PERFORMING endless sit ups and planks but not seeing any change to your tummy?
It could be your choice of exercise moves holding you back from achieving the toned stomach you are after.
And while all tummies are equally attractive, if your personal goal is to slim down your middle, it can be frustrating when you are putting in the hard graft but not getting anywhere.
My name is Cecilia Harris, and as a celebrity personal trainer and founder of fitness app RWL, there are two ab exercises that are a waste of your precious workout time, and they are probably the ones you are doing regularly.
I’ve been a PT for two decades now and it still surprises me that my clients are obsessed with sit ups and bicycle crunches before I start working with them.
They are two of the most well known ab exercises, but are two of the least effective.
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People don’t like to hear that it’s not really worth doing sit ups because it’s the exercise that has been rammed down our throats for years.
You see them in every chick flick or sports brand advert, but when I explain the reasons WHY I cut them out of workouts it soon makes sense.
The truth is, sit ups and bicycle crunches are the easiest tummy exercises to “cheat”, whether we realise we are doing it or not, and that simply means that most of us don’t end up using our core muscles much at all when we do them, instead putting strain on other parts of the body.
So what exactly are sit ups and bicycle crunches and why are they so ineffective at giving us a flatter tummy?
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1. Sit ups
Sit ups, or crunches as they are also known, can be problematic for a lot of different reasons.
While most people think of a sit up as a basic gym exercise that everyone should be able to do, they are actually quite a risky move.
If you are not being coached through the perfect form for a sit up, you are probably not focusing enough on the position of your neck and head and it is incredibly common for people to pull their head and neck up with their hands, forcing the spine to curve and putting pressure on the back and shoulders rather than those core muscles you so desperately want to work.
If you are ever trying to work your tummy muscles, always keep in mind that you should NEVER feel it in your back.
If you do, stop immediately. And this is why I just cut sit ups out of workouts, because, unless performed with complete accuracy, they are tough to get right.
2. Bicycle crunches
A move that looks super impressive when you see someone doing it at record pace on the gym floor, the bicycle crunch is a classic example of: the faster you do it, the less effective it will be.
A proper, slowly executed bicycle crunch is very difficult and requires an already strong core, so anyone adding these into their workouts usually overcompensates and makes the move “easier” by speeding it up, rounding the back and using other muscles to help them out.
Goodbye strong core, hello back pain.
Bicycle crunches can so easily put strain on your back and neck and that is never going to help us achieve a healthier body, or a slimmer tummy.
OK, so we know to cut these core exercises out pretty sharpish if a flatter tummy is our goal, but what do we do instead?
It’s OK if your goal isn’t to have a slimmer tummy, but if it is something you want to achieve for your health or your personal confidence, then the first thing I tell people, before we talk about any exercises, is, you need to look at burning fat first.
Everyone has core muscles, but no matter how toned they are, if you have excess body fat in their area then you will struggle to see them.
Achieving a calorie deficit is key, and that simply means using up more energy in your day than you consume in food and drink.
Think about reducing portion sizes if you need to, remove ultra processed foods like white bread and takeaways from your diet, and add in lots of vegetables and healthy proteins.
Also think about sitting still less. Whether that’s at a desk, in a car or in front of the TV. Where you can, get up and move.
3 exercises guaranteed to work your tummy
There are great core exercises that promise to work multiple muscle groups and really force you to engage your tummy muscles.
These are my go to ab exercises that I get my clients doing when they want to train their tummy.
1. The straight leg Pilates crunch
A great core movement that you can do at home using tea towels, or on a reformer pilates machine, if you are lucky enough to have access to one at your gym.
This move targets your rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis and your oblique muscles.
Find a hard floor surface and place two tea towels underneath your feet.
From here, bend your knees and place your hands on the floor, walking out into a plank position (feet still on the tea towels).
Keeping your shoulders over your wrists and a flat back, engage your core then lift your bum into the air, keeping your legs straight and allowing your feet to drag in, towards your hands.
Once you reach as far as you can go, allow the feet to return to the start, plank position. Repeat for 12 reps, or as many as you can.
2. Hanging knee raises
An absolute core burner, this will fire up those tummy muscles including your rectus abdominis and external obliques and really deeply strengthen them to help you achieve that flatter tummy.
Step or jump up to hold on to a pull up bar (whether in the gym or at the park).
Start by hanging with arms long and upper back engaged by pushing your chest up and shoulder blades back behind you.
From here, engage your core and breathe out as you lift both your knees up towards your chest.
Hold here for a second, then extend your legs back down, nice and slowly. Repeat 12 reps or as many as you can,
3. High knee sprints
OK, so this might not be what you expect when you think of a “tummy exercise” but sprinting on the spot is a fantastic way to work the core while also achieving cardio fat burn.
You have two options here, a high impact and low impact version of the same exercise.
Start standing with your feet hip distance apart.
For option one, drive your left knee up to your chest then quickly swap to bring your right knee up to your chest and continue to do this as fast as you can, sprinting on the spot.
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For option two, do the same thing but return your left foot to the floor before lifting your right knee up, making it a lower impact movement.
Do this for 30 to 45 seconds at a time.
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