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STEPHANIE OAKES

Body Alignment Is the Key to Effective Ab Crunches

April 23, 2001|STEPHANIE OAKES

Question: I gave birth by caesarean section three years ago. As soon as my doctor gave me the OK, I began working out and doing sit-ups. Unfortunately, it seems no matter what I do, I cannot get my stomach back in shape. Any advice would be helpful.

NICOLE MEDINA

Pacific Palisades

Answer: To get the most out of every crunch repetition, check your body alignment. Keep your abdominal muscles tight, with your belly pulled toward your spine when you lift and lower. Tilt your pelvis forward so that your lower back presses into the floor. Maintain this position as you lift and lower; it may help to imagine your torso is shaped like a spoon. Don't lift your back more than 45 degrees. If you lift higher, you'll use your lower back and hip flexors, not your abs. Keep your shoulders, upper back and neck all in as straight a line as possible. Rounding your shoulders forward strains your neck and makes the crunch less effective. So place your hands by your ears; the old fingers-laced-behind-the-neck method pulls on your neck. Always, keep your neck relaxed when you lift. Do sets of ab crunches every other day.

Along with the ab workout, add a healthy diet, cardiovascular exercise and some stress-management techniques to your life.

Four 30- to 45-minute cardio sessions every week will burn fat. It's fine to break it up into a couple of shorter sessions during the day. Just make sure you're doing a full 30 to 45 minutes at your target heart rate.

Reduce your food and alcohol intake. Be honest when you assess your daily caloric intake; a nutritionist might be of help.

Reduce your stress level. Several studies have shown that too much stress leads to increased weight gain and increased body fat. This is due to the body's release of the hormone cortisol when facing undue stress.

You also may want to try yoga and exercise gadgets. With yoga, the moves in the sun salutation will help build a strong core (lower back and abs). Gadgets such as jump ropes, exercise balls, dumbbells and exercise bands cost only $10 to $40, require no setup time and generally don't take up much room in your home.

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Stephanie Oakes is the fitness correspondent for Discovery Health Channel and is a health and fitness consultant. To submit a fitness-related question, e-mail stephoakes@aol.com. She cannot respond to every query.

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