A 15-minute exercise class that can get you a flatter stomach and leaner waist sounded good to me. Or the one for “optimum fat burning and toning”. I mean, why exert yourself in an exercise studio for 60 minutes if you can get results in 15?
So I’m putting Fitness First’s 15-minute workouts to the test, starting with the abs class. The classes are straight after work and only five minutes from the office, so hopefully I’ll barely even know I’ve been. (Apart from looking flatter tummied, leaner waisted and optimally fat burned, of course.)
Sit-ups, crunches, plank: which muscles do they work?
There are ten of us in the class, which is in a freestyle area of the gym rather than an exercise studio. Not my fave. But as it’s only 15 intensively focused minutes, I can deal.
All the exercises are done lying on a mat, and include sit-ups; crunches; bicycle crunches; lifting up straight legs alternately; and the plank. Each works different muscles and this variety means the whole mid-section gets worked and strengthened.
For example, traditional sit-ups and crunches work the main wall of muscle across the abdomen (the rectus abdominus, that connects the lower rib cage to the hips). But they also work the external and internal obliques, which run diagonally along the sides of the torso, and are just as important if you want your whole midriff to be toned.
Why sit-ups alone aren’t enough
Bicycle crunches further target these muscles: the twisting movement as you alternately touch each elbow to the opposite knee as you lift your upper torso maximises movement on the sides of your core. They also work your hip flexors, the muscles that move your hips and allow you to rotate from side to side.
By lifting the legs off the floor, you’re also targeting your lower abs, an area that’s neglected if you are only doing regular sit-ups.
The bicycle crunches are tough. I flake. That’s a message I don’t want: my obliques are clearly the muscles I’m not using enough, so I need to practise.
But when we lift our upper bodies and straight legs off the floor I can hold it. So my lower abs, which I thought might be a weak area, are OK. Yay! (I know, tiny things…) Must be all the boat postures in yoga.
Related: Fun ways to get fit: barre class
Best abs exercise for desk workers
Next up is the Superman, where we lie on our tummies, arms stretched out in front, and lift our arms, shoulders, head and legs off the floor and hold. We’re told to tighten our glutes (butt cheeks) and pinch the shoulder blades together.
As well as the abs this works the lower back, namely the erector spinae, multifidus and quadratus lumborum, three muscles that are important for lower back strengthening and core stability.
Turns out this one is ideal for maintaining great posture and protecting your spine – especially if you have a desk job . Since I am desk-bound four days a week, this also needs to go on the must-do list.
Finally it’s the plank, where we lie on our tummies and lift up on to our forearms and toes. I know this is a good one to make a load of abdominal muscles work at once, so with all my concentration I manage to hold it for the full time, which is probably only one minute but feels like five.
This is such a good exercise because it forces the rectus and transversus abdominis muscles to work their hardest. The latter is the deepest tummy muscle and the most difficult to exercise, and the one that stabilises your core, so: don’t put off the plank!
How often the exercises should be done
But is a 15-minute abs class really going to make any difference to my abs? Well, no, not if I only go sporadically (though once a week is better than none at all, of course).
Ideally, to make a noticeable difference, you need to do a variety of these exercises, including sit-ups and plank, a few days a week. Not only should you see the difference in your belly, but you’ll get a stronger, stabilised core, which is essential for many different types of sports and activities.
Fun factor: 6/10. It wasn’t really ‘fun’ but it wasn’t torture. It felt good to be working the body part that needs working.
Fit factor: 10/10 (for core only, of course, not all-round fitness).
Would I go again? Yes. And I’d try the exercises at home, though a trainer definitely got me to work harder than I would alone.
Thank you to Fitness First and to their PT Ambassadors. Find your nearest gym on the Fitness First club finder