I read the ab training article (#3) by Lisa Sutton on Bodybuilding.com and thought it was very good and agree on the sequence of training the abs: lower abs first, side (obliques) abs second and upper abs last.
Proper Ab Training
Proper ab training becomes much easier and more effective when we keep in mind the main function of the abs. That main function is to "flex," i.e., round, the lower back, not to arch the lower back or twist the spinal column like in seated twists or side bends. Therefore, any proper ab training is/should be a "back flexion" movement even when working your "love handles" or oblique muscles.
Technically speaking the ab muscles can fully contract in a 2-inch movement. Any more than that means involvement of hip flexion and back extension, which should be minimized to maximize your time during ab training.
The whole idea is to MAXIMIZE back flexion by pulling your rib cage and pelvis in toward one another at all times (no hip flexion and back extension) even in a negative or muscle lengthening rep position. Remember the 2-inch movement ab rule!
So the main goal is to bring the ribs and hips closer to each other or to close the gap between the ribs and the pelvis. A person can only do that if the abs are consciously pulled in and tightened as in any crunch position. Note the range of motion (ROM) when performing sit-up crunches from start to finish.
Try and keep your neck in line with the upper body by looking up (not forward and tucked down).
Or place your hands behind your head for neck support to avoid hyperextension of the neck and possible neck pain.
Avoid Low Back Pain
When the abs become relaxed or less tight the lower back starts to become arched and used more than the abs. We may do this without realizing it, especially when the abs fatigue. At this point most people start relying on the lower back for strength or support. The result might be lower back pain, if not now then later.
Notice in all the ab exercises pictured my back is flexed (rounded), with the exception of lying leg raises and pendulums (not pictured). If you have low back pain then conventional lying leg raises should be avoided and replaced with reverse crunches.
When performing reverse crunches (pictured below) for your lower abs keep your lower back snug against the pad or floor. This exercise is performed by raising your hips (not your thighs) up and back while pulling your abs in. Bring the hips up and in (not your thighs) to perform a "back flexion" movement.
The same motion is also true with hanging leg raises, except that lengthening of the spine by hanging makes it more difficult to perform the same type of a back flexion movement.
Quality NOT Quantity
Perform two sets for the upper, lower and side (oblique) abs. Remember, you are aiming for quality not quantity. Accomplishing more in less time means quality, not how much or many. So it might be beneficial if you do not count your ab reps but instead aim for complete muscle fatigue per exercise performed in a tri-set fashion.
My motto, "train hard, not long," also applies to ab training, not just weight training. Abs should be trained slow and concentrated since they contract fast throughout the day during daily activities. The contracted position should be held for a tight 2-second count.
Try to avoid using momentum as much as you can and also avoid using the strength of the legs, hips and ankles to reassure yourself that you are getting a good quality ab workout!
Best Time & How Often?
Abs can be done as part of your initial warm-up at the beginning of your workout or be used as a warm/cool-down last in your workout. It is can also be used as an intermission between body parts worked if you are following a split routine. Ab training should be performed three to four days per week—not everyday.
Copyright © 1997-2002 Randy Herring