When we see a six-pack, we often associate it with a hundreds of daily crunches. However, the “secret” to strong abdominal muscles isn’t as much about flexing the trunk (as we do with crunches and sit-ups), but rather it’s more about stabilizing it (as we do with moves like planks).

Stuart McGill, professor of spine biomechanics at Waterloo University in Canada, wrote that the abdominal muscles serve more of a role of stabilizing the trunk rather than flexing it. Repetitive activities that flex the trunk put pressure on the spine, which may cause future injuries in this region.

“The lumbar muscles, spine extensors, quadratus lumborum and the muscles of the hips work better by controlling the movement rather than initiating it,” wrote McGill.

Working the abs is quite complex. These muscles work all day long by stabilizing, flexing and controlling all type of moves. Therefore, to give the abdominals a complete workout without injuring the back, crunches are not the best option. Nor do they burn more calories, the other very important part of the equation for showing off a six-pack. You need to melt the fat that tends to accumulate in this area.

- The Towel Workout (Click on the top slideshow for step by step instructions)

The routine that I designed focuses on working the core throughout isometric contractions (contracting a muscle and holding it), along with other moves that will make your abs stronger while taking away the pressure on the spine.

This routine will help you to have better posture when you do other exercises as well as when you sit. It will even help you to lift more weight when you do squats, dead lifts, lunges, push-press, among other exercises where the abdominals play a role as stabilizer. As a bonus, this routine makes you work other muscles simultaneously and will give you a very nice sweat.

Routine

You’ll need two small towels.

Beginners can do just one circuit, 8-10 reps each exercise. Rest as you need it.
Intermediate/advanced should do 3 to 4 circuits, 12- 15 reps each exercise. No rest until you finish each circuit (60 seconds max.).

Don’t perform this routine the day that you train the legs. The core muscles will be very tired to get the most of either routine.

Perform this routine twice a week.

Make sure that at all times you keep perfect posture. The neck should be aligned with the spine, the back should be straight, hips flats and tight. The wider the feet are, the easier the exercises are.

The exercises:

Pike

Bring the towel in with your legs. Keep the back and hips stables. Use your abdominals while pulling in.

Plank with knee in and push-up.

From a plank position bring the knee in toward the opposite arm. Repeat with the other leg and then do a push-up.

Plank sweeping in/out with hands

From a plank position, sweep with one arm in a circular motion and then with the other while keeping the back straight and hips tight.

Mountain climber with towel

Bring one leg to the opposite side, then alternate. Try to do it as fast as you can.
Plank sweeping to the side.

From a plank position open up your legs as wide as you can while keeping proper form then bring them back in. You should feel this in your gluteus and side abdominals.

Towel roll over back and forth

Extend your arms as much as you can while keeping the core tight and back straight.

Plank sweeping in/out with the feet

Bring one leg to the same side, then alternate. Try to do it as fast as you can.

Marta Montenegro inspires people to live healthy lives by giving them the tools and strength to find one’s inner athlete through her personal website MartaMontenegro.com. She created SOBeFiT, a national fitness magazine for men and women, and the Montenegro Method DVD workout series – a program she designed for getting results in just 21 days by exercising 21 minutes a day . Marta is a strength and conditioning coach and serves as an adjunct professor of exercise physiology at Florida International University.

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