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Training your abs but neglecting your lower back is like going out in the sun without loading up on sunscreen: you might be able to get away with it for a little while, but your reckless ways will soon catch up with you – and the results won’t be worth it. It may sound like a scare tactic, but would you prefer chronic lower-back pain and a protruding stomach? Didn’t think so!
Supersetting abdominal exercises and those that target the erector spinae — a long set of muscles that runs alongside the spine — may be the key to maintaining spinal stability and ensuring that your entire core is rockin’! This workout features this exact training method – and promises results in less than a month.
When you perform two exercises back-to-back with no rest in between, you are executing an effective and efficient training technique known as supersetting. You can superset any two exercises, but when you select moves that hit opposing muscle groups — such as biceps and triceps, quads and hamstrings or, in this case, abs and lower back — you are working your muscles in an agonist/antagonist fashion. “Most muscles work in pairs,” explains fitness expert Brad Schoenfeld, author of Women’s Home Workout Bible (Human Kinetics, 2009). “When one is contracting [agonist] the other is stretching and relaxing [antagonist].”
Supersets work exceptionally well when applied to these complementary pairs, says Schoenfeld, because you are training the body in a balanced manner. If you just focus on your abs and ignore your lower back, you can set yourself up for poor functional performance, as well as increased potential for injury.
Jonathan Ross, 2010 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and author of Abs Revealed (Human Kinetics, 2010) is also a big fan of training this way. “Think of your midsection as an aerial float in a parade,” he suggests. “If the people at the back of the float (your lower back) let go, the people at the sides and front (your abs) have to work harder to keep everything in place.”
Ross considers abs and lower-back supersets to be an advanced technique, so beginners: stick to the lower range of reps and sets, and extend the rest periods to help your breathing return to normal.
A strong core not only looks great, it’s also an important component of functional fitness. Those rock-solid abs and lower back will help you with your performance, whether you’re running, rowing, or even working on your pull-ups at the gym. Power moves emanate from your center, and when you have a well-developed midsection, your limbs benefit from that support.
During this routine, you’ll be targeting your abs with the first exercise and your lower back with the second. Do it once or twice weekly on non-consecutive days for a bulletproof core in about three weeks!
Perform one set of both exercises in each superset back-to-back, then rest for 60 to 90 seconds. Repeat for the desired number of sets, then move on to the next superset.
Target Muscles: rectus abdominis, obliques
Set Up: Position yourself at the captain’s chair apparatus so that your back and forearms are supported by the padding, and hold the handles with a light grip.
Action: Keeping your legs straight, flex from your hips to raise your legs; beginners, bend your knees and lift them toward your chest. Slowly reverse, then repeat.
Target Muscles: erector spinae, glutes
Set Up: Position your abdomen against a stability ball, with your legs extended as shown. Place your hands behind your head and drape your torso over the ball.
Action: Extend your hips to raise your chest from the ball until you feel your back and glutes engage. Slowly return to the start and repeat.
Training Tip: Do this exercise on a non-slip floor or with the soles of your shoes against a wall to prevent your feet from sliding.
Target Muscles: transverse abdominis
Set Up: Place your forearms on a stability ball as shown, and extend your legs so that your body forms a straight line from head to heels.
Action: Hold this position for the prescribed amount of time. Throughout your set, contract your abs to ensure your hips don’t sag.
Training Tip: Pay attention to your shoulders — they should not creep up toward your ears.
Target Muscles: erector spinae
Set Up: Lie faceup on a mat with your legs extended. Place your palms on the mat to either side of your ribcage and straighten your arms to lift your body from the floor.
Action: Hold this position for the recommended amount of time. Keep your eyes on the ceiling above you.
Training Tip: make sure that your hips stay in a straight line with your body.
Target Muscles: rectus abdominis
Set Up: Lie faceup on a decline bench, securing your legs under the padding as shown. Place your hands lightly behind your head for support.
Action: Contract your abs and flex from your hips to raise your torso. Pause for one count, then slowly reverse the move to return to the start. Repeat.
Target Muscles: erector spinae, glutes
Set Up: Stand tall and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Your arms should be extended, with palms facing the front of your thighs.
Action: Hinge forward from your hips. Once the weights move past your knees (go as far as you can comfortably), reverse the move to return to the start. Repeat for your set.
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