Abdominal exercises are most effective and less dangerous when tailored to the needs of an individual. Experts from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the world leader in the science and medical aspects of sports and exercise, say individuals should choose their abdominal program based on their desired outcome, not on trends or common misconceptions.

“One crunch does not fit all,” said Michele Scharff-Olson, Ph.D., FACSM, a professor of exercise science at Auburn University, Montgomery. ‘Trainers, coaches, and the athletes or clients themselves need to know the best set of exercises to reap a desired benefit and avoid danger.’ Olson spoke along with Robert Sherman, a Reebok Master Trainer, to an audience of health and fitness professionals at the eighth annual ACSM Health & Fitness Summit and Exposition. The pair suggests that each individual be classified prior to beginning an abdominal program by their desired outcome: therapeutic/rehabilitation, general health and fitness, or athletic performance.

Calling on recent research, the experts explained how a safe and effective program can be tailored for each setting.

“For many athletes, clients, and people generally wanting stronger abs, finding the right set of exercises can be a frustrating challenge,” Olson added. “There are so many messages out there from sources claiming to have found the perfect exercise. It confuses everyone.”

Olson and Sherman point to an existing trend among the general public to desire a more attractive mid section, but to blindly go about performing many repetitions of the same exercise. She suggests these general recommendations for abdominal exercise:

  • Spend less time overall on abdominal exercises.
  • Work with a trainer or coach to select a greater variety of exercises.
  • Perform only 15-20 repetitions of each exercise.
  • Understand that abdominals are mostly endurance muscles. Do not train them to increase in size as you would a bicep or quadriceps muscle.
  • The best way to achieve a ‘six pack’ of abs is to focus more on lowering total body fat through aerobic exercise and dietary modification. This appearance is more a result of total-body conditioning.
  • Avoid movements that can compress the lower back such as back-lying leg raises, the yoga boat and the advanced Pilates teaser.