What is it for?
This will be a very tough exercise for a lot of people and at the same time it is one of the best exercises for your whole stomach. It works mainly on the lower portion of your rectus abdominus (the lower section of your “6 pack” – .) and the transverse abdominals (the belt-like abdominal that gives us protection for our backs – .). If you find that you suffer from a “pot belly,” weak abdominal muscles and/or reverse pelvic tilt (where your pelvis drops at the front and is high at the back, creating an accentuated curve in the spine – .) you will find after time and correct technique this can be a very beneficial exercise for you and help correct your posture.
Remember though that any stomach exercise will not necessarily give you a flat stomach, it all depends on how much body fat you have sitting on top of the muscle. If you do have a little or a lot of excess fat then you need to combine your abdominal exercises with a good all over body workout and a good healthy diet (check out our diet section for more advice on this area – .)
Control is the key to this exercise and going slowly is the right way to do it. If you go too fast you can really cause problems (nasty injuries – .) and you will not get any of the benefits from the exercise.
Firstly, as with the “hip raise” exercise, you start on your back with your legs in the air at 90 degrees. Draw your knees into your chest so that your hips come up just off the ground; hold it for a fraction of a second (to show control – .) then slowly lower your hips back down and reach out with your legs so that they are out straight and off the ground.
This is where the technique is at its most crucial. You must be very careful that you don’t put out your legs too low as this will put a lot of pressure into your back. Have a couple of test goes but the higher you aim your feet the less pressure there is on your spine and abdominals. Start off high and as you improve go lower in small stages. When you reach your strongest, probably after several months, you should be able to complete it at the hardest level which is aiming your feet to about 10cm off the ground. Now it is possible that many people can do that already, so there is one more teaching point that you must also abide by for safe and correct technique and that is not to let your lower back arch up at all. If your lower back leaves the ground even slightly and you can’t hold it down with your stomach muscles, then you just aren’t strong enough and must raise your legs immediately.
To hold your lower back as firmly into the ground as possible, concentrate on drawing your stomach in (like you do at the beach – .) This activates your transverse abdominals which are the ones that support your back and will be able to get it held firmly in position. That is why this particular exercise is so good because it really works both the transverse abdominals and the lower portion of the rectus abdominus (6 pack – .) where so many other exercises fail to reach them. Breathing is very difficult with this exercise as your stomach is never allowed to relax throughout the whole movement. Best advice is to breathe in when you bring your knees into your body and out when your legs are out.
In the video you will be able to see that I keep the movement very slow and controlled. Make sure you try and copy this speed as closely as you can. When I bring my knees into my chest I only take it to the point where my hips are off the floor, so don’t worry if your knees don’t touch your chest it is just a guide. The important bit is getting your hips up off the ground. After a short hold in that position I slowly lower the legs and extend them. You will notice that for myself I have chosen a height that is about 45 degrees which for me is perfect. I can feel my stomach muscles working but my back is held firmly on the ground. You know when your stomach muscles are working when there is a feeling of a slight pull in the muscle itself. You will also see that my lower back does not move and definitely doesn’t rise, as I have already said this control is the key to the exercise, so be sure you make this the main focus when you carry it out.
Keep the movement slow and controlled
Keep the lower back firmly on the ground at all times
Breathe (sounds silly, but we often keep holding our breath – .)
Only go as far as your stomach will take you before your back arches
Pick a height where you feel the pull in your stomach but nothing in your back
Don’t hold your breath
Don’t move too quickly(this is not a race – .)
Don’t arch your back
Don’t just swing your legs
Don’t put your feet lower than your stomach can handle
Don’t do this if you have a bad back
Do not do this exercise if you have a bad back as the pressure can be far too much. If you are a beginner then practise the other stomach exercises before you attempt this one. If when you try to do it you can’t lower your legs at all without feeling it in your back, then you are not strong enough yet. Check with your doctor and read up on our bad back section to help protect your back first. When your back gets stronger it will be exercises like this that will strengthen your core (stomach muscles, particularly your transverse abdominals – .) to help protect your back in the future.
Adding it to Your Workout
Personally I would pick 4 to 6 different stomach exercises and complete 20 repetitions of each and do a total of 1 to 2 sets each. So that would be a total of 80 – 240 abdominal repetitions in total. It may sound a lot to some (Yes, it does! – .) and may sound like not enough to others, but remember it is quality and not quantity. People who are doing over 240 abdominal crunches are potentially just wasting time. With this actual exercise you should find 20 plenty enough. It should be harder than it looks.
I hope this had made sense and you are clear on what you can and can’t do. If you have any further questions then please leave a comment on the comments section or send me an email via the contact . section. Thank you for reading and supporting the cause, come back in a couple of days for the next post on stomach exercises.