Whether you call them by their generic name the waist muscles, their anatomical name the obliques, or love handles, we all want a trimmer waistline. Carrying excess weight around the middle not only effects your appearance but puts you at risk for many chronic diseases. An article published in November 2008 in the New England Journal of Medicine cited studies that proved that having a larger waist was a more reliable predictor of early death than other common factors. This was the case even in those participants who had a healthy body mass index and were in a healthy weight range. It turns out that having a lean waist goes a long way to better health. The question is do you really need a machine to tone that waistline?
An Internet search for waist machines would yield a variety of equipment such as disks that you stand on and twist, chairs that you rock back and forth on and devices that you sit in a chair with and perform a crunching motion. Many will promise that if you use the machine for just 15 to 20 minutes a day, you will have "six-pack abs." On a more physiologically sound basis, you will also see benches like those found in a gym, which allow you to do waist exercises from an inclined or declined position, benches that help to secure your feet, and straps that you can use while hanging from a bar to do reverse oblique crunches. Lastly there are commercial pieces of equipment like the one shown at the top of this page that have you perform weighted twisting motions. But are these machines really necessary?
You cannot spot reduce. You can do hundreds of exercises for the waist, but if you are overweight you will not get that toned midsection look. If you see models demonstrating fitness equipment and admire the shape of their abs and waist, it is important to note that doing waist exercises alone is not what makes them look like that. To see that definition in the midsection, your percentage of body fat must be no more than 10 per cent for men and 14 per cent for women. The bottom line is that if you are overweight and want a toned and lean waistline you need to lose weight. This is done through participating in 30 to 45 minutes of cardiovascular exercise at least five days per week. Activities such as walking briskly, swimming, dancing, and biking are necessary. In addition you need to be mindful of your diet. To lose weight you must burn off more calories than you eat. Once you achieve the weight loss, then you can really begin to focus on toning and shaping the muscles of the midsection. It is also good to understand that your abdominal muscles are not the same as your waist muscles. Your abdominal muscles are in the front of your body. As seen in this picture from en.wikipedia.org, they are divided into upper and lower abs. Your oblique muscles are locate along the side of your body and are divided into internal and external. All of these areas require different exercises to effectively target them.
Several manufacturers of fitness equipment make machines to work the waist muscles. The machine shown at the top of this article is made by Cybex. The machine shown here is by Nautilus. These machines attempt to set you up so you are twisting against resistance using weights. They are all relatively similar in that you sit on the machine and hold onto or wrap your arms around pads. The idea is to contract your waist muscles and use the obliques to make the machine move. While this twisting motion does target the obliques, most people use this equipment incorrectly. If you watch gym members you often see them holding on tightly with fists or wrapping their elbows tightly around the pads. In order to make the machine move you will also often see people tightly squeezing their legs around the seat pad. In this case you are actually using your arm and leg muscles to lift the weight, not the waist muscles. To use these machines correctly, you need to have a very light grip on the pads with your arms and legs. The trick is that while you may need to use your arms and legs to get started, do not bring the machine all the way back. In other words do not let the weights touch. Keep the range of motion small and focus on contracting the muscles of your waist while relaxing the arms and legs. If you have never used one of these machines before, make sure you have a trainer at the gym watch your form.
If you have been exercising regularly for some time and you are finding that traditional waist exercises are no longer enough, then using a special bench or machine for your oblique workout is a good option. Doing core work with machines is only necessary when traditional nonweighted exercises are no longer providing benefits. Once you have been working out for a while, you will have learnt to listen to your body and you know how to correctly isolate the waist muscles when using resistance. This comes after months of working out regularly. If you are new to exercise, or if you have been away from it for a while, it is much safer and more effective to do traditional oblique crunches on the floor or a bench. The picture here from exerciseabout.com demonstrates a traditional oblique crunch. Here again, make sure you learn how to do these exercises from a trainer and not a magazine or video. While the exercises presented in a video or magazine may be safe and effective, most people unknowingly do them incorrectly. Without proper form, the exercise is not only targeting the wrong muscle, but you may also wind up with neck or back pain. Even if you have a sensitive back or neck, a good trainer can show you ways to do abdominal and waist exercises without straining these areas.
If you are ready for more, you do not always have to purchase a waist machine. You can do some great advanced oblique exercises using a weighted medicine ball, cables, free weights, theraband and large and small physioballs. All of the above will help you take your waist exercises to the next level by adding resistance and variety to your routine without the need for expensive machines. The picture here from www.criticalbench.com demonstrates a challenging oblique crunch using a physioball.