Ab Workouts For Women

Author: Kristal Richardson - IFBB Professional Figure Competitor.
For Models Observer, February 2008

Beyonce, Shakira, Janet Jackson... what do all of these woman have in common? Besides the fact that they all can singÖ.. they have great abs, right?!! Well, whether you're looking for that flat, toned midsection or ripped out, washboard abs, Iím going to give you a solid plan to help reach that goal! I've been involved in health and fitness in some way, shape, form, or fashion from grade school to present day. I ran track, was on a gymnastics team, competed in cheerleading, and now, compete professionally in Figure. All of these disciplines required me to have a strong core so I always spent a lot of time working on my abs. Because of this, Iíve also spent a lot of time researching the best practices to achieve great abs. Along the way, Iíve heard a lot of myths and discovered only a few realities as to how one can get stellar abs!

The biggest myth out there is that, by doing ab exercises every day, you will eventually create a flat tummy or a 6 pack. Creating a nice, healthy physique is a threefold process: Strength training, proper nutrition, and cardiovascular activity. If you are very genetically gifted, you may be able to get away with doing two of the three (proper nutrition and cardio), but you will NEVER be able to simply do 100 crunches a day and get abs.

Another myth I hear quite often is that you can and should train abs everyday. Abs are just like any other muscle in your body, they need time to recover. Over training any muscle in your body can produce the opposite results! I train abs three days a week allowing 1-2 days recovery in between.

One last myth that is near and dear to my heartÖyou must do weighted oblique exercises to widdle away at your waist. STOP! I learned this the hard way. By developing your obliques through weighted exercises, you will actually increase the size of your waist.
The only oblique exercise I would ever do is crunches with a twist on top-no weights. The other ab exercises you do will shape the entire area without making the oblique muscles larger.
So then, what is the reality you ask? Very simply... treat the abs as you would any other muscle. Train them (no more than 3 times a week), rest them, feed them a clean diet, engage in cardiovascular activity (at least 30 minutes most days of the week), and stretch them. You may have never though of doing the last one, but try it. You will see a difference. Two stretches I do are: lay flat on your back with your hands overhead and grab on to the bottom of a bench. Point your toes and stretch. The other is to lie on a Swiss ball and try to touch your hands to the floor behind you while keeping your feet on the ground.

I'm going to share with you three of my favorite ab workouts. You will see that some are done with weights and some are not. Depending on your goal, you will be the judge of the amount of weight or resistance you will use. More resistance and weight will build the ab muscles (more of the figure fitness competitor look) while less resistance will tone and firm (the supermodel look).

Ab Workout #1:

1. Hanging Leg Rises: 3 sets of 15-20. I use straps and try to do most of the reps with straight legs bringing them as high as I can and contracting my abs hard. When I get tired, I bend my legs slightly as I bring them up. You can also do this exercise on something called the Power Tower if you do not have straps.

2. Crunches on the Swiss Ball with a 10lb plate: 3 sets of 25. I hold a 10lb plate behind my head while Iím sitting on the Swiss Ball and I crunch. Make sure you are keeping about a 3 in. distance between your chest and chin to avoid injury to the neck.

3. Knee Tucks: 3 sets of 25. Lying on your back, place your hands under the sides of your rear, point your toes, and roll and tuck your knees up to your chest. Extend your legs straight out without touching the ground and repeat for 25.

Ab Workout #2:

1. Sit-ups on the Incline Bench: 3 sets of 15-20. I use a 6-8 pound med ball for this one as well. Wrap you legs securely around the upper part of the incline bench. Hold med ball (if you chose to use it) on your chest and sit up until you are almost touch the bench then raise and contract. Repeat for 15-20.

2. Kickouts: 3 sets of 30. Sitting on the edge of the bench, lean back and hold onto either side of the bench. Kick legs straight out in front of you with toes pointed. Its important that legs kick out parallel to the ground to get the full benefits of this exercise. Draw legs back in and repeat for 30.

3. Sit-ups with 10lb weight: 3 sets of 15. Laying on the floor put your legs straight up with toes pointed. Holding a 10lb weight (or 5 lb or no weight), push the weight straight up towards your toes and crunch. Repeat for 15.

Ab Workout #3:

1. Laying Leg Rises: 3 sets of 15. You may need a partner or a strong bench for this one. Laying on the floor, have your partner stand by your head (or place yourself with the bench at your head). Grab on to your partnerís ankles (or the bench) and bring your legs straight up. If you have a partner, ask you partner to throw your legs back down to the groundÖbut donít let your feet touch the ground before you bring your legs right back up. If you are using a bench, just lower your legs until they are almost to the floor then lift again. Repeat for 15.

2. The Bicycle: 3 sets of 15 each side). This one is an oldie, but one of the best for an overall ab workout. Laying face up on the floor, lace your fingers behind your head. Bring the knees in towards the chest and lift the shoulder blades off the ground without pulling on the neck. Straighten the left leg out to about a 45-degree angle while simultaneously turning you upper body to the right, bringing the left elbow towards the right knee. Switch sides, bringing the right elbow towards the left knee. Continue alternating sides in a 'pedaling' motion for 15 reps on each side.

3. Leg Presses: 3 sets of 25. Laying on your back, place your hands on either side of your rear. Put your legs straight up in the air and flex your feet. Contracting your abs, lift the bottoms of your feet straight up to the ceiling. Lower slowly. Repeat for 25.

When contracting our muscles, there is always the possibility of muscle cramps. If you experience ab muscle cramps, chances are you may be dehydrated, low in potassium, overexerting, or not stretching. If they occur, stop, drink some water, stretch, and perhaps even come back to abs a different time or day when they are more rested.

To avoid these cramps, drink plenty of water throughout the day, eat a banana or take a potassium supplement (you may get it in your multivit.), stretch, and allow for enough rest between ab workouts.

I would like to reiterate one last thought... if there is one thing you take away with you today, please let that be that creating a strong, healthy, fit body-and in this case-killer abs, you must follow the three step plan: Strength Training (ab workouts), Proper Nutrition (plenty of lean protein, complex carbs, fruits, veggies, whole grains and WATER), and Cardiovascular Activity (30 minutes most days of the week). All of these things will work synergistically to burn off that stomach fat and expose those beautiful abs!

Kristal Richardson BA, MBA, CPT- has her own personal training and nutritional consulting business in Miami, Florida and has helped numerous clients both locally and online achieve their health and fitness goals. She also specializes in contest preparation for other Figure competitors. She is a BodyWell Nutrition athlete and the official spokesperson for Tight Curves female protein powder. Learn more about Kristal at www.kristalrichardson.com and www.bodywellnutrition.com. Kristal can be reached at kristal@kristalrichardson.com.


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