by Craig Smith
Everyone loves abs. They like to look at them, and, better yet, they like to have them themselves. In the martial arts, especially Pankration or any other sport/activity which allows full contact body blows, abdominal development takes on a more serious purpose than aesthetics, possibly being the difference between taking a good shot and hitting the deck in a curled up little ball while your opponent dances around your head.
With such universal interest in building good abs, more people than you can count have come out with their own special programs for building great abs, usually hyping a technological breakthrough that guarantees maximum results with minimum effort - the couch potato's dream.
The truth of the matter, however, is that while following most of those programs is, indeed, easy, the results will accurately reflect the ease of which the program is accomplished; the abs in question will continue to look like Cool Whip which has been left out for a bit too long, and yet another "-izer" will find its way into a garage sale table. The fact is that building good abs, like anything else, takes knowledge and effort.
In order to understand the best way to develop any muscle group, it is important to understand exactly what muscles are involved and what they do. The abdominals are made up of several muscles, which, working separately or together, accomplish different actions, including flexion of the thorax (trunk) on the pelvis, and the lateral bending or rotation of the trunk.
The outer-most, and central abdominal muscle is called the rectus abdominus ("rectus" coming from the Greek work "recti", meaning straight line, and abdominus meaning "of or related to the abdomen"). This is the one that looks like a two, four, six or eight pack, depending on the intensity of the training program. It is divided down the middle by the linea alba, a tendinous band which stretches from the xyphoid process to the pubis symphysis, and is crossed horizontally by tendinous inscriptions, which causes the muscle to "curl" when it contracts. The rectus abdominus originates from the pubic bone, and inserts into the cartilages of the fifth, sixth and seventh ribs. Lateral and posterior to the rectus abdominus are the external obliques and transversalis one on each side. Very simply put, they connect the pelvis to the thorax (trunk), and are responsible for rotation of the trunk (twisting) as well as flexion (like a sit-up).
Because of their attachments, the abdominals have a great range of motion. This is why crunches do not build complete abs. They will develop a pretty good two-pack, but they don't provide the range of motion necessary to develop the lower rectus abdominus, nor the rotational range to build the obliques. In order to build the entire muscle group, the entire muscle group must be worked through its full range, and to an intensity that will result in proper developmental overload. That is what the ab-tuck does.
The ab-tuck is the grandaddy of all abdominal exercises. Though mechanically simple, it is easy to cheat on, and must be done properly to ensure maximal results. It works the rectus abdominus through its full range of motion, and its "external" variation addresses the obliques and tranversalis.
To begin the ab-tuck, sit on the floor (or a bench to be able to get your feet even lower on the extension), placing your hands to the side or behind your hips and extending your legs with your feet 6" or less above the floor. Pointing your toes will give you more control. On the count, bring your knees to your chest by lifting your torso and crunching your thighs (with bent knees) to your torso, keeping your feet down so as to bring them in toward your buttocks. On the off-count, extend as far and low as you can, lowering your torso at the same time to balance the movement. Try to get as low and fully extended as you can, imagining that your feet are attached to a railroad track they move in and out, but not up and down. The lower and farther your extension, the more you will work your lower abs. Keep your feet and knees pressed tightly together throughout the movement.
To work the obliques, bring the knees toward your shoulders, alternating between right and left. Do not roll up on your hip, but keep your shoulders square while twisting the pelvis during the tuck, then return to the straight extended position.
Start with 5 sets of as many as you can do at a time, with two to five minutes between sets. If you can only do 25 to start, fine. Keep pushing and building up until you can do 500 a set. When you can do 5 sets of 500, you'll be able to take a pretty good punch. And you'll look good at the beach.