Hints on abdominal exercise?

I had an operation a couple of years ago for a small hernia above my belly button. The doctors told me to “avoid abdominal exercise” - but they didn’t say for how long. Result (aided by my good friend beer): big wobbly belly. Recently I’ve decided to undo the damage, and have lost a bit of weight and started exercising my stomach muscles. However, I’m a novice at this sort of thing, so I wondered if anyone could give me any advice.

Currently, I’m doing 60 ab crunches every other day. Here is my list of demands:[ul][li]Is this enough, or should I be doing more?[/li][li]At what rate should I attempt to increase the number of crunches?[/li][li]I can’t do 60 crunches at a time, but I can do 20, and repeat at 5 minute intervals. Is that OK, or should I try to do as many as possible in one sitting, and then stop?[/li][li]Is there really a necessity for a 48-hour recovery time to “allow the muscles to repair” - according to one of my wife’s women’s magazines? Should I be exercising every day instead?[/li][li]The fat has receded from the sides of my stomach, but not the middle. What are the best exercises to remove the remaining portion?[/li]During the day, my stomach no longer sticks out, but when totally relaxed, such as lying in bed, my stomach still bulges like I’m 7 months pregnant. Is there some kind of inner muscular strength that I need to prevent this from happening? If so, what exercises should I be doing?[/ul]Thanks very much for any advice you may have.

You didn’t take hostages did you?

Just a few basics first:

Quality is better than quantity. Learn how to do crunches correctly because I’d bet my bank account you aren.t

Make sure your doctor says it’s ok to start after your hernia

There are three major parts to your abs: Rector Abdominus (six pack), the hip flexors(attaches pelvis to femus), and the obliques (they run up the sides). You need to work all three in the order I listed them.

Crunches, if done correctly only work the abdominus. Quite often a pot belly is caused by a weak lower back which over arches and juts the stomach forward. Many people have tight hip flexors which exacerbate the problem.

There is no such thing as “spot reduction.” Losing fat comes from diet and aerobic exercise.
Always do ab exercises to “failure” if you can maintain strict form. Failure means you can’t possibly do another. It’s better to do one set to failure than three that don’t fail. Also make sure you contract your stomach HARD and the end of the rep.

ISOLATE, ISOLATE, ISOLATE: When doing crunches, for instance, don’t allow your thighs to contract AT ALL. This will take some getting used to.

Abs can be worked out more often than most other body parts. 4-5 times a week. If your sore, don’t work out.

There are ways to strengthen the “internal” muscles (I forgot what they’re called). One recommended exercise for that was to get into push-up position and hold it for as long as possible, tightening your abs to keep yourself straight. My guess would be however that your pregnant gut is from an overarched lower back.

Do lower back exercises as well - the trunk should be balanced.

As for individual exercises, try these resources,


If you’re doing crunches in hopes that they will make your belly smaller, you’re wasting your time. You’ll tighten up the muscles a bit, but you won’t lose fat just from that area. Spot reduction is impossible. Also, FWIW, crunches are a lousy way to burn calories, cause they don’t really burn that much. The best way to burn fat is with a program that combines aerobic exercise and weight-training.

That said, you should always be challenging yourself. Do as many crunches as you can, without regard for the number. If you did 60 two days ago, try for 61 today. Try to do as many as you can in one set (to build endurance), but don’t sweat it if you need to take a break.

You really do need 48 hours to recover. When you work a muscle, you’re doing damage to it. Do that every day, and you’re setting yourself up for injury. Don’t forget to stretch before and after.

Make sure that you’re doing exercises for your obliques and lower back as well. There are various websites that describe oblique crunches, so look for those. For your lower back, lie on your stomach and raise your left leg and right arm. Then raise your right leg and left arm.

If you want your stomach to stick out less, suck in your gut for 30 seconds a few times a day. Five to eight is probably a good number. This works the muscle that is responsible for holding your gut in, and as it gets stronger, your gut will stick out less.

Lastly, don’t expect to make any significant strength gains without weight-bearing exercises. Your body just won’t do that.

