Destination: Abs

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Should we take the scenic route?” 

When I was a kid, we went on quite a few family road trips, and my dad would inevitably toss out that question to my sister and me. At first blush, it sounds like a fine idea … getting off the freeways and onto the back roads, you’re much more likely to see something interesting. It’s like an adventure!

Flash-forward a few hours. Uneasily lost in unfamiliar territory, excitement gave way to impatience. The back seat became a war zone, and in the front seat, a crumpled map and frazzled nerves turned a once pleasant drive ugly. Sure, “Carhenge” and the world’s largest ball of twine were interesting (well, kind of), but the final destination — the main event, the one we’d been anticipating — seemed a thousand miles away. 

If you’ve ever decided to follow a “no-crunch” workout regimen, wanting to sidestep the intense pain the exercise tends to elicit, you can relate to that anecdote, whether you realize it yet or not. That’s because those crunch-free workouts touted in fitness DVDs by trainers and (ahem) even occasionally in fitness magazines that shall remain nameless represent the scenic route to Washboard City. 

The rectus abdominis is the parallel muscle group that runs vertically down the midsection from the chest to the hips. When tensed, it’s a stabilizer for the entire body, but in action, it brings the pelvis toward the rib cage or vice versa.

That means anything that doesn’t involve that “crunching” motion — bringing the pelvis and rib cage toward each other — fails to contract that muscle as directly and efficiently as possible. It’s like trying to work your biceps without curling or your legs without ever bending your knees.

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“Crunches and their variations are exercises that I use in my videos, as they target the midsection and can be performed by almost anyone,” says Jari Love, a Canada-based personal trainer and the star and creator of the Get Ripped! workout DVD series (jarilove.com). 

As for the uncomfortable sensation you get from crunches as you rep toward muscle failure — the one that makes some people steer clear? “When you start to feel the burn, it’s a sign that you’re achieving the intensity level you need for results,” Love explains.

“It’s important to have a well-rounded workout regimen that incorporates a variety of exercises and activities so that you don’t get bored and the body doesn’t adapt,” Love says. “When it comes to your abs, they’re just like all our other muscles and need to be challenged in order to get stronger.” This crunch-centric workout, made up of the standard crunch and four variations, will do just that, without steering you off course.

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Hanging Knee Raise

4

12-20

Reverse Crunch

4

15

V-Up

4

12-15

Decline Twisting Crunch

4

15

Crunch

4

to failure