The understanding and training of the abdominal muscles have gone through a complete metamorphosis in recent years, due to increased awareness of various abdominal groups functions and their role in back care and injury prevention. The simple curls and crunches no longer hold their own in abdominal training. Added to, or replacing them, are spinal stabilisation, postural awareness and back strengthening exercises. A variety of techniques are used to improve core strength and stability as well as increasing torso tone.
Lumbar stabilisation is a vital inclusion in abdominal conditioning because it plays such a significant role in back injury prevention and rehabilitation. Some 90 per cent of adults suffer significant back injury at some stage in their life. Closely associated with all lower back injuries is weakness in deep muscles such as Transverse Abdominous, Internal Obliques and a posterior group, Multifidous. The role of these muscles is to support, or stabilise, the lumbar sine in all movements of daily life and exercise. As the fitness leader’s role becomes increasingly focused on longevity and health, we are now including more injury preventative exercises into our programs, bridging the gap between health and fitness.
To effectively train all muscle groups, with the aim of increasing lumbar stabilisation, as well as abdominal tone, it is important to consider certain aspects relating to specificity of training:
- The abdominals are required to stabilise our spine in various positions, so we should train them in various positions, such as sitting, standing, prone and supine.
- The stabilisers are required to support the back whilst a person is moving, hence our training should include contractions of these deep muscles during movement as well as static holds.
- The spinal stabilisers should be trained at a level appropriate for the individual’s strength and awareness. Intensity and difficulty are increased by altering the base of support, to make it less stable or increase leverage.
- Spinal stabilisation is required all waking hours. They are endurance muscles. Endurance training is therefore important.
- Poor posture, postural awareness and ability to contract deep abdominals are commonly associated with weakness and injury, hence education and awareness should be an inclusion in the abdominals program.
Fitball allows us to train abdominal muscles and groups very effectively. There are several ways that Fitball can maximise abdominal training.
- Fitball provides an unstable base of support. This can be used to challenge spinal holding, improve posture and postural awareness and also to train stabilisation during performance of other common exercises. For example, just sitting on the ball encourages good spinal alignment, and slouching on the ball, unlike a chair, is quite uncomfortable. Exercises such as weighted biceps curls, or shoulder presses performed sitting on the ball require contraction and endurance training of deep abdominals to maintain upright posture.
- The roll ability of the ball allows alterations of lever length to increase or decrease difficulty, as well as enabling additional movements for a more challenging progression to an exercise.
- Performing crunches or curls from the reclined position on top of the ball enables sensational rectus abdominous training, but incorporates the other stabilising groups also, Without stabilisation, the curls are not possible. This position also cuts out the hip flexor component, seen commonly in "regular" floor abdominal curls. For a less intense workout, the supine on the floor can be used with the legs relaxed on top of the ball, also cutting out the hip flexors.
A few abdominal training options provided by Fitball
- Starting Position: Sitting, walk feet one step forward, recline spine slightly back, and keeping it straight.
- Action: Raise body slowly up and back down (though mid range rather than upright or all the way down to horizontal)
- To increase difficulty: Walk feet further back so that more torso is back behind the ball. This is easier if more spine is in contact with the ball.
- Added benefit: Degree of difficulty, removes cheating with hip flexors, trains deeper abdominal groups also.
- As above, but reaching hand up and across body, alternating.
The Roll Away
- Starting Position: Kneeling behind the ball, fists together resting on the ball, with ball rolled in close, so that hands are near chest.
- Action: Roll the ball out allowing body to follow. Allow hips to lower, but DO NOT drop lumbar spine. Hold the spine hips and thighs in a straight line, eg 10 secs.
- To increase difficulty: Roll ball further away Roll ball further away
- Added benefit: Dynamic approach to transverse abdominous strengthening. Gravity resisted and unstable base of support increase intensity. Alternative to lying prone on floor.
- Starting Position: Roll over the ball until hands are on the floor and ball is under the knees. Slightly unlock elbows. You should now be in push up position.
- Action: Brace abdominals (tightening to the ceiling) to maintain supported "neutral" spine position.
- To Increase Difficulty: Maintain neutral supported spine whilst walking further out on hands. Performing a push up or moving the ball side to side also increase the challenge to hold the transversus abdominous contraction.
Curls from Floor
- Starting Position: Back on floor, legs up and relaxed on the ball.
- Action: Curl torso up as for regular Rectus abdominous curls.
- Added Benefit: Relaxed legs, supported by the ball decrease hip flexor action.