Check out exrx for lots of information.

Great advice and sites both of you. Will start researching different kinds of exercises. I have indeed been trying to strengthen my lower back with a yoga move (the grasshopper, which involves lifting both legs and chest off the floor while lying on the stomach. Will try the arm/leg thing in opposition too).

I am also on a strict diet, so am losing overall fat, which I guess will dump what’s left on my gut. Aerobic exercise is another matter, since I smoke, and get out of breath really easily. I hate it. I also hate smoking, but am a hopeless addict.

If aerobic exercise is really out of the question, remember that you don’t have to be breathing hard to burn calories. You could take up walking, or another low-exertion exercise. It really is the only way to burn fat. I’ll also second doing some general weightlifting as well. Muscle burns a lot more calories at rest than fat does, so carrying around some more muscle will help.

As KidCharlemagne outlined, doing crunches only will work the rectus abdominus, but you’re leaving out the other ab groups. Pick a variety of exercises that cover all three groups, and perform them with strict form. Remember to use variety, because your muscles will respond better than to the same single exercise day after day. If you use strict form, you should only need to do 10-15 reps for most exercises. I think you’ll be pleased with the results if you choose some exercises other than crunches, which are, IMO pretty inefficient as far as ab work goes.

Here’s one secret that I’ve found out about crunches: don’t just do the movement. Close your eyes, and focus on contracting your abdominal muscles to pull your ribcage toward your pelvis. The “crunch” motion will happen naturally. Do this, and you’ll get more out of every crunch.

Abdominal muscles, I reckon, are best exercised in sets, as you are doing; abs tend to fail before they are truly “tired”, and they recover quite quickly. Do what you can, rest a bit, then do some more.

If you have a high bar, hang from it and lift your knees towards your chest.

There’s also a good Pilates exercise which involves sitting on your rear with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Lean back slightly, hold your arms out front and parallel to the floor, then lift your feet slightly off the floor. Sit up tall and don’t round your back. You’ll start shaking but hold the move as long as you can.

For obliques you can modify the basic crunch by taking your elbow to the opposite knee.


Swim a whole lot, three times a week. Do every stroke, and swim until you can’t go any further. After a month or so, you will probably be limited more by time than by endurance, so after that, do your weight exercise first, and then swim.

Don’t do heavy weights in your weight routine, do more reps until you can do an entire set of twelve exercises, twenty four reps each exercise, and then add a couple of pounds, and go back to twelve reps or so. No rest periods between sets; rotate the muscle groups you are working. You should sweat and get puffed during your weight training too. Form is everything. Find a buddy to critique your form, and really keep yourself in line. The effectiveness of perfect form makes more difference than twice the amount of work out.

Then a quick hot shower, and into the pool while you are still a warmed up. If you get to the point that you can’t challenge yourself by swimming for the entire amount of time you have available, add wrist and ankle weights for the swim. Believe me, that will challenge you. Use really light ones. Four half-pound weights will make a huge difference in the amount of work it takes to do a lap, and if you can do a mile with them, it is the aerobic equivalent of a ten mile run, at least.

Two hours of this, three times a week will melt the fat off you, and not add much bulk of muscle. It will also make you strong as an ox, and very flexible. (And able to make love all night, too, by the way, in a strictly aerobic sense.) After you get good at the routine, and eliminate the time wasted you can get the whole thing done in an hour and a half, and not spare any of the work out part, just streamline the setting up parts.

At some point, you have to remind yourself that you don’t want any more muscle growth, and stop adding weights. Really don’t overdo the muscle growth, it is not good for you.


“The word aerobics comes from two Greek words: aero, meaning ‘ability to,’ and bics, meaning ‘withstand tremendous boredom.’” ~ Dave Barry ~

Would you mind explaining your reasoning behind this claim?

When I started aerobic exercise (exercise bike and treadmill) I got out of breath really easily too. And I have never smoked. I was just out of shape. Perhaps you should still give it a try and see if you can build up to it. It took me about a month of regular (30 minutes 4 times a week) aerobic exercise to not have trouble with getting out of breath.

