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Research and our Rectus Abdominis

Over the years there has been a lot of research published about training the core and training the abdominals in numerous pieces of literature. Everybody has a new technique or gimmick that is purported to be the best training method. What is important to keep in mind is that there will probably never be a panacea. You must make sure your abdominal workout is extremely diverse, learn new exercise from everywhere and use them regularly. Most importantly, you will never see your abs or obliques if your diet is not picture perfect. This will be your ultimate answer. This article is not going to focus on training the core but rather provide the latest research on the best exercises for the abdominals.

Many scientists to use a tool called an EMG to measure muscle recruitment. EMG stands for ElectroMyoGraph. They can place a surface or in-dwelling electrode in the muscle and read the muscles fiber recruitment on a monitor or screen. With this set up, they can test which exercise elicits the greatest contraction of the upper, lower abs and obliques. I will provide you with the latest evidence based research on abdominal training.

In the J Physical Therapy in 2000, researchers had revealed that performing the abdominal curl-up on a labile surface such as the Swiss ball, increased the amount abdominal recruitment by 20%. Furthermore, curl-ups on any unsteady surface, changes the muscle co-activation in order to augment the stabilizers of the spine. It is much more demanding on the Neuro-Muscular system, and this is obviously desirable in sports and recreation. A similar study out of the J Strength and Conditioning in 2003 tried to determine the effect of 6 different abdominal exercises on the electrical activity of the upper, lower and oblique muscles. The Physioball or Swiss Ball curl up exercise recorded significantly higher activity in all muscles than any of the other exercises tested. In a study out of J of Strength and Conditioning in 2003, a group in California tested the recruitment of the abdominal muscles while using four portable commercial abdominal devices. Ab Roller, Torso Track, Ab-Doer Pro and Perfect Abs. The bottom line is that the crunch position was the best in this study for recruiting the rectus abdominis. Furthermore, the Perfect Abs utilizes the crunch position with external resistance bands thus activating the abs better than the crunch alone. Another study out of the J of Strength and Conditioning in 2001 concluded that the reverse curl resulted in maximum recruitment of the lower abs. The V-Up exercise had the greatest recruitment on the External Obliques. Consequently, both exercise had the similar recruitment for the upper abs. Furthermore, the vaccuum exercise had a low recruitment of external obliques, both upper and lower abs but increased firing of transverse abdominis. This is the deepest abdominal muscle known to be a strong stabilizer of the lower back. Finally, an article from The British Journal of Sports Medicine in the late 90%u2032s advocated staying away from any foot anchoring or fixation with ab training. In addition, bilateral leg lifts were not recommended due to the hyper-extension of the lumbar spine, thus putting stress on the back. This can be an excellent exercise with the proper instruction and supervision.

There are obviously thousands of more studies on abdominal training out there. The reality is that some people provide objective research and some provide their opinion. A lot of the research is controversial and it is so important to understand different ideas and concepts and find what works for you. Being a Physical Therapist, Athletic Trainer & Exercise Physiologist for fifteen years, I find that it doesn’t necessarily matter what exercise you do, what does matter is were your breath and mind are during the exercise. Remember it is an exercise not a movement.

I’d like to conclude with an exercise for the abs I call The Ultimate Crunch. Lie on your back as if you ready to perform a crunch. First, perform a posterior pelvic tilt. Second, the vaccuum exercise and finally do a crunch. Good luck. Don’t forget to breath. Chase the burn!