Core Knowledge: How to Get Flat Abs
The Flat Abs Workout Plan
The perfect six-packed specimen illustrating this story is my abs exercise instructor, Chelsey Korus.
At my first workout with her, I watched Korus demonstrate the tolasana pose. Sitting cross-legged with her palms resting on yoga blocks next to her hips, she straightened her arms and, using only her ab muscles, raised her body off the floor. When I attempted it, I couldn't even lift one butt cheek off my mat. Never mind my muffin top; I wondered how my abs had gotten so wimpy. After all, it had been eight years since I'd had my second daughter, so those muscles should have bounced back long ago.
Moves like the tolasana and the eight subsequent ones we did that day are representative of a shift that ab exercises have taken in the past decade or so. Previously there was a tendency to isolate the abdominal muscles to give each one an individual workout -- crunches for your rectus abdominis, bicycles for the obliques -- but as Olson points out, that's not the way it works in real life. "When you're reaching up to get something, picking up a baby or bending down, you need all the muscles to work together," she says. "Instead of targeting each one, you should aim for functional fitness, where the muscles work as a unit."
By week two of my abs regimen, I could actually lift my butt off the floor for a few seconds of tolasana, and in week three I kept asking my husband to feel how tight my obliques were getting. At the end of the month I could hold the pose for at least 15 seconds and not make what Korus called my "stress face."
I lost a half-inch from my waist in four weeks without dieting. Now every time my daughters cheer me on as I achieve liftoff during tolasana, I feel as if I can kick some major butt. Supported by my awesome abs, of course.
Lately the common sit-up has stirred controversy, coming under fire from certain experts for putting excessive wear and tear on the spine. While evidence is mounting but the jury is still out, try this simple back-friendly modification from Stuart McGill, PhD, professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo in Canada and author of The Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance: Lying faceup on the floor, slip your hands underneath the natural curve of your spine. "You can activate the rectus abdominis with tiny upward movements, as if you're lifting your head and shoulders off a bathroom scale so it registers zero," he explains.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, March 2012.
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