It goes without saying by now that abs are made in the kitchen, but when it comes to the exercise portion of shredding your six-pack, technique is everything. In a new YouTube video, kinesiologist Jeremy Ethier breaks down three incredibly common things that could be holding back your progress in your ab workouts, and explains how to correct your approach to see the best results.
You could be letting your hip flexors take over
A number of ab-centric exercises, such as sit-ups, reverse crunches and leg raises, involve a significant degree of hip flexion. It's fairly common, then, for the hip flexors to absorb some of that pressure during the workout, especially in cases of weakness in the abdominal muscles. Not only is this less than ideal when training the abs, but Ethier warns it can also create a "problematic imbalance" between the hip flexors and ab strength which has the potential to lead to back pain later on.
"One way to address this is to simply change your focus during your abs exercises," he says. "Ignore what your legs and upper body are doing during the movement, and instead focus on your pelvis. For bottom-up ab exercises like leg raises or reverse crunches, simply focus on curling your pelvis up towards your bellybutton. For top-down exercises like cable crunches or sit-ups, bring the ribcage forward and down towards the pelvis. This mindset shift alone will do wonders in terms of helping you fuel the movement more with your abs and less with your hip flexors."
You're failing to initiate and maintain a posterior pelvic tilt
"This subtle movement of tilting the pelvis by contracting the glutes and abs is another key function of the abs, and has been shown to boost activation and further prevent the hip flexors from taking over," says Ethier.
"Realise the importance of this, and apply this subtle tweak to all of your abs exercises... Make this change and you'll not only instantly feel a much greater contraction in your abs, but also less involvement of other muscle groups like the hip flexors and lower back that we want to keep out of the movement."
You're treating the abs as a "special" muscle
There are two types of people who fall into this camp, Ethier explains: those who don't do any ab work whatsoever, and those who train their abs completely differently to how they work out the rest of their muscles.
"Although abs are indirectly worked during many compound exercises, research has shown that they're stimulated to a much higher degree during direct abs work, and would therefore respond better with growth," he says. "But when you do add direct abs work, approach it like any other muscle group. A lot of people make the mistake of training their abs several times a week with high rep ranges and short rest periods, and will leave them to the end of their workouts when they're already pretty fatigued. Instead, train them like your other muscle groups, by providing them with adequate attention and volume, but also with adequate rest."
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