Rest for 30 seconds between abdominal sets if necessary.
1. Extended Leg Crunch
Lie on your back on the ground with your legs straight and toes pointed to keep you leg muscles contracted. Place fingertips behind your head, touching, but not clasped, elbows pointing out to the sides. Contract abdominals, bringing spine to a neutral position. Keeping head relaxed against hands, lift head, neck and shoulders off the ground in 2 counts, bringing ribs toward your hips without moving legs. In top position, shoulder blades should clear the ground with elbows pointing forward. Lower in 2 counts and repeat. Strengthens abdominals.
2. Rib Lift
Lie on your back, legs straight, toes pointed. Extend arms out to sides at shoulder height, palms down. Contract abdominals, so spine is in a neutral position. Keeping abs contracted, arch back so only head, shoulders, buttocks and legs are on the ground. Hold for 8 counts; release. The amount of arch depends on your spine’s flexibility. Strengthens back extensors and torso stabilizers.