We’ve all seen commercials selling the idea that you can do enough crunches on a magic contraption to make your belly disappear. The truth is that you can’t spot reduce. If you could spot reduce, people who chew gum would have skinny faces.
Even though you can’t spot reduce, most people think that doing crunches (or some other ab exercise) will flatten your belly. I taught senior aerobics for many years. Invariably, a few students would come and ask me how they could get rid of their stomachs as they pointed to their belly fat. I would answer with a question: “How long have you been worrying about that?” They would respond seriously, “Decades.” Can you imagine actively disliking part of your body for that long? I would tell them to keep exercising appropriately and stop worrying, already. The worry is not accomplishing anything good.
What do appropriate abdominal exercises accomplish? First, let’s get a few points straightened out. Your abdominal muscles (abs) are the front of your back. Abdominal muscles support your spine and hold your organs. You want strong ab muscles so you can have less back, hip and knee pain, and more mobility to do the things you love. Your stomach is an organ that digests food, and you don’t work it out or get rid of it. Your belly is the fat on top. Don’t spend time worrying about your belly. (Worry is you, using your imagination to create something you don’t want.) Focus instead on building strength so you can have more fun. Remember, you can’t spot reduce.
Everyone has heard the word core. Appropriate abdominal strengthening exercises will strengthen your core. I think of the muscles supporting the spine and midsection as your core. Abs and lower back muscles are opposing muscles that work together to support your mid-section. Those core muscles must be both strong and limber. Lower back stretching and abdominal strengthening are great partners. For most folks, lower back muscles are tight and abs are weak, so we stretch the lower back and strengthen the abs to get in balance.
Two simple options for stretching your lower back are: 1) lie on your back and hug your knees, or 2) sit in a chair and lean forward with your forearms on your thighs. A variation on the sitting stretch is to lean forward while putting your right elbow on your right knee and your chin in your right hand. You will look a bit like “The Thinker” statue, which is why we call this position “the thinker.” Try one of these right now if you’re willing. Be sure to try the thinker on both sides.
The #1 best ab exercise is the pelvic tilt because it’s very low risk and full of benefits. This simple exercise is the basis for doing other abdominal exercises correctly. When you do a pelvic tilt, the curve in your lower back straightens out.
Imagine looking at a body from the side view. See the curve of the lower back. Now imagine tucking your butt under as your pelvis moves forward and up, pushing your navel to your spine. This is a pelvic tilt. You can do this same move sitting or lying on your back with your knees bent. To get a feel for this, try it now. You can practice a pelvic tilt almost anywhere. Try a search on YouTube for “pelvic tilt” and see how to do this move while lying on your back with your knees bent. If you search for “Tush Tilt” on YouTube, you will find my version of a sitting pelvic tilt.
Cinder Ernst, Medical Exercise Specialist and Life Coach Extraordinaire, helps reluctant exercisers get moving with safe, effective and fun programs. Find out more at http://cinderernst.com
As seen on San Francisco Bay Times: http://sfbaytimes.com/wishing-flat-stomach/