Most Effective Exercises for Tight Abs

Summary
A large range of exercises and exercise machines that promise weight loss and muscle toning are available for purchase and in gyms. The effect of various exercises on the improvement of abdominal muscles was assessed on 30 healthy adults. Each participant was subjected to various exercises and machines, including a few commercial devices, while simultaneously measuring their muscle activity. It was seen that the “bicycle maneuver” (lying on your back, legs in the air, mimicking cycling a bicycle) and the “captain’s chair” (suspending your body above the ground, holding onto hand rails of a chair-like device commonly found in weight rooms) were more effective than the other exercise maneuvers. All the commercial devices used in the study were very poor in comparison with the basic exercise moves, casting doubts on the effectiveness of these machines.

Introduction
Countless exercise devices have been developed over the years.  Many exercise trainers tend to share their favorite protocols of work-out regimes for better abdominal muscles. The cost of these devices is alarming in most cases. Strong abdominal muscles help with good posture, alleviate lower back pain and are essential for long-term health and well-being. These muscles are not merely for “looks.” In spite of the wide availability of devices and the various methods of abdominal workouts, the best and most efficient route to tighter abs remains unclear. This study incorporates an assessment of muscle activity during exercise to gain conclusions.

Methodology
* Thirty healthy women and men, aged between 20 and 45 years, were the subjects in this study. The selected group consisted of occasional exercisers as well as those on daily workouts.
* Each subject was asked to practice a list of exercises initially. This was followed by at least 10 to 12 repetitions of each exercise. The subjects also tried commercially available products such as the “Torso Track” and the “AB Rocker.”
* Electromyography (EMG) equipment was used to monitor each participant’s muscle activity during the exercises.
* The mean muscle activity for each exercise was estimated using the EMG and the results were normalized to that of a traditional crunch.

Results

* Exercises that involved workouts of the abdominal area with abdominal stabilization were the most effective. The exercise routines could be improved by adding body rotation, which focuses the most in the oblique muscles.
* The most effective exercises were the “bicycle maneuver” and the “captain’s chair.”
* The “Torso Track” was more effective than the traditional crunch, but most users reported lower back discomfort. Using the “AB Roller” was approximately 80 percent less effective than a traditional crunch.
* Crunches on the exercise balls were the most effective home exercise routines. The long arm crunch and the crunch with heel push were also effective but only slightly more than the traditional crunch.

Shortcomings/Next steps
The researchers found that folding of the skin during a number of exercises was causing the electromyograph electrodes to detach, impeding the recordings. This detachment could be the reason for the misinterpretation of the independent action of upper and lower abdominal muscles. These findings cannot be generalized, as the effectiveness of each exercise depends on factors such as individual human metabolisms, body nature, body build, ability to perform the exercise maneuvers and associated health conditions.

Conclusion
This study has shown that most of the exercises work on healthy subjects. The EMG’s showed that the “bicycle maneuver” and the “captain’s chair” were the most effective exercises for the abdomen. The effectiveness of exercise varies from person to person. Choosing several exercises and working-out in regular exercise sessions is recommended to get optimum effects. Two commercially available exercise products claiming to improve abdominal tone were also assessed in this study, but they only produced marginal effects. The study states that abdominal crunches can exercise your abdomen effectively. However, if there are products that can help you do the exercise more efficiently or readily, it is a good idea to invest in them.

For More Information:
New Study Puts the Crunch on Ineffective Ab Exercises
Publication Journal: Ace FitnessMatters, May/June 2001
By Peter Francis, PhD; Jennifer Davis, M.A.; San Diego State University Biomechanics Lab

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.
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