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How to Get Razor-Sharp Abs

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Most guys will tackle their abdominal training with a few sets of sit-ups or some version of crunches. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great start – but if the sides of your waist are soft and covered with fat, crunches may not be enough. Of course, your calorie intake needs to be in control and your diet has to be clean, and you must boost your cardio to drop body fat – but to carve hardness into the sides of your waist, you must target these weaker areas of your abdomen. Lying windshield wipers tighten and strengthen the major muscles on the sides of your waist and the lower part of the abdomen. A few months of lying windshield wipers and a good diet will eliminate any hint of love handles and replace them with razor-sharp abs.

Muscles Used in Lying Windshield Wipers

There are two major muscles and two deeper muscles that are responsible for maintaining the lateral boundaries of your abdomen. The external oblique muscle is the more superficial of the two muscles. This muscle begins on the lower ribs and extends to the hip bones. Small bundles of muscle fibers connect from lateral to medial, in the same direction that your fingers would point if you were to put your hands in your pockets.

When both left and right sides of the external oblique muscles work together, they flex the trunk and move the head toward the feet. When working one side at a time, the muscle flexes the trunk to the opposite side. For example, the right side of the external oblique strongly contracts when you bend or twist to the left side.

The second important muscle is the internal oblique muscle. It sits just deep to the external oblique muscle. The fibers of the internal oblique run around the side of the trunk at right angles to the external oblique muscle, fanning out from the origins and running toward the head (superiorly). It attaches on the lowest three or four ribs, where it becomes continuous with the internal intercostal muscles (respiratory muscles of the rib cage).

Similar to the external oblique muscle, the internal oblique flexes the trunk at the waist and moves the head toward the feet, if both left and right portions contract together. However, unlike the external oblique, if you twist to the right, the right side is most active.

Two other muscles act as abdomen stabilizers during lying windshield wipers. The transversus abdominis muscle helps to pull your abdomen inward. It is the deepest abdominal muscle, beginning on the inner surfaces of the inferior five to six costal cartilages of the ribs, the posterior side of the vertebral column, and also from the iliac crest region of the hip.

The second stabilizer is the iliopsoas muscle. This is a posterior abdominal muscle that consists of two fused muscles. The psoas major is a long and thick muscle that lies beside the thoracic and lumbar vertebral column. The iliacus muscle is a large triangular muscle overlaying the iliac bones of the hip and it lies along the lateral side of the psoas major. The fibers of the iliacus and psoas major combine into a single tendon that attaches near the head of the femur (thigh) bone. The iliopsoas is the most powerful flexor of the thigh at the hip joint. This muscle assists in stabilizing the femur of the thigh during each repetition of windshield wipers.

Windshield Wipers

This exercise targets both the internal and external oblique muscles.

 

  1. Place a flat bench under a Smith machine. Lie on the bench in a supine position (face upward). Place the bar at arms’ length above your face and grasp the bar. Your hands are here solely to stabilize your upper body and to prevent you from falling off the bench as you are twisting to one side or the other.

 

  1. Put both feet together. Extend your legs and hips so that there is a straight line from your torso down your legs.

 

  1. Inhale and raise your legs and hips so that they are perpendicular to your torso, with the toes pointed directly upward, straight toward the ceiling.

 

  1. Lower the legs to one side (e.g., to the left), until they are at an angle of about 45 degrees to the floor. Exhale as you lower your legs and try to pull in your abdomen as much as possible.

 

  1. Reverse the movement and inhale as you are coming up to the perpendicular point. Do not stop there. Go slowly to the other side until you have reached an angle of about 45 degrees. Exhale and pull in your abdomen on the way down. Continue to move your legs back and forth like a windshield wiper. Start with 10 reps to each side, but work up to 30. Three sets should be enough to make it feel like a tiger has been gnawing at your sides.

 

You should make an effort to pull the transversus in as much as possible as the legs are going downward. A strong transversus abdominis also acts to stabilize your spine and pelvis when you are lifting heavy weights in squats or rows. The iliopsoas largely acts to stabilize the thigh. You should not go down lower than 45 degrees on each side, because this puts too much strain on the lumbar vertebral discs and any further abdominal benefit is simply not worth risking any injury to your back. You will find that this smaller range of motion will get the job done, without any back risk.

