I need some help. What is the secret to obtaining the elusive rippled stomach? Is it best to do one long continuous set of sit-ups or several sets with a lot of repetitions? Is one type of sit-up better than others? Is it better to skip days between workouts or exercise daily? Also, I've been trying to get rid of my love handles. I'm 24, 6 1", 170 pounds, and I run or bike strenuously every day for a least 30 minutes, but I've still got 'em. Please give me some advice. -- C. Z.
You've asked some controversial questions. Some exercise teachers say you should let your muscles rest a day between workouts. But I believe that if you really want to make changes in your body, you have to work out every day. It's a good idea, though, to vary your workouts. For example, work out on weight machines one day, then take an aerobics class or go biking the next.
As for obtaining a rippled stomach -- that's really hard to achieve. You have to work really hard for those ripples. And I'm talking about two-hour workouts every single day, with at least 30 minutes devoted solely to stomach work. Most people can't sustain stomach workouts for longer than five minutes. But if you add a little time onto each session, you'll get there in no time. I think it's best to do short sets of sit-ups. Do eight, then rest and keep repeating that cycle. During a long set of, say, 50 or 100 sit-ups, it's hard to keep your form perfect. You might tend to pull yourself up by using your shoulder or neck muscles instead of concentrating the movement on your abdominals. Pay attention to form by keeping your knees bent and pressing the small of your back into the floor. There's also a controversy on where your hands should be. Some advocate placing your hands behind your neck for support. Others say your arms should be crossed on your chest for added resistance. I say, put your hands where they feel right for you.
To help tone up those "love handles," try doing a sit-up and then twisting so that you're aiming your right elbow toward your left knee. On your next sit-up, twist so that your left elbow is toward your right knee.
I have very weak pectoral muscles. Cable-crossover and pec-machine crossovers have little or no effect on them. Nerve testing has shown that there is no problem in that area. What could I have overlooked? -- R. R.
I am a 32-year-old unmarried woman but my breasts have started sagging and I wonder if you can help me with a workout for this problem. -- E. M.
I'm answering both letters together because many men and women share the problem of weak pectoral muscles. Men who work out on resistance weight machines -- such as Nautilus -- often can strengthen their pecs by increasing the weight that they're pulling. Also, try increasing the number of repetitions. If you're now doing 12 repetitions at 80 pounds, try 15 reps at 90 or 100 pounds. This may give you that bulkier look you want.
Women, though, want a leaner look and should use much less weight than a man. Instead, women should increase their repetitions. Women also should realize that pectoral exercise won't make their breasts larger, but regular workouts can give you a firming effect that might make your silhouette appear uplifted.
Other non-weight exercises can help too. Try standing straight and tall, with knees slightly bent. Bent your elbows and bring knuckles of both hands together in front your body. Press knuckles together and tense your pecs. Hold for 15 seconds. Repeat five times. I like this exercise because you can do this when you're at the office several times a day. Every little bit helps.
Push-ups are good, too, but remember to place your hands shoulder-width apart and to keep your back straight as you lower and raise your body. Another favorite of mine is to stand straight and tall, knees slightly bent. Bend your elbows so that your fingertips point toward the sky. Bring your arms together in front of your elbows to your pinkies. Hold for 5 seconds. Release. Repeat 10 times.
In every exercise, form is important, but in pec work, it's essential. Make sure you tense your pec muscles. Don't let your shoulders and arms do the work. You really need to feel it in your chest. Advanced students can do these exercises while holding hand weights, but make sure the added weight doesn't impair your posture.