Standing Abdominal Exercises: Chances are you do most of your abdominal exercises lying on a mat. The “go to” ab exercises most people default to are variations of crunches and planks. When you do these exercises properly, they activate your abdominal muscles in a way that helps you build strength and definition. Do them wrong and you’ll end up with little to show for your hard work and, possibly, an injured back. However, don’t get stuck in a rut. You need a variety of ab exercises to target all of the muscles in your core region. You have a total of 29 muscles in your back, abdomen, and pelvis and you want to hit as many of them as possible.
Standing Abdominal versus Seated Abdominal Exercises
One variation of doing abdominal exercises are standing abdominal exercises. Examples include standing bicycle crunches, extended leg toe touches, side leg raises + crunches, and high knee chops. Doing abdominal exercises in this position targets your ab muscles a bit differently – but are they as effective as floor ab exercises? Although they’re not a waste of time, according to Dr. Len Kravitz, the effects of gravity and the weight of your trunk make standing ab exercises less effective than doing them lying down on the mat.
Standing abdominal exercises come in different varieties. One popular one is the lateral flexion exercise where you stand with feet planted on the ground and flex your waist laterally from side to side. Although you may feel like your ab muscles are getting a workout with this exercise, your deep spinal muscles are doing most of the work. Plus, many people do this movement too fast. When you do them quickly without resistance, you run the risk of overstretching the muscles. Plus, too much momentum is never a good thing.
Even worse are rotational exercises you do in a standing position – twisting your waist from side to side. When you do it this motion rapidly, without resistance, it places stress on your spine. Plus, contrary to popular belief, this exercise isn’t effective for “whittling your waist” or giving you an hourglass shape. Where torso rotational exercises appear to be most effective is for helping people with scoliosis.
On the other hand, if you use resistance and do the movement in a slow and controlled manner, it’s an effective exercise for working your oblique muscles. You’d also expect to burn slightly more calories while doing abdominal exercises in a standing position as opposed to lying on a mat. Still, the difference is fairly small in the bigger scheme of things.
However, doing other exercises in a standing position may help you target your abs. A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology showed you activate your superficial ab muscles and core more when doing standing as opposed to seated dumbbell overhead presses. In addition, unilateral overhead presses more effectively activate your core muscles than bilateral ones. Something to think about when you’re planning your routine.
Variety is Important for Building Abdominals
One reason people do standing abdominal exercises is to add variety to their workout. Smart thinking. But don’t let your abdominal routine become stale. Once your muscles adapt, they stop changing. Standing abdominal exercises are one way to break out of a stagnant ab rut – but they’re not the only way. You can also switch up your routine by doing abdominal exercises on a stability ball.
Performing floor ab exercises on a stability ball recruit more core muscles than lying on a flat surface. Take advantage of that. Also, remember that any time you’re trying to grow or strengthen a muscle, you need progressive overload. To increase the challenge, hold a dumbbell or other weighted object in your hands when you do crunches and crunch variations – both when seated or standing. Slow down the speed with which you do crunches – it’s not a speed contest. Slow crunches holding a dumbbell increases the time your ab muscles are under tension. This helps them grow and become stronger.
Another thing to remember, when doing abdominal crunches on the floor, is your abs do most of the work during the first 30 to 45 degrees of flexion. As you lift your shoulders off the floor beyond this point, your hip flexors take over. So focus on staying within this range when you lift your shoulders off the floor.
Diet is Part of the Equation Too
Nowhere does nutrition matter more than for showing off your ab muscles at the beach. Even if you build abdominal definition with focused abdominal training, you won’t see it unless you’re under a certain body fat percentage. For females, that percentage is below 20%. So, focus on high-intensity interval training and compound strength-training exercises to help burn off the layer of fat that’s covering your abs.
The Bottom Line
Properly performed abdominal exercise on the floor are more effective than standing ab exercises, although both offer benefits. Since the key to getting defined abs is to vary the stimulus you place on the muscles, both floor and standing abdominal exercises should be part of your routine. Even better, add resistance to your ab workouts by holding a dumbbell, when appropriate, while doing standing or floor abdominal exercises.
When you’re trying to get your abs to pop, you can never be complacent – with your diet or your training. Training variety and good nutrition is a must since you need to strengthen and define the muscles AND reduce the layer of body fat covering them.
Also, don’t forget, you activate your core muscles when you do some compound strength-training exercises like push-ups, squats, and deadlifts. Investing time in high-intensity resistance exercises with an emphasis on compound movements can pay off too with better abs – but be patient – rock hard abs don’t come quickly or easily.
Eur J Appl Physiol. 2012 May;112(5):1671-8. doi: 10.1007/s00421-011-2141-7. Epub 2011 Aug 30.
SuperAbs Resource Manual Len Kravitz, Ph.D.
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