Sunday, April 3, 2011

Abs in April

The start of a new month!

For anyone, having a strong and stable core is very important. Core muscles include obliques, abdominals, lower back, and the glutes. When you have a strong core, it helps with every activity you do. Here is a list of some of the benefits of a strong core:

1. Strengthening core muscles will improve posture and prevent low muscular back pain.
Have you ever noticed how sometimes old people seem to be hunch-backed? This comes from slouching, looking down a lot (to read, to sew, to type, etc), weakening of the muscles and settling of the joints. If you maintain a strong core and good posture, you won't get a hump back when you age.

2. Helps avoid back injury.
In my case, I have a condition called Spondylolisthesis, where the lowest vertebrae in my back doesn't line up properly. If I do not keep a strong core, I have extreme lower back pain. By having a strong core and good posture, I can alieviate this pain without medication or surgery!

3. Improves physical performance
Every Martial Artist needs a strong core! Power comes from your center! Strength and posture come from our center. By having a strong core it will help every aspect your art, stance, punches, kicks, breathing, etc. Your core ties it all together.

4. Improves balance
Also essential to every Martial Artist is balance. Balance will help you perform techniques better, hold stances longer, and maintain control over your opponents in grappling arts.

So, with all that being said, here are some of my favorite abs exercises, in no particular order. Most of these can be done at home without any equipment. Be sure to to squeeze your abs during each exercise and maintain steady even breathing, in through the nose and out through the mouth. (How to descriptions courtesy of

1) Bicycle exercise *considered one of the most effective abs exercises working the rectus abdominus or 'six pack' muscles and the obliques
-Lie on the floor and lace your fingers behind your head.
-Bring the knees in towards the chest and lift the shoulder blades off the floor without pulling on the neck.
-Straighten the left leg out while simultaneously turning the upper body to the right, taking the left elbow towards the right knee.
-Switch sides, bringing the right elbow towards the left knee.
-Continue alternating sides in a 'pedaling' motion for 1-3 sets of 12-16 reps.

2)Captain's Chair Leg Raise *requires equipment, also works the six pack and the obliques
-Stand on the chair and grip handholds to stabilize your upper body.
-Press your back against the pad and contract the abs to raise the legs and lift knees towards your chest.
-Don't arch the back or swing the legs up.
-Slowly lower back down and repeat for 1-3 sets of 12-16 reps.

3)Balance Ball Crunches *Targets the six packs
-Lie on the ball, positioning it under the lower back.
-Cross your arms over the chest or place them behind your head.
-Contract your abs to lift your torso off the ball, pulling the bottom of your ribcage down toward your hips.
-As you curl up, keep the ball stable (i.e., the ball shouldn't roll).
-Lower back down, getting a stretch in the abs, and repeat for 1-3 sets of 12-16 reps.

*An alternate option, one that my trainer showed me which I really like, is to start with the ball under your upper back, do one set of crunches going only a small ways up, target your upper abs, roll the ball down to the middle of your back, doing the second set sitting up further to target your upper and middle abs, then roll the ball down to your lower back doing one set coming all the way to a sitting position, working all the abs, then going back to the middle and back to the upper abs. You will do a total of 5 sets of 10 - 15 crunches, increasing the amount of crunches are you are able. You can rest in between sets of 5 doing a total of 3 or more sets of 5.

4) Verticle Leg Crunch, also Toe Touch Crunch
-Lie on the floor and extend the legs straight up in the air and toes pointed.
-You can place your hands on the floor for support.
-Contract the abs to lift the shoulder blades off the floor, as though reaching your chest towards your feet. *You can also reach for your toes
-Keep the legs in a fixed position and imagine bringing your belly button towards your spine at the top of the movement.
-Lower and repeat for 1-3 sets of 12-16 reps

5)Reverse Crunch

-Lie on the floor and place hands on the floor or behind the head. *to challenge yourself, lay on a bench with your legs straight out, off the edge of the bench.
-Legs straight out, toes pointed, bring them straight up.
-Contract the abs to curl the hips off the floor, reaching the legs up towards the ceiling. (Bring your hips straight up, do not bring them back, your legs should not come back towards your head at all.)
-Lower and repeat for 1-3 sets of 12-16 reps.
*It's a very small movement, so try to use your abs to lift your hips rather than swinging your legs and creating momentum.

6)Plank Position

-Lie face down on mat resting on the forearms, palms flat on the floor.
-Push off the floor, raising up onto toes and resting on the elbows.
-Keep your back flat, in a straight line from head to heels.
-Tilt your pelvis and contract your abdominals to prevent your rear end from sticking up in the air or sagging in the middle.
-Hold for 30, break for 10, hold for 30 more, or do up to 60 seconds straight if you can, lower and repeat for 3-5 reps.

Enjoy your sore abs friends! Have a good week.

~ Samurai Girl Sahara


  1. What's a typical workout routine for you?

  2. As of right now I work out twice a week with a personal trainer, an hour each time, and attend Kempo three, sometimes four times a week, also an hour each class. All together I usually average between 6 and 8 hours of exercise a week. *It is really important to take a day or two off every week. You're actually building muscle when you rest as when you work out you're tearing your muscle and when you rest your body repairs the tears making the muscles stronger than before. That being said:

    My trainer has me do a full body work out, which consists of a mix of weight training and cardio activities. Since I mentioned that I wanted a toned body, our workouts try to work as many of the muscles in the body as they can: legs, arms, back, chest, abs. We usually do lower weight higher rep sets to build muscle endurance for Kempo. So, in one work out I may do squats, bar bell curls, dips, flutter kicks, jumping jacks repeat 2 or 3 times, then should press, plank, toe touch crunches, side to side jump, high knees, jump rope and repeat 2 or 3 times. The next time I go in, we'll do a totally different set of exercises, but they'll still target the same muscle groups. I hope that makes sense.

    There are a few different sets of exercises that we cycle through so that my muscles don't get used to doing the same thing all the time and plateau. Its good to switch it up frequently. Unfortunately I only have a few more sessions left and I probably won't be able to afford to sign up for another set of sessions since I'm on half time. Next I to start working my way through the exercises in a book called Hyperfitness, recommended to me by a close friend and Martial Arts instructor. I'll post information on those when I get to them.

    Kempo is essentially an hour of cardio, which, I have been told, is what many trainers recommend for days when you're not doing weight training.

    That was probably way more detail than you were looking for, but I hope that answers your question! ^.~