The Little Abs Workout Book
by Erika Dillman
The Little ABS Workout Book
1 From Flabby to Fab
I was blissfully unaware of my abdominal muscles until I saw Brandi Chastain rip off her shirt in jubilation after scoring the winning goal for the U.S. Women's Soccer Team in the 1999 Women's World Cup, revealing a torso so taut you could bounce a quarter off it.
Suddenly I felt weak, small, and inadequate . . . and more than a little bit jealous. There I was lounging on the couch, potato chip crumbs covering my torso, and there she was, in all her power and glory, putting women's sports on the map and forever changing the way people think about women's bodies. In the following weeks, the press hailed Chastain and her teammates for their chiseled bodies as much as for the skill and tenacity that led them to their World Cup victory.
I really had never noticed my abs before because I'd always been tall, thin, and in great shape (or so I thought). As a competitive runner from the age of eleven through twenty-one, I had a powerful set of lungs, a resting heart rate approximating the speed limit on the quiet streets of the small town where I grew up, strong legs, and a flat stomach. I ate whatever I wanted and didn't gain weight.
But then injuries and chronic illness forced me to drastically reduce my physical activities, and unhealthy habits like working at a computer day after day (and binging on chips) had taken their toll on my body. It had been fourteen years since my last race, and my formerly rigorous fitness regimen had dwindled down to short daily walks. My posture was awful, and my back, neck, and arms hurt. I felt like I had the body of someone my grandmother's age.
As for my abs ... I assumed that because my stomach was still relatively flat (especially when I was lying on my back) I had good abs. But the more I thought about it, the more my denial turned to desperation. I wanted a great-looking stomach.
I became obsessed with my abs, although for the next two years I didn't do much about them but inspect myself in the mirror every day, hoping for a change.
It's not as if I hadn't been told. Over the years, my physical therapists, massage therapists, and yoga teachers had encouraged me to strengthen my abs and back muscles to improve my posture and correct muscle imbalances and weaknesses throughout my body. But what was I to do? I hated doing crunches; they hurt my neck.
In the end it wasn't only vanity that inspired me to meet with a physical therapist and a personal trainer about my abs. I was also seeking relief from constant lower back pain. I don't know why it was different this time, but I made a decision to stick with an abs plan. Maybe it was because for the first time I really made the connection between the state of my abdominal muscles and the health of my back. Plus, I just didn't want to walk around all hunched over anymore.
MY ABS PROGRAM
I started off with a few basic abdominal and postural exercises that helped me establish correct spinal alignment and learn how to contract my abdominal muscles to support that alignment. These preliminary exercises consisted of relatively simple movements, but they were surprisingly challenging (more mentally than physically).
In order to perform each exercise correctly, I had to concentrate on feeling and controlling the deepest layer of my abdominal muscles during each movement. Building endurance and coordination took time and practice.
I progressed fairly quickly, though, and gradually improved and moved on to a greater variety of exercises. I was thrilled to learn that I didn't have to do one crunch to get better-looking abs; I had choices. With the help of my trainer, I discovered many exercises that worked the abs in a variety of positions: sitting, standing, lying down, and even using a large stability ball or a medicine ball. After spending a lifetime participating in sports that required me to move as fast as possible from A to B, it was exciting to learn that I could get in shape just staying in one place, and I had fun trying to master the different exercises.
The most difficult aspect of abdominal training for me wasn't performing the exercises but having the discipline to do them almost every day. I found that if I included them near the end of my daily yoga practices I was more likely to do them.
After about a month, I started to notice some definition on the sides of my stomach, and after another month, I noticed that my love handles were getting smaller. My stomach felt firm when I pressed against it with my fingers, and I found that I was able to sit at my computer longer than I previously could before becoming fatigued.
I'd still like to increase the intensity of my aerobic activity and lose a few pounds, but I'm enjoying my abs exercises and seeing the results of maintaining my new torso. I'm happy to be feeling stronger and walking taller these days.
Copyright © 2003 by Erika Dillman
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