Working those abs, smarter

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, GERMANY -- Senior Airman Seth Cheezum, 52nd Equipment Maintenance Squadron, uses the abdominal machine during his lunch hour Feb. 21. (US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andrea Knudson)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, GERMANY -- Senior Airman Seth Cheezum, 52nd Equipment Maintenance Squadron, uses the abdominal machine during his lunch hour Feb. 21. (US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andrea Knudson)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, GERMANY -- Senior Airman Seth Cheezum, 52nd Equipment Maintenance Squadron, uses the abdominal machine during his lunch hour Feb. 21. (US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andrea Knudson)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, GERMANY -- Senior Airman Seth Cheezum, 52nd Equipment Maintenance Squadron, uses the abdominal machine during his lunch hour Feb. 21. (US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andrea Knudson)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, GERMANY -- -- There are many misconceptions about the proper way to maximize ab workouts.

Most people believe the abdominal muscles are best worked by doing a variety of stomach curls or sit ups, but understanding the abdominals' physiological design and purpose will help point to exercises that will better tone and strengthen the abs.

The abdominals' purpose is to work in concert with the many muscles in the back to allow us, as humans, to walk upright. For comparison, the next time you pet your cat or dog you will notice their abdominal wall is distinctly not muscular with almost no muscle definition. This is a direct result of them not walking upright. Contrastingly they have significant muscle mass in their shoulders and haunches, which is exactly what they need to walk on all fours.

Knowing this fact it should be obvious that the best exercises for abs are ones that involve upright movement. Good abdominal building exercises include running, aerobics, basketball or soccer. One of the best exercises is sprinting. To run at max speed requires very strong abs. My all time personal favorite is hiking. The navigation of steep grades requires very well-developed abs. It is also important to note that these exercises benefit back muscles equally as well as they do the abdominals.

In fact, the recent popularity of "Core Training" capitalizes on building abs and back muscle in concert. Core exercises help to build better abs, which in turn lessen the load that the back muscles must handle. There is a dramatic decrease in back problems when abs are strengthened, which is very significant as back problems are the leading chronic injury complaint.

Of course the popular abdominal exercises benefit the abs, but simply performing them is not the answer to getting great abs. By incorporating a variety of activities into your weekly regime your abs will quickly grow stronger and more toned.

However, the strongest abs in the world will never be seen if a person has too much fat over them. Contrary to popular belief, all the ab workouts in the world will not target the fat around the stomach. The only solution to excessive fat buildup is to create a calorie deficit. This can be done by increasing the amount of exercise, modifying the diet, or a combination of both.

For anyone looking to make a lifestyle change I highly recommend incorporating both exercise and diet for long term lasting benefits.