Crunches primarily work the large outer muscles of the core (the rectus abdominis and the external obliques). When overdone or performed incorrectly, these kinds of exercises can worsen your posture and increase the “poochiness” of your abs.
Flattening the abs requires correct exercise, good eating habits and a supportive lifestyle. No matter how much you exercise, you won’t get a flat stomach if you insist on filling it with fast food or excessive amounts of alcohol!
To narrow the scope of this article, we’ll look at exercises you can use to flatten your stomach and leave the diet and lifestyle issues for another time.
The Inner and Outer Units
The anatomy and actions of the abdominal wall are quite complex, but can be divided into two parts: The inner unit and outer unit.
In simple terms, the inner unit provides stability for the spine, support for your viscera and a working foundation from which the arms and legs can operate without beating the spine up.
The outer unit creates “sling systems” which connect the arms, core and legs for all the types of movements we need to do each day, including walking, running, throwing and lifting.
An exercise program designed to condition the abs for both aesthetic and functional purposes needs to work on both the inner and outer units. One of the best tools you can use to condition your abs is the Swiss ball.
The Swiss Ball Rules
Before you begin this specialized exercise program to flatten your stomach, you’ll need to follow some important “rules of the road.”
1. Pay close attention to each detail of the exercise. Many Swiss ball exercises look deceptively easy, but the smallest deviation from the correct technique can alter the effect of the entire exercise.
A Swiss ball exercise performed incorrectly can worsen the muscle imbalances and strength deficits that it should be correcting.
2. Follow the Form Principle. Each repetition of each set of any exercise should be performed perfectly. Once the muscles and nervous system become fatigued, the quality of the repetitions will fall, and the exercise is no longer beneficial.
Athletes who may be very strong in regular training programs can find Swiss ball exercises quite challenging, as they are often working muscles in new and different ways. Stick to the Form Principle and do not attempt to do the more advanced levels of these exercises until you are ready for them.
Start each exercise at the “stability” level. Once you can perform each exercise for the required numbers of reps and sets at this level, then progress to the “strength” level.
If you don’t build stability first, you will overwork the outer unit without the necessary conditioning of the inner unit to support it. This would be like putting a new V-8 engine in an old rusty banger of a car without also replacing the shocks, suspension and brakes!
3. Make sure you are using a burs