How many times have you promised yourself youll join a gym or make an effort to fit exercise into your busy routine? Weve all done it! But with the realities of modern life long work hours, family commitments and expensive gym memberships chances are we are neglecting our weary bodies, preferring instead to spend the evening slumped in front of the television set.
The thing is not to feel guilty or to berate yourself. Nows the perfect time to start and you dont have to fork out vast sums of money on memberships, fancy gym equipment or gadgets. You can make a real difference with simple exercises performed at home, any time of the day or night. You can even do them while watching your favourite program!
Sit-ups, or crunches, are one of the most common exercises attempted when we start a home exercise regime but can be dangerous if you havent been shown how to do them correctly.
Our fitness expert Emma will demonstrate the correct way to exercise your stomach area and avoid common mistakes that often lead to muscle pain or back strain.
First, find an area of floor space where you can spread out a padded yoga mat or blanket.
Lie on your back, bringing your knees up with your feet comfortably flat on the floor and slightly apart to keep your body and spine aligned. Don’t anchor your feet because this will make your leg and hip flexor muscles do all the work.
Slowly pull the torso upwards from a lying position, towards the knees. Stop when youre about six inches off the floor, and tense your abdominal muscles. Hold this position briefly then lower slowly to the floor. Then repeat.
Focus on using your abdominal muscles only. Visualise them tensing and shortening like slow-moving cables through a pulley that draws your shoulders and head off the floor.
Exhale while the abdominal muscles contract and pull you upwards. This will suck the muscles inwards, ensuring involvement of the deeper muscles. Inhaling may cause your abdomen to protrude, leading to overarching and strain of the lower back.
The position of your hands and arms will vary according to your abdominal strength. The closer your hands are to your head, the more difficult sit-ups become. Don’t, however, interlace your fingers behind your head. When you do, you tend to pull on your head, which can stress the neck and cause injury. Pulling on your head also makes the abdominal muscles work less.
Be careful not to twist – it places tremendous rotational stress on the lower back that can pull a muscle and cause a lot of pain.
To work your lats, bring your legs together and roll to one side with your knees slightly bent. Gently place your hands on the back of your head (dont grip your neck) and raise both shoulders into an abdominal curl. Swap sides by rolling to the other side and perform another 5 curls.
Or, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, extend one arm to the side with the other gently touching the back of your head. Youll be raising the opposite shoulder. Breathe out and curl your ribcage towards your pelvis.
One set of 5 properly executed abdominal crunches is enough at first. Add 1 each workout until you reach 15. When you have built up some fitness, aim for 3 sets of 15 then lie back limp and relax for a few minutes before getting up.
Well done, youve made a good start! Now that you know the right way to exercise your abdominals, youre well on your way to toning your mid-section, helping to strengthen your back and improve your digestive system too!
CJ – Fitness