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The Ab Crunch: Looks, Form, and Function

The rectus abdominis, or “abs,” are the muscles many of us would like people to see when in a bathing suit. And besides the aesthetics aspect, they are also an important muscle group for function. The ab crunch machine trains the abs as well as another pair of important muscles. However, performing this exercise requires attention to detail. There is a small difference between proper execution and lower back strain with the ab crunch. In this article, we’ll discuss all of those details.

The rectus abdominis starts at the bottom of the sternum (chest bone) and the front of the ribs in that area. It runs down to the top of your pubic bone (part of the pelvic girdle), which is just above your genitals. The main function of this muscle is to pull your spine into a ‘C’ shape, bringing your chest and midsection closer together.

Of course, the abs are most known because of the “six pack.” A “six pack” has that appearance because of connective tissue. As the abs flow from the ribs to the pelvic girdle, there are three segments of connective tissue in the middle. This where the “six pack” gets its upper, middle, and lower portions. Also, a sheet of connective tissue (linea alba) runs vertically, splitting the abs in half, causing the appearance of six muscles as opposed to three. Secondary muscles in the ab crunch are the external and internal obliques. The obliques are located in the area that many refer to as their “love handles.” (We’re covering all of the fun stuff today.)

Performing the ab crunch regularly to the muscle exhaustion point of “muscle success” will help your abs and obliques become stronger and more aesthetically noticeable. However, I have to warn you: Seeing your midsection muscles is largely a result of low body fat levels. The less fat between your skin and your abdominal muscles, the easier it is to see definition in your abs. And losing body fat is mainly a result of positive dietary changes. Your desire to see your abs may beckon a change to your diet even more than the use of the ab crunch machine.

Believe it or not, the rectus abdominis does not exist only to make you look good in a bathing suit. It is also functionally significant. The abs are critical muscles for respiration and child birth. In addition, they are major stabilization muscles. In regards to stabilization, every exercise or sports movement focuses on a small group of joints. For example, throwing a baseball mainly involves the elbow and shoulder joints. For this to occur with optimal efficiency and effectiveness, muscles in various parts of the body contract to hold other parts of your body relatively still. Your abs are one of the most common and important stabilization muscles.

I mentioned previously that the abs work to pull your chest and midsection closer together, causing your spine to curl into a ‘C’ shape. The proper range of motion for the ab crunch is small compared to most exercises. The exercise may include only four or five inches of movement in each direction. It’s common to exceed this amount, and that’s where some problems occur.

In the ab crunch, as you “curl” downward, your lower back should press into the lower pad. (Your upper back should stay firmly pressed into the upper pad also.) If your lower back is about to peel off the pad, this is a cue that you’re at the end of the range of motion, and need to reverse direction and begin returning to the starting position.

When the lower back is removed from the pad, the midsection and thighs are now moving closer together. This motion is a hip-based movement called “hip flexion.” Hip flexion uses other muscle groups, and these muscle groups exert some force on the lower back. Examples of exercises that use hip flexion are sit-ups and leg lifts. While the abs assist in these exercises, the hip flexors are the dominant muscles.

In summary, “curl” down on the ab crunch machine no further than the point where you feel your lower back will start leaving the back pad. Using the ab crunch will strengthen your abs and obliques, muscles that not only make you look good on the beach but also help with critical life functions.

By Matt Hedman, President of The Perfect Workout

Laura’s gone from a size 16 to an 8 and dropped 40 pounds!

laura-dropped-weightIn 3 months Laura Retana Shelp lost 23.4 pounds and 10½ inches off her waist with improved nutrition and two 20-minute training sessions a week at The Perfect Workout.

Laura Retana Shelp is a Registered Nurse, so when she first read the ad for The Perfect Workout, she was intrigued. She did some research online, read everything she could about it, and found that there was a lot of science backing up the concept of slow-motion strength training. Still, it took her a year and a half to make an appointment to check it out. When she finally went in to the Southwest San Jose studio, she was immediately hooked. “I loved it! It was incredible. I signed up that day, and for the next three months, I felt like a drunken sailor. My muscles were quivering every time I left.” She means that in a good way, of course, as The Perfect Workout reactivated her long-dormant muscles. But while it grew her muscles like nothing else ever had, Laura admits, “I wasn’t doing my part of it. You won’t lose weight unless you also change your diet.”

