Tighten and Tone Your Midsection

Firm Abdominals With Lying Cycling

Bicycling for some may involve maneuvering your way up a winding mountain trail, while perched on a narrow seat hovering between two thin wheels. This type of exercise might be exhilarating and a great way to improve your cardiovascular conditioning, and to burn calories, but not everyone lives close to a nice bike trail, or a traffic-free mountain. And for all its good points, bicycling does not provide much direct abdominal work. However, a close cousin of bicycling, lying cycling, provides a direct and intensive way to work your abdominals and entire waistline.

Lying cycling provides a basic, yet effective, way to activate the entire abdominal musculature that will help tighten and firm your midsection, when a clean diet and consistent cardio are part of the plan. That’s because even the best abdominal exercises will not tighten and tone your abdominals and midriff if you fail to include cardio for 20-30 minutes per day. If you are already increasing your metabolic rate and lowering your body fat rate via cardio, then try adding lying cycling to your routine to achieve a more focused assault on the upper, and the sides of, your abdominals, as well as the more difficult lower areas of the waist.

Muscles Activated

The rectus abdominis is a long, strap-like muscle that’s made up of a series of short fibers stacked end to end. The linea alba is a thin tendon-like line that creates a groove in the middle of the abdominal wall so the rectus abdominis appears to have left and right halves to it. Usually, there are three (sometimes even four) additional rows of horizontally placed tendons running across the rectus abdominis. These make the abdomen appear to have “blocks” that provides the “six-pack” look on the abdominal wall. The fibers of the rectus abdominis are short and only run from one horizontal tendinous insertion to the next. If both right and left halves of this muscle contract at the same time, the shoulders and trunk are flexed forward so that the head and chest move closer to the hips and legs (assuming a fixed pelvis). Although there’s muscle activity in all the blocks during most abdominal exercises, the upper two rows preferentially contract and shorten the most when doing bicycling from a lying position. However, the lower parts of the abdominal blocks are activated as the pelvis is tilted during the lying cycling exercise.

You can see the external oblique muscles dance and tighten if your midriff is reasonably tight and especially if you twist to either side. If this is not the case, then lying cycling will move you a little closer to this goal. The external oblique runs from the lower ribs by small bundles of muscle fibers that are angled in the same direction that your fingers would point, if you were to put your hands in your pockets. As the external oblique approaches the center of your abdomen, it unites with other slips of external oblique muscle fibers and attaches to the iliac bones of the pelvis and hip structures and the linea alba. When both left and right sides of the external oblique muscles work together, they can act to flex the trunk and move the head toward the feet. When one side contracts (unilateral contraction), the body twists to that same side.

The internal oblique muscle sits just deep to the external oblique muscle. It attaches on a thick connective tissue sheath in the lower back called the thoracolumbar fascia and from the iliac bones of the hip. Its fibers run around the side of the trunk at right angles to the external oblique muscle and run toward the head (superiorly). It attaches on the lowest three or four ribs, where it becomes continuous with the internal intercostal muscles (respiratory muscles of the rib cage). Similar to the external oblique muscle, if both left and right portions contract together, the internal oblique flexes the trunk at the waist and moves the head toward the feet. It assists in twisting the torso if it contracts unilaterally.

The psoas major is a long and thick muscle that lies beside the thoracic and lumbar vertebral column. The iliacus muscle is a large triangular muscle overlaying the iliac bones of the hip and it lies along the lateral side of the psoas major. Together, the fibers of the iliacus and psoas major combine into a single tendon that attaches near the head of the femur (thigh) bone. The psoas major and iliacus function as a single lower abdominal muscle (called the iliopsoas muscle). The iliopsoas is the most powerful flexor of the thigh at the hip joint and is active when you bring the knees up toward the elbows in the lying cycling exercise.

Lying Cycling

This exercise will effectively contract all the rows of the rectus abdominis muscle. In addition, the internal and external oblique muscles will assist in the flexion of the trunk, and they are strongly activated when the torso is twisted to each side.

1. Lie on your back (supine) on a mat on the floor. Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor. Place your hands behind your head, but do not intertwine your fingers. (You do not want to pull hard on your head and neck and intertwining your fingers would encourage this).

2. Lift both feet about six to eight inches from the floor. Keep your knees bent so your hip is flexed to about 90 degrees. Your thighs should be parallel to the floor.

3. Bring your head and shoulders off the floor as if you were doing a crunch. Move your right elbow toward your left knee (twist to the left) and at the same time bring your flexed left knee up toward your right elbow. At the same time as the bent left knee is coming toward your elbow, your right knee should straighten.

4. Lower your head and shoulders a few inches toward the starting position as the left knee is straightening.

5. Immediately start upward and twist toward the opposite (right side). To do this, you will continue to straighten the left knee (keeping your heel six to eight inches from the floor) while your right knee is flexing and moving up toward your left elbow. The twist of the upper body should be such that you try to touch the left elbow to the right flexed knee.

6. Lower your torso toward the floor a few inches and start the series again. Continue to twist from side to side while your elbow attempts to contact the opposite knee.

Training Tips

The leg actions are similar to bicycling, where you alternate flexion of the knee on one side while you extend the knee at the same time on the other side, but your abdomen will be much more strongly activated than if you were cycling on a two-wheeler. If you cannot quite touch the elbow and knee, don’t become too concerned. Instead, concentrate on getting as close as you can. Do not pull up on your head and neck; otherwise, you could strain your neck. Instead, make the effort from the abdomen.

This is a great abdomen exercise, but it can be very tough on your lower back. Therefore, if you have previously hurt your lower back, you should stick to a modified cycle version. In this case, your knees are bent, and the soles of your shoes are anchored to the floor. You will twist from side to side, again trying to move your right elbow toward your left knee, etc., but your feet will not leave the floor. This version will not activate the lower abdomen, or iliopsoas muscles very much, but it will tone the upper rows of the rectus abdominis and both external and internal oblique muscles. While strengthening the abdominal muscles normally reduces the risk of lower back injury, lifting your feet from the floor and keeping them up puts a lot of torque through the lower back, especially when your knees are extended.

You should not hold your breath during any abdomen exercise, since this increases intra-abdominal pressure and prevents the abdominal fibers from shortening as much as they should.

Few things that are worthwhile or lasting come easily, and this is certainly true for abdominal work. You need to carefully set high standards and realistic goals for your diet and exercise program and establish firm deadlines to achieve these successes. (Dieting off the fat is absolutely necessary if you want to reveal the muscles of your midriff). Of course, not all abdominal exercises are fun to do, but lying cycling offers variety, and with some concentrated effort, you will find it to be both effective and intensive. If your lower back is in good condition (no previous injuries), lying cycling will quickly tighten and tone your entire abdomen.


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