Training: Fabulous Abs, with Function

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, September 1996

Training: Fabulous Abs, with Function
By Cory Johnson

THE "WASHBOARD ABS NOW!" VARIETY OF workout so popular with the indoor fitness set focuses on the aesthetics of muscle development, on the sculpting of a perfect, corrugated stomach. That's fine, but the real benefit of a strong midsection is improved performance. "Well-developed abs are crucial no matter what your sport," says Kevin Yoxall, head strength and conditioning coach at the University of California, Los Angeles. "But a surprising number of athletes' workouts ignore some of the less visible, but very key, abdominal muscles."

The abdominals consist of three muscle groups, with different outdoor activities putting different strains on each. You'll want to lavish extra attention on those muscles essential to your native sport, but that's no license to ignore the others: A complete set of strong abdominals is vital for any endeavor.

Here's a full midsection workout that, unlike traditional sit-ups, won't put undue stress on the lower back. "Go slowly," Yoxall says. "Focus on contracting the muscles to pull you up-don't rock. And inhale on every compression." Do two or three sets of up to 20 reps of each exercise, and throw in an extra set of the one specific to your primary sport. Four times a week is optimal: No matter how fast you develop your abs, it only takes two weeks for them to start to lose their shape.

The Muscles: Transversus abdominis, which pushes the stomach in and out during deep breathing and helps your posture by supporting the spine.
The Sports: Running, biking.
The Exercise: Lie flat on your back with your legs extended up and your hands by your sides, palms down. Using your lower abs, lift your hips off the ground, shifting the weight toward your chest while keeping your legs perpendicular to the ground. Then slowly lower your hips back down. Don't kick your legs up or push with your hands.

The Muscles: The obliques, which are the driving force behind twisting motions.
The Sports: Kayaking, canoeing, surfing, skiing, climbing.
The Exercise: Lie on your back with your arms straight out to the sides and your knees together, bent, and raised over your stomach. Gently lower your legs to the left side, lightly touching your left knee to the ground; then raise your legs back to the starting position. Mirror this same motion on the right side.

The Muscles: The rectus abdominis, essential for jumping or pulling.
The Sports: Sprinting, climbing, swimming, volleyball.
The Exercise: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. With your hands behind your head, lift your shoulder blades straight up. Use your abdominals, not your hands. Count to two. Then lower yourself, but don't rest. Throughout, keep the small of your back on the floor, and your eyes focused straight up-thinking about what that corrugated gut will do for you.

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web