Solution: Try some obscure equipment and exercises. It may not be part of your regular workout routine, but add these movements to your program, and I guarantee it will wake up those slacking muscles—and help chase away fat.
Oblique bench. This unassuming little piece of equipment, shown in the accompanying photo, is perhaps the most versatile thing in the gym that you can use for a core workout. Use it with body weight alone, or while holding a weight plate to the upper chest. Different positions will work the entire girdle of muscles the surround the waist and hips.
Adjust the bench so it reaches no higher than the top of your hips. Laying face down, bend your upper body over so your head points to the floor, then lift back up so your body is again straight. This works the thick columns of muscle on each side of your spinal column, a great strength move for athletes. The obliques—the side muscles—also need to be developed, for function as well as looks.
First, some muscle info: Your body position when you do an exercise determines how your muscles will respond. Only the muscle fibers that are directly recruited will pump up when worked. For example, you can do a dumbbell biceps curl that mostly works the belly of your biceps muscle, giving you a nicely rounded hump on your biceps, but leaving each end of the muscle somewhat undeveloped; or you can hold the dumbbell in a way that targets the entire muscle.
In the same way, position counts on the oblique bench. When bending sideways to work your obliques, you’ll feel different core areas being worked if you 1. put your butt on the bench, or 2. put your hip on the bench. Use both positions; hip placement will get your abs more involved. Put your shoulders in different positions; twist your body so shoulders are facing square to the floor or a little more upward or downward. If you’re holding a weight plate, make sure you’re holding it high enough on your chest to actually add the resistance to your upper body. Every set should include working both sides.
One important thing to remember: Never curve your back while using this bench. Your back should always be straight between the mid back and butt, and you should only bend at the hips, where your legs meet your core. If you arch your back inward, you’re putting the entire weight of your upper body and any weight plate on a few vertebrae in your lower back; if you curve your back like a “C,” you’re putting all the weight on a few middle back vertebrae. Both moves are a surefire way to injure your back. Don’t ever bend your spinal column on the oblique bench.
Leg press. This is a machine where you sit or lie down and push a platform with your feet. When using it, work each leg separately, because with this kind of machine, you can’t tell if one leg is doing more work than the other. Using the legs one at a time will instantly tell you if one leg is weaker, and allow you to work on strengthening the weak leg to equalize the muscles.
The leg press is a versatile machine; you can also use it for calf work. Move your foot down on the platform so you are only pressing with your toes and the balls of your feet. This builds your calf muscles.
Next week, I’ll tell you how to build a totally ripped upper back and an incredibly rounded butt that is both functional and looks great.