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Six-Pack Abs: Reality or Pipe Dream? continued...

"I personally think it's on the order of ridiculous," he says. "If you're spending that much time on your abs, you're wasting time and taking time away from other muscle groups. It's a show muscle.

"When I have clients that are obsessed with that, I work on values and self-acceptance. People want a perfect body, they want a Lexus and they want a 3,000 square foot home. They're objectifying the body."

There are important reasons to train the midsection, however. The core muscles of the abdominals strengthen the torso, improve posture, decrease low back pain, and reduce risk of injury.

Abdominal training can also improve other areas of fitness. If you're a golfer or tennis player, working with a stronger core is going to give you more power behind your stroke or serve and reduce risk of shoulder injury. A stronger torso, for example, will put less strain on your knees while running.

Ab Exercises

So let's get to it. Here are the experts' choices on the most effective abdominal exercises. These should be performed two to three times weekly (for beginners, two is plenty to start). Each exercise should be executed until the point of momentary muscular failure, which should happen between 30 and 90 seconds. This is considered one set, which should be no more than 15 to 20 repetitions. Rest for 30 to 60 seconds. Concentrate on performing each exercise slowly with good form. Work up to completing two to three sets of each exercise.

Reverse Crunch: Lie flat on the floor with a neutral spine, with knees at a 90-degree angle, feet a few inches off the floor and legs together, hands by your sides (behind your ears if you're more experienced). Focus on contracting your abdominals to lift your hips up and in toward your rib case. Exhale as you contract; inhale to return to starting position. Done correctly, this exercise isolates the lower half of the rectus abdominis and the transverus.

Bent-Elbow Plank: This exercise works the whole trunk, particularly the transversus abdominis. Start by lying on your belly and then lift yourself up onto your toes and forearms (elbows in line with shoulders) while contracting your abdominals and keeping your back neutral. Hold that position for five seconds, then rest and repeat. Ultimately, strive to hold the pose for 90 seconds without any rest -- for one set. If you're more experienced, you can also do this exercise on your hands and toes. (As a beginner, start on your hands and knees with a neutral spine and simply contract the abdominals on an exhale without moving your back.)

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