Abs like Phelps’

| Health Columnist

The seemingly ubiquitous love affair with Michael Phelps doesn’t stop at his swimming capabilities—oh, no, that’s just the start. We are captivated by his every move—his boyish smile, his poised remarks and we can’t forget his eight-pack abs.

So why does Phelps look so good? Well, swimming for 10 hours a day doesn’t hurt, for starters. While I can’t promise you results quite like his, I can provide a few tips to getting slimmer, sleeker and more toned-looking abs.

First, the key to having defined muscles of any type is losing the layer of fat that covers them in the first place. How do we reduce fat? Burn more calories than we consume. Simple as that. This can be done either by increasing activity or cutting back calories. The best way, of course, is to combine the two­—cutting back about 500 calories from your daily consumption combined with intense cardio/weight training daily will almost definitely result in a 1-2 pound weight loss per week. Aerobic activity, including running, swimming and biking, is the most effective way to burn excess calories. Weight training and toning classes are better for enhancing muscle already present and in some cases even result in a small weight gain. Of course, being careful about what we eat and getting physical activity will not automatically make us “fit like Phelps,” but it’s a good start.

When considering abdominal toning exercises, it is important to remember that there are many abdominal muscles in the body, all of which are worked differently depending on the types of exercises you do. The most prominent of these different muscles is the rectus abdominis, the long flat muscle that extends vertically between the rib cage and is split both down the middle and between the fifth, sixth and seventh ribs forming six different compartments. The rectus abdominis contributes to flexion of the spine. When well-toned, it creates the look we have come to describe as a “six-pack.”

Complementing these muscles are the side muscles, the obliques. There are both external and internal oblique muscle groups complementing one another in an opposite-rotator function. These are involved in the twisting and rotation of the torso. The transversius abdominis is the last of all the abdominal muscles, wrapping around the torso creating a corset around the body helping with respiration and the placement of organs.

Ideally, an abdominal workout would activate all of these different muscles. Below I have provided a list of a few exercises for you to practice at home. Of course, as with beginning any new exercise routine, please use caution and consult a trainer or physician if necessary. Keep in mind that the biggest faux pas most people run into while doing exercises is that they do not do them as deliberately as they should and thus do not reap the full benefits of the exercise. This can also lead to injury if done improperly. With abdominal workouts, it is extremely important that hip flexors remain stable and that all of the motion be generated from the abdominal muscles and not from the hips.

1. Bicycle crunch. What it works: internal/external obliques, rectus abdominis.

Start by lying on your back, both legs extended, hovering at about a 45-degree angle off the floor with your hands behind your head. As slowly and deliberately as possible, lift your right shoulder to your left knee, until they almost touch and return to the extended position, then do the same, this time with your left shoulder and your right knee. Repeat as desired. The motion, when done properly, should involve your legs pedaling like a bicycle from side to side, hence the name, “bicycle crunch.”

2. Captain’s chair leg lift. What it works: rectus abdominis.

This exercise can be done in most gymnasiums on the piece of equipment called a captain’s chair—it looks like a metal structure with arm rests on each side. Start raised on both forearms, hands gripping the bars and legs dangling below. Slowly lift your legs into a seated position. This motion should be done slowly and as controlled as possible. To make the exercise more challenging, try keeping legs straight and lifting them to your face in a V-like formation.

3. Vertical leg crunch. What it works: internal/external obliques, rectus abdominis. Start this exercise lying on your back, legs lifted in the air, arms folded behind the head. Slowly and deliberately lift your upper body (being sure to use your abdominals and not your hands to initiate the motion) until half of your upper body is off the mat, and then lower back to the mat and repeat.

4. Plank. What it works: rectus abdominis.

Lying face down on a mat with your hands flat on the ground, your arms bent in line with your shoulders, place your forearms against the mat. Hands touching so that they form a triangle in front of you, push up, resting on your forearms. Hold still for thirty seconds. Then, lower and repeat. To make this more challenging, lift one arm and extend it in front of you, return it to the mat, and then lift the other arm. This core exercise can also be combined with raising and lowering the legs in an alternate fashion from the arms—i.e., lift right leg and left arm simultaneously, then switch—to offer a fast and effective toning session.

5. Oblique twists with medicine ball. What it works: internal/external obliques and rectus abdominis.

Start in a seated position, with both feet on the ground in front of you and a four- to 10-pound medicine ball in hands. Twist first to the left, and then to the right. To challenge the abs even more, try this exercise while keeping feet lifted a few inches off the ground.

Best of luck in achieving those abs-olutely incredible looking abs!

Information for this article was provided by http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/abdominalcorestrength1/ss/AbAnatomy.htm.

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