Issues in Abdominal Fitness: Testing and Technique

Article excerpt

Assessing muscular function for the purpose of determining fitness levels and prescribing training is an important part of the physical education curriculum. Muscle strength is defined as the maximum force or torque produced by a muscle group in isometric conditions for a specific joint angle, and is measured with a dynamometer. Muscular strength is often approximated by finding the maximum resistance that can be lifted one time. Muscular endurance is the ability. of a muscle group to repeatedly create force or torque, and is usually measured by counting the repetitions possible for a given load or by determining how long an isometric position can be maintained.

While optimizing the muscular function of all muscle groups is important for improving sport performance and promoting physical activity, abdominal muscular endurance is of special interest because it is believed to be related to low-back health. Abdominal muscular endurance is thought to be functionally more important than abdominal strength (McGill, 1998), and isometric abdominal endurance has been hypothesized to be a motor skill related to lumbar/pelvic control and potential back problems (Elia, Bohannon, Cameron, & Albro, 1996; O'Sullivan, Twomey, & Allison, 1998). This paper will summarize the research on health-related fitness testing and the technique of abdominal exercises, providing recommendations for abdominal testing and training in physical education.

Test Administration

How a