The Easy Way to Make Your Ab Workouts More Effective

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The usual advice to "pull your abs in" during the crunch actually makes the exercise less effective, new research shows.

The usual advice to "pull your abs in" during the crunch actually makes the exercise less effective, new research shows. Done correctly, the crunch is an effective exercise for those wanting to work their abs with minimum stress to the lower back.

But researchers from Omaha's University of Nebraska Medical Center have found that "pulling the abs in" actually reduces rectus abdominis activity - known by fitness experts as “the six-pack” muscle.

When you lie down on your back and lift the shoulders from the floor, rectus abdominis is the muscle that's doing most of the work. The six-pack look is the result of bands of connective tissue that "cut" into rectus abdominis.

In the study, a group of 25 subjects performed the crunch in accordance with different sets of instructions. The crunch worked rectus abdominis harder when subjects were told to tighten their stomach muscles, rather than pull them in. Here are the instructions they were given:

"Push your belly button out by tightening your stomach muscles. Try to shorten the distance between the bottom of the ribs and the groin area when you curl up. Focus on drawing your ribcage down and in while you curl up."

Professor Stuart McGill, an expert in spine function and injury prevention at the University of Waterloo in Canada, says that one of the best ways to work your abs is to perform a technique called the abdominal brace.

“This involves tightening the abdominal muscles as if you're about to take a punch in the gut,” says McGill. “When the brace is performed correctly, the abdominals are neither hollowed in nor pushed out.”

“Curl up against the brace, and then breathe deeply in the "up" curl-up position while maintaining the brace. Remain in the up position long enough to take a few deep breaths.” Fitness expert Christian Finn, owner and founder of, a fitness website that reveals the best ways to burn fat and build muscle, agrees.

“Curling up against the brace is a great way to work your abs without stressing your lower back,” says Finn. “Try it the next time you train your abs. You'll be surprised at how such a simple exercise can easily be made more challenging and effective.”


Karst, G.M., & Willett, G.M. (2004). Effects of specific exercise instructions on abdominal muscle activity during trunk curl exercises. Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, 34, 4-12. Professor Stuart McGill, University of Waterloo, Canada. Christian Finn, M.S,

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Christian Finn

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Tel: 44 7941 337542


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