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6 Reasons (Besides Great Looks) to Strengthen Your Abdominals, and 5 Exercises to do it Properly

A flat stomach and well-defined six pack will certainly get you some attention on the beach, but having strong abdominal muscles goes way beyond physical appearance. Abdominal muscles are part of your body's core -- a group of 29 muscles around your trunk and pelvis that make up your center of gravity -- and they're necessary to support your back, control your movement and even help you breathe.

strong abs

Strong abs are much more than skin deep: they support and protect your back, help prevent injuries, and improve your posture.

Strengthening your abdominal muscles will, indeed, make a trim stomach more defined, but it's also one of the most important muscle groups to keep strong, and here's why.

  1. Protect your back and reduce back pain. Strong abs are necessary for a strong back because they make up part of the muscular network that keeps your body upright, supports the spine and allows you to move. When these muscles are weak, the spine gets more of the burden of supporting the body, making you more susceptible to back injury and pain.

  2. Improve your posture. Your abs are composed of six individual muscles, each of which affects your posture. Strengthen your abs, and you'll find you naturally and comfortably sit straighter and stand taller.

  3. Feel less fatigued. You use your stomach muscles constantly throughout the day. A person with weak abs will have to put in a lot more effort to do the same tasks as someone with strong abs, hence feeling more fatigued at the end of the day.

  4. Lift things (like your infant) easier. Remember that your abdominal muscles provide much support for your back. So the stronger your abs, the easier it will be for you to twist and turn, pick up heavy grocery bags, lift your infant into a car seat and do countless other tasks throughout the day.

  5. Protect yourself from injury. Your abs help make up your center of gravity, and having strong abs will make you more stable and balanced. So aside from protecting your back from injury, strong stomach muscles can help prevent falls and other lack-of-coordination injuries.

  6. Perform sports better. Whether you love to golf, go bowling or play softball, strengthening your abs will give you a more stable core, allowing you to swing your club or bat, catch fly balls, and perform a wide array of other sports movements with greater control and stability. Plus, you'll be better protected from sports-related injuries.

How to Best Strengthen Your Abdominals

Researchers from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) conducted an analysis of 13 common abdominal exercises and ranked the following five exercises top for achieving definite results:

  1. The Bicycle

    Lying flat on your back, raise your knees to a 45-degree angle. Move your legs in a bicycle-pedaling motion, while touching your left elbow to your right knee, then your right elbow to your left knee.

abdominal workout
Source: American Council
on Exercise (ACE)
  1. The Captain's Chair

    (This uses a piece of gym equipment.) Grip the handholds of the equipment lightly and keep your lower back pressed against the back pad. Allow your legs to dangle below, then slowly lift your knees toward your chest in a controlled motion. Slowly return your knees to the starting position.

abdominal workout
Source: American Council on Exercise (ACE)
  1. Crunch on Exercise Ball

    Lie with your back on the exercise ball so that your thighs and torso are parallel to the floor. With your hands behind your head, or crossed over your chest, tuck your chin in toward your chest and contract your abdominals. Your torso should raise no more than 45 degrees from the ball. To vary difficulty, move your feet wider apart or closer together.

abdominal workout
Source: American Council
on Exercise (ACE)
  1. Vertical Leg Crunch

    Lying flat with your back on the floor and your hands behind your head, extend your legs straight up, crossed at the ankle with a slight bend in the knees. Lift your torso toward your knees, contracting your abdominal muscles and keeping your chin off your chest.

abdominal workout
Source: American Council
on Exercise (ACE)
  1. Reverse Crunch

    Lying flat on the floor with your back on the ground, put your hands beside your head or extend them flat by your sides. Cross your feet at the ankles and lift your knees to a 90-degree angle. Press your lower back to the floor and contract your abs so your hips rotate and your legs reach toward the ceiling.

abdominal workout
Source: American Council
on Exercise (ACE)

To get the best results, the study's lead researcher, Peter Francis, PhD, recommends picking several of these exercises and doing them for five minutes a day.

One More (IMPORTANT) Tip For Great Abs

The exercises above will make your abdominal muscles stronger -- which is extremely beneficial in and of itself -- however, if you want your muscles to be seen, you must pay attention to eating a healthy diet.

"The most important group of muscles and the hardest to control for abdominal definition are located just above your chin and below your nose," says Pete Estabrooks, a personal trainer and founder of

Estabrooks advocates eating small meals more often throughout the day, with foods such as nuts, eggs, meat, fruit and vegetables.

"Now I'm not saying you can't break out of your cave once in a while and hunt a pack of wild Oreos," Estabrooks says, "but if it's abdominal definition you're after, then closer attention to dietary detail is necessary."

This might include limiting alcohol to two to three drinks per week, and avoiding refined carbohydrates, high fructose corn syrup and trans fats, according to David Zinczenko, editor of Men's Health magazine and author of "The Abs Diet: The Six-Week Plan to Flatten Your Stomach and Keep You Lean for Life."

Finally, you can indulge in these 12 healthy treats, which Zinczenko calls "superfoods for abs:"

  • Almonds and other nuts

  • Beans

  • Spinach and other greens

  • Low-fat dairy

  • Instant oatmeal

  • Eggs

  • Turkey and other lean meats

  • Whey protein powder

  • Peanut butter

  • Olive oil

  • Whole-grain breads and cereals

  • Raspberries and other berries

Recommended Reading

Good Posture: The Important Health Benefits of -- and Keys to -- Good Posture

The 7 (Honest) Facts You Should Know About Losing Thigh Fat, Gut Fat, and Fat in Other "Problem" Areas


American Council on Exercise

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