Aerobic exercise is very important when you are trying to lose weight and get into shape.

Unless, it doesn’t.

Just from personal experience, swimming does nothing for me as far as fat loss goes. Absolutely nothing. It most definitely helps my overall cardiovascular fitness, but doesn’t help with the whole losing weight thing.

Pilates (if you can find someone nearby who teaches it - getting the positioning right IMHO does require at least one or two rounds with actual instructor - after that, books or videos could fill in the gaps) does good things for your core muscles. Also just constant (or near constant) attention to your posture will definitely help.


Muscle mass is not inherently unhealthy, and I did not intend to imply that it was. However, muscular hypertrophy is unhealthy. How do you tell the difference? Well, you keep your muscular development at a level that does not absolutely require extensive workout to maintain. You don’t have to go totally off your exercise regimen, but you should have some extended periods (weeks) where you do not do weight training at all, just some good exercise, and physical activity.

The reasoning is that extremes of development are not sustainable without straining the tissues, and that straining over a very long period is stressful to the body’s repair systems. It also creates a very high demand on the vascular system to build and rebuild itself as the tissue grows and atrophies again and again.

There is no harm in maintaining a good physical condition over a long time, but there is no proven overall health benefit to fitness beyond any above average level of cardiovascular development. The benefits almost all accrue to those in the average to slightly above average fitness level. The detriments are more evident at the very highest levels of muscle development, where the bulk of muscle is great enough to strain the tendons and joints routinely.

Another consideration is that any period of forced inactivity is going to moderate the peak of your fitness. How much that moderation involves changes a lot if you are in an extreme range of muscle bulk, and tone for your body. That cycle of atrophy and rebuilding is stressful, and those at the very highest state of muscle development are most strongly affected.

Good tone, and a reasonable amount of body fat are certainly sustainable over time with only minor amounts of weight training, after you have done the original work of redefining your metabolic economy. Large muscles (in the case of body design not naturally so endowed) are not so easily sustained. One can become quite used to the stress of heavy weight training, and find it pleasurable, but it still causes repetitive injury, however slight, to the tissues of the joints and tendons.

The mechanically applied regimen of one more rep each day, and one pound each cycle of days can produce huge amounts of muscle development in many people. That can cause an endorphin high that becomes quite enjoyable, and very much desired. However, the body has natural limits. Heavy weights do cause injuries, and not all of them are immediately apparent, especially to avid weight trainers.

One should also consider well how much you want, and how likely you really are to maintain the very strict type of training that a very heavily muscled development pattern will require. More people than not really don’t want to spend nine hours a week in the gym for the rest of their lives. Building your habits along those lines is a potentially self-defeating process. Build your habits for a lifetime. Plan on a year to have your total fitness routines built into your life in a moderate and sustainable pattern of ordinary behavior. Start small, and build slowly. When you get where it works best, then maintain that.


Well, nothing works for everyone. But most people who swim three times a week for half an hour or more, especially those wearing four pounds of wrist and ankle weights, find that the calories they burn moderate their weight quite a bit. When I followed the regimen I described, I lost sixty-five pounds in eight months, and the benefits lasted for a number of years, before my general slothfulness, and gluttony reasserted themselves. I also gained a fair bit of muscle mass, during that time, as well, so the fat I lost was even more apparent.

The best part of all (given that women did not in fact begin throwing themselves at me) was that I got really strong. It was very enjoyable to be able to lift people, and carry them if I chose to. I suppose the years spent as a known weakling had something to do with that.


By the way, now I am and old fat guy, in terrible shape, so ignore me if you wish. Ah, but once I could do sit-ups in sets of a hundred with a twenty four pound baby in my arms. (sitting in a chair, feet hooked under the bed, shoulders on the floor, up and touch my elbows to my knees, and then back to the floor, a hundred times, and form is everything.) (OK, so the baby’s form wasn’t all that great. She used to throw her arms and legs out at odd moments and squeal and laugh.)