Ten years ago, Laura was a committed runner, putting in six miles a day. She also belonged to other clubs and purchased a StairMaster and treadmill for at home. Since then, life had gotten in the way of staying in good shape. She gained weight and started yo-yo dieting, never able to keep the pounds off. At her heaviest, she was horrified when the scale showed 171 pounds. For her 5’ 5” frame, that wasn’t good. “I had to go on a diet, but not call it a diet. I thought of it as a ‘lifestyle change.’ I needed to do something different,” she says. Laura and her husband both changed their eating habits. They got rid of processed foods like cookies and cake, and her husband’s favorite, bread and tortillas. They also started eating more fruits and vegetables and kept it simple, something they could live with. The first couple weeks they helped each other through it, and her husband actually lost weight faster.

The Transformation Challenge came along at the right time last February. Laura was committed to her lifestyle changes, and the slow-motion strength training had started kicking in, but she had a long way to go. She still had shortness of breath, couldn’t fit into her swimsuit, and had a hard time even reaching over to tie her shoes. During the Challenge, Laura continued eating well, and she and her trainer, Maria, went to work. “I had a trainer before who pushed me, but not like Maria does. She listens to me and knows me so well, and I give her everything I have. She makes each workout different, and always makes me go a little further. It’s a great connection, and I’m eager to come in and work out!”

After three months, the results were in. Laura’s consistency, hard work at every session, and lifestyle and diet change helped her lose another 25 pounds, gain all-over strength, and win the Grand Prize. “It was so uplifting. I was so excited, I went out and bought 10 swimsuits at Macy’s when they went on sale. It was so much fun, parading in front of my husband!” She’s down to a size 8, and still wants to lose another 10 pounds, to get down to 121. Her husband is a svelte 161 pounds now, and they’ve started dancing again. “We’ve reclaimed our lives,” says Laura. “It’s given us an opportunity to do the things we loved that we set aside for so long, and didn’t have the strength for. I’m going to be 59 in December, and I can see I need to do this always. It’s definitely a lifelong commitment.”

Justin Dropped 4 Inches Off His Waist!

justin-before-afterIn 3 months Justin Brunette lost 4 inches off his waist and decreased his body fat percentage by 6.4% with effective nutrition and weekly 20-minute training sessions at The Perfect Workout.

Like a lot of guys in their late 30s, Justin Brunette had gotten so busy with work and family demands, he didn’t have time to work out. Persistent back problems and bone spurs in his elbow made him hesitant to do anything, so he started looking for the best way to get into shape safely. He discovered a book, Body by Science, by Dr. Doug McGuff and John R. Little, that advocates a form of slow-motion, high-resistance strength training. “For me, this was a new approach to lifting weights,” says Justin. “It was different from the mainstream. Completely different. It intrigued me.” It piqued his interest enough that he went out looking for a facility that could accommodate him. None of the regular gyms had it, but research turned him on to The Perfect Workout and he decided to give it a shot.

For Justin, it felt good to start getting back to where he was years ago. After playing baseball for San Diego State, he pitched in the big leagues with the Cardinals and Mets organizations, until Tommy John surgery ended his career. Over time he lost some of the fitness and strength levels he once had, especially since his work as vice president of an insurance investigations firm consumed a lot of his time. The 20-minute workouts twice a week were definitely a draw, but he was skeptical. “I thought doing more would produce more results. I was used to the traditional stuff. But after the first month I really started noticing differences.” Justin has since maxed out on some of the machines, his body fat percentage is down, and he’s constantly increasing the amount of time he can sustain each exercise. The quick progress surprised him. “I wanted to ease back into working out. I didn’t think I’d see the results I’ve had. You’re working on all key body parts. Everything gets stronger together.”

The hard work paid off earlier this year when he took the runner-up spot in The Perfect Workout’s three-month Transformation Challenge. A competitive guy, Justin says, “Once I saw the Challenge, I wanted to win it!” He credits his success to discipline (he hasn’t missed a week since he started at the Huntington Beach studio in January), the slow, controlled movements of slow-motion strength training, and a slight change in diet. Early on he restricted his calories a bit, and now he’s eating more protein, which has helped him add muscle. Justin also has high praise for his trainer. “Michael knows his stuff and really believes in the program. He’s positive, gets down to business, and asks me questions. He takes a personal interest in me.”

When he’s not running his business, Justin enjoys spending time with his wife and three and a half-year old son (with another one on the way), traveling and golfing. Going forward, he wants to continue to get stronger and stay injury-free. “I’m going to keep this in my regimen,” he says. And to anyone else with minimal time to spare who wants maximum results, Justin offers this advice: “Give The Perfect Workout a try. Believe in it and give it a go, especially the first few months. If you’re willing to do that, the motivation from there is seeing the results.”