ABDOMINALS: myths to dispel, training and exercises

ABDOMINALS: myths to dispel, training and exercises

Edited by Dr. Antonio Romano

To be able to plan a correct and functional training on the abdominals, a small introduction on their anatomy-physiology is necessary.

The abdominal or rather the rectus abdominis is a single muscle (there are no upper and lower abdominals), it originates from the sternum and is inserted into the pubis.
When developed correctly this highlights 6 epigastriums (the classic tiles).
Its function allows, in a classic crunch on the ground, to raise the trunk by about 30 °. Easy to spot angle, in training, because it represents the point where the scapular points begin to come off the ground. From this angle onwards, any other movement is caused by the thigh flexor muscles, the most important being the Ileo-Psoas. This arises from the lumbar vertebrae and inserts onto the lesser trochanter at the femoral level. Excessive training, without the right muscle stretching program, can create annoying back pain.

Let's go back to the anatomy of the rectus abdominis. If it is true that the rectum has a movement of about 30 °, it is equally true that its maximum muscular tension is reached by extending the trunk, before flexing it, by about 15 °. It becomes so easy to understand how a crunch performed on the ground does not allow training on the entire joint range of the muscle.

Another necessary clarification. In the classic crunch, the hands are placed behind the neck to relieve the muscular tensions that weigh on it during the exercise.
Physiology expert Mel Siff, however, says that supporting the head with the hands behind the neck engages a reflex contraction of the shoulder stabilizer muscles. Much better, therefore, to leave the arms along the body simply sliding them next to the legs during the exercise. If the problems persist, a great help could be given by a towel that protrudes a few centimeters beyond the shoulders. Grasping it with your hands, you will create an excellent tool, similar to those on the market to relieve cervical tension during exercise.


Figure 1. Static or dynamic abdominal strengthening exercise.

Series and repetitions

Observing that it is common practice to train the abdominal with a large number of repetitions it is useful to understand the differences between muscles toned e phasic.

The former are muscles suitable for endurance. An example above all is the soleus, a small calf muscle which, guaranteeing a lasting propulsion during the walk, requires a physiological composition that leads it to last over time with a prevalence of slow-twitch fibers. The postural muscles have these characteristics.
The latter, on the other hand, are made up of fast-twitch fibers. This type of fiber responds very well to training with high weights and, consequently, with low numbers of repetitions.
The abs, strange but true, are mainly made up of this type of fibers. Consequently, training them with repetitions greater than 15 is practically ineffective in achieving our goal, therefore:

  1. for beginners it is recommended to use resistors that allow about 15 reps. for 2/3 series.
  2. for the more experienced it is possible to work on 8/12 rips. for at least 3 series.
  3. for athletes you can use heavy loads that allow only 4 repetitions per set.


An excellent exercise is to perform abdominals on a Swiss ball or a Bobat ball or a Fitball. The exercise performed on a ball allows a workout that allows optimal muscle activation over the entire joint range of the fiber itself. Its second characteristic is to make the exercise unstable. This allows an involvement of the deep muscle fibers and an improvement in balance.
When the exercise is done smoothly it is possible to use dumbbell loads on the chest. Discs can also be used but their size generally prevents complete closure during movement.
A second exercise that can be performed using the Fitball is the reverse crunch. Performed in the same way as a reverse crunch on the ground, except that on the ball there is an extension of the trunk and, therefore, more intense work on the affected muscle. For the stability of this exercise it is necessary to anchor oneself with the arms to a firm structure.

In the light of what has been said previously, it is necessary to make a small clarification on the execution of the classic leg raise (raise the legs in suspension). It is effective if before the exercise an anteversion of the pelvis is carried out (slight arching of the back) and in the closing phase it is terminated by detaching the buttocks from the backrest. Thus making a crunch with the adversity of the force of gravity.

Exercises are also done and repeated on the obliques with torsion of the torso using overloads that certainly do not represent an optimal workout.
The movement in torsion (and perhaps also in flexion of the torso) is a movement that is harmful to our spine.
And if the intention is to reduce the love handles the goal will never be achieved, on the contrary ... but this is another story that I will tell you next time!

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