This is the second column in a two-part series on Google's most searched exercises. The three exercise programs I discuss here are Ab Workouts, the 7-Minute Workout and Kettlebells. Previously, I explained Insanity and CrossFit.
What is it? Experts disagree about the best way to work the abdominal muscles. Some say that these muscles are no different from any other skeletal muscles and so, theoretically, they should respond to the same stimuli. Thus, working them the same way you would work your biceps or shoulders should be effective. "If you really want to have the outward appearance of washboard abs, you need to train the stomach muscles just like you train your biceps using strength/resistance training methods (e.g., holding a weight against your chest while doing crunches)," says Michele S. Olson, PhD., a professor at Auburn University's Montgomery Human Performance Laboratory.
Then there are those who believe the primary purpose or best function of your abs is to act as "anti-gravity" or stabilizer muscles, meaning they support and anchor your body (hold you upright) and are in a low state of activity all the time. Experts believe that, in this case, abs should be treated as endurance muscles and trained accordingly. "This means doing a variety of exercises, including core equipment such as an exercise/stability ball, with a high frequency on a daily basis," says Olson.
Health benefits: Having strong abs protects our internal organs, helps our lungs function better (e.g., blowing out your birthday candles), prevents injuries and helps us maintain good posture, which can reduce lower-back pain, all of which help to improve overall body performance.
Health consequences: One of the most common mistakes people make is working the wrong muscles or actually not working any muscles at all. The most important thing to remember is, if you don't feel the abdominal exercises in your stomach or if you experience discomfort in an unrelated area of the body it's probably not working, and there's a good chance you will injure yourself.
Bottom line: A study completed by the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University looked at some of the most common abdominal exercises and found the following three to be the best of the bunch: Bicycle Maneuver, Captain's Chair and Crunch on Exercise Ball. (Keep in mind that only 13 out of hundreds of abdominal exercises were analyzed.)
More: 5 Moves to Sexy Abs