In these days of bogus infomercials, fat-burning concoctions, and fitness contraptions that promise incredible abs, there's something reassuring about a workout with a medicine ball. The heft of a vintage medicine ball makes us want to put on gray sweats and start heaving it around with the fellas, grunting contentedly. On the other hand, you can take the vintage thing too far. Leather is out; vinyl is in. Medicine balls now have easier-to-grab surfaces, and they come in many sizes and weights. (They still need a new name, though. Medicine?)
What Are You Waiting For?
Here's a leave-me-alone, in-a-hurry, 21st-century set of exercises that uses the weight of a medicine ball to blast your belly from top to bottom, and your obliques on the sides--those all-important muscles you use when doing twisting, turning moves in sports. The workout was designed by Jacqueline Wagner, C.S.C.S., a strength coach in New York City. The added weight of the medicine ball will give you a more intense workout than you'll get with conventional crunches. Use a ball that's light enough so you can do one set of each exercise without straining or arching your back. A good weight for ab workouts is a 4 kilogram medicine ball (just shy of 9 pounds). Start with one circuit and build up to three sets of the circuit. Use a slow, controlled movement for the double crunch and reverse crunch.
Starting position: Lie on your back, with your hips and knees bent as shown and your feet off the floor. Rest your hands lightly on your chest. Position the ball between your knees.
The move: Exhale as you lift your shoulders off the floor and bring your knees toward your chest. Grab the ball with your hands and bring it to your chest as you inhale and The finish: Return your shoulders and legs to the starting position. Transfer the ball back to your legs on the next repetition, and keep alternating ball positions for the entire set.
Seated Twist Starting position: Sit on the floor, your back straight but leaning slightly toward the floor, as if in the "up" position of a situp. Your knees should be bent 90 degrees, your heels about 15 inches apart and resting on the floor. The move: Hold the ball close to your chest, 2 rotate your torso to the left, and place the ball on the floor behind you. Rotate around to the right, pick up the ball, rotate left, and place it behind you. The finish: Repeat eight to 12 times, then do eight to 12 more starting with a rotation to your right; that's one set. Hint: Keep your head in line with your torso throughout the movement. Perform this move as quickly as possible.
Reverse Crunch with Knee Drops Starting position: Lie on your back, hands resting on the floor at your sides, hips and knees bent 90 degrees, and feet off the floor. Position the ball between your knees. Keep your lower back on the floor throughout the exercise. The move: Contract your abdominals and pull your knees to your chest, then return them to the starting position. The finish: Lower your knees to the left and return to the starting position. Drop your knees to your right on the next repetition, and alternate sides for each rep.
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