 

References:

Hubley-Kozey CL, Hanada EY, Gordon S, Kozey J and McKeon M. Differences in abdominal muscle activation patterns of younger and older adults performing an asymmetric leg-loading task. PM R, 1: 1004-1013, 2009.

McGill, SM, Karpowicz, A (2009). Exercises for spine stabilization: motion/motor patterns, stability progressions, and clinical technique. Arch Phys Med Rehab, 90, 118-126.

Parfrey, KC, Docherty, D, Workman, RC, & Behm, DG (2008). The effects of different sit- and curl-up positions on activation of abdominal and hip flexor musculature. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, 33, 888-895.

Teyhen DS, Williamson JN, Carlson NH, Suttles ST, O'Laughlin SJ, Whittaker JL, Goffar SL and Childs JD. Ultrasound characteristics of the deep abdominal muscles during the active straight leg raise test. Arch Phys Med Rehab, 90: 761-767, 2009.

Teyhen, DS, Rieger, JL, Westrick, RB, Miller, AC, Molloy, JM, & Childs, JD (2008). Changes in deep abdominal muscle thickness during common trunk-strengthening exercises using ultrasound imaging. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther, 38, 596-605.

Workman, JC, Docherty, D, Parfrey, KC, & Behm, DG (2008). Influence of pelvis position on the activation of abdominal and hip flexor muscles. J Strength Cond Res, 22, 1563-1569.

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HIIT for Heart Health

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We’ve been told that high-intensity workouts offer more cardiovascular benefits than moderate exercise. Norwegian researchers now believe they know why.

“Our research on rats with heart failure shows that exercise reduces the severity of the disease, improves heart function, and increases work capacity,” says Tomas Stølen, PhD, at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. “And the intensity of the training is really important to achieve this effect.”

Reporting in the Journal of ­Mole­cular and Cellular Cardiology, the researchers describe the intri­cate mechanisms required to pro­duce a healthy heartbeat. When any one of these actions falters, it limits the heart’s ability to pump oxygenated blood throughout the body.

In the lab rats raised to develop heart failure, for instance, only about 20 percent of the available blood — known as the ejection fraction — exited the heart with each contraction. A healthy rat will push 75 percent of the blood out into its body with each beat.

After six to eight weeks of daily high-intensity interval training (HIIT), the ailing rats increased their ejection fraction to 35 percent. Stolen points specifically to improvements in the transfer of calcium in the heart’s cell membranes to explain the change.

“We found that interval training improves a number of the mechanisms that allow calcium to be pumped out of the cells and stored more efficiently inside the cells,” he explains.

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How to Test Your Power

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In fitness, “power” refers to explosiveness — the ability to move weight with speed. The box jump is a great way to test and train lower-body power. It requires the ability to use power from your legs to jump up; to achieve triple-extension of your hips, knees, and ankles; and to land softly and with control.

How to Test: Stand with your feet at hip width about a foot behind a sturdy elevated surface, such as a weight plate or plyo box. Hinge your hips and lower into a mini squat.

Explosively reverse the motion — swing your arms forward for added momentum to jump up and forward with a powerful hip drive. Land gently with knees soft, then straighten your legs and drive through your hips to stand tall.

Step down and repeat for as many controlled, great-form reps as possible in one minute. If you feel your form eroding — or miss a rep — before the minute is complete, stop there.

How to Assess: Record the height of the platform — whether it’s 4 inches, 12 inches, or 36 inches. As with elevating your hands in a pushup (see “How to Test Your Muscular Endurance“), selecting an appropriate height ensures safety and the opportunity to measure progress.

Additionally, record how many reps you completed. Over time, you likely will be able to complete more repetitions, jump to a higher platform, or both.

How to Improve: Practice box jumps a couple of times a week, performing two or three sets of eight reps. Pay particular attention to fully extending the hips as you jump and to landing with control on each repetition.

Other ways to improve lower-body power include powerful step-ups, kettlebell swings, and the Olympic lifts — snatches and clean-and-jerks.

For more tips on improving box-jump prowess, including alternatives to the move, visit “BREAK IT DOWN: The Box Jump“.

This was excerpted from “Fitness Testing 2.0” which was published in the June 2021 issue of Experience Life magazine.

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The Science of Strength

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