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Don't get addicted to one exercise.
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Comparing or ranking the importance of unweighted vs. weighted abdominal training is a tricky concept. For example, if most athletic individuals were to attempt any series of movements a gymnast performs regularly on the rings, they would find them as the most abdominally demanding movements they've ever tried. And yet, weighted situps are also extremely challenging. The point is to not favor weighted or unweighted, but to use a wide variety in your abdominal routine.
Refuse To Have A Favorite
Do weighted abdominal exercises one day, and an unweighted the next day. The key to an effective abdominal exercise program is variety and technique. If you constantly do the same exercises and reps, your results will stall. Good variety may look like this: Monday situps with a dumbbell on your chest, Tuesday lying leg raises with 20-pound ankle weights, Wednesday plank holds for maximum time, Thursday Russian Twists and Friday farmers carries. Vary the sets, weight and reps every day.
Common Mistake in Abdominal Training
The culprit for mistakes in both weighted and unweighted abdominal exercises is generally the ego. This results in ignoring the proper technique due to a lack of strength just to do more weight or more reps. Training like that is like microwaving a TV dinner and saying you're a good cook. If you aren't maintaining a good pelvis position and executing perfect technique, you need to lighten the weight or scale the exercise down; poor technique leads to poor results.
Blend It Up
In many cases, you can add weight to a typically unweighted abdominal exercise to increase the intensity. When you reach the brink of failure, remove the weight and continue with just your body weight. For example, if you do plank holds with a 25-pound plate on your back for maximum time, ditch the weight and immediately continue with your body weight when fatigued. This blended technique really hammers the muscles and leads to the change you are looking for. It doesn't have to be one or the other when it comes to weighted and unweighted abdominal work.
Tortoise and the Hare
When it comes to any exercise program, be the tortoise. Don't be so eager to improve that you end up injuring yourself, because you'll be further behind than you would have been by exercising intelligently. Sure, set yourself some lofty goals that you are determined to accomplish, but also set goals that keep you safe and steady. Never let the success of others take you off your game plan. Working your abdominals with and without weight consistently -- not carelessly -- is what breeds results. There is no secret.