(This is a 10 part series in which I am reviewing some of the products sold as exercise equipment, fitness solutions, etc. on infomercials, magazine ads, and cable shopping networks. Unlike most of the ads for these products, this isn’t based on a double blind, major university backed study. It is simply my professional opinion based on my fitness experience and knowledge in the hopes that it will save you some time, aggravation and money.)
Before I begin, let me just say that I am not opposed to abdominal exercises. There are many that are great for you and very effective at strengthening the abdominal wall, not reducing abdominal fat (see spot reduction vs. spot toning in previous post.). They are by far the fan favorite of anyone that begins an exercise program and whether they’re loved or hated, they are without a doubt the exercise I get asked most about. That being said, a lot of what I’m going to tell you in this post (and future posts) about abdominal exercise is going to be very contrary to what you think you know, may have heard, or want to believe. So let’s begin.
The Abdominal Dupe
Because of the popularity of abdominal exercise, it should come as no surprise that a lot of the gimmicks sold are abdominal related. People want (or made to think) that they want flat, chiseled, six pack abs – just like the models in the ads! Truth be told, there is a small percentage of people who have the genetic make up for effortless six pack abs, and for the rest of us there is a near flawless dedication to diet and exercise required to obtain six pack abs. It’s not impossible, but abdominal exercise, particularly the gimmicks, is not the place to start and are likely to do more harm than good.
To really understand and appreciate how the abdominals work, knowledge of muscle function is paramount. Without getting too involved, the abdominal muscles as a group and in order of function from primary to less important, stabilize, rotate, and flex the torso. Important to note that the least important role of the abdominals is to flex (bring the shoulders closer to the hips) and even more important to note that most popular abdominal exercises address trunk flexion, not stabilization or rotation. So is that such a bad thing? No. But here lies the problem with over flexion of the torso.
Our bodies are these amazing machines. Whatever happens to one side of the body, the counter movement occurs to the opposite side of the body. In essence, the body is always working to establish balance. In the case of abdominal “flexion” exercises, the opposing action to the other side of the body is spinal extension. Spinal extension, if in the presence of tight spinal (lower back) muscles, typically caused by inactivity and/or prolonged sitting, unmistakably will lead to lower back discomfort or even pain. If you’ve ever done abdominal exercises such as crunches or some outrageous form of abdominal “burring” exercise, and your back hurt – bingo! Add to that the extreme neck flexion by pulling on the back of the head and you really start to wonder if your quest for a flat stomach is really worth all of the trouble. You don’t have to answer that question because you should by now already know the answer to it.
The Final Verdict
First, I have a confession. I had an Ab Roller when they first came out. I used it religiously. But that was before my education and experience taught me the reality of what I’ve brought you here. Hey, we’re all guilty of the impulse buy. The Ab Roller is nothing more than training wheels for crunches. It guides and supports the neck and shoulders and rolls smoothly to allow a comfortable abdominal exercise. Problem is, our abdominals don’t work that way (fixed, rolling position) and despite the burning that most work to obtain (or avoid), the illusion is that other than fatiguing a muscle that has a high affinity for repetition (it’s asked to hold your insides in all day long), it’s nothing more than a bunch of horizontal curtsy.
Stay tuned for future posts with numbers 7 -1.
Til next time, train smart, eat well, be better.
In case you’ve missed them, here are My Top 10 Most Useless Pieces of Exercise Equipment: