Shape (Singapore) - - Get Fit -

Two ex­er­cises keep prov­ing to be gold stan­dards of core strength­en­ing: the crunch, which firms the more su­per­fi­cial abs – the rec­tus ab­do­mi­nis down the cen­tre and the obliques along the sides – and the plank, which works the deep, corset-like trans­verse ab­do­mi­nis.

The crunch is so ef­fec­tive at ac­ti­vat­ing these su­per­fi­cial mus­cles be­cause their fi­bres all have a ver­ti­cal ori­en­ta­tion that lets them fire in sync with the ex­er­cise’s straight-up mo­tion, says Mar­tin Eriks­son-Crom­mert at Ore­bro Univer­sity in Swe­den. His re­search found that women who place their hands be­hind the head – in­stead of atop the chest or reach­ing for­ward – get the big­gest ac­ti­va­tion. Speed­ing up the pace of crunches can dou­ble the ac­ti­va­tion of the rec­tus, other re­search has shown; add a twist to fur­ther en­gage obliques.

Now, about those planks. The vari­a­tions shown here – plus the core-sta­bil­ity chal­lenge of the dou­ble-leg stretch – elicit trans­verse ac­ti­va­tion that goes off the charts, ac­cord­ing to lab re­search by Michele Ol­son, a se­nior clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of sport sci­ence at Hunt­ing­don Col­lege in Alabama, who has tested ab ex­er­cises for over 20 years. Work them in with your crunches or any of the ab-fo­cused rou­tines and tips in this pack­age for your fittest, firmest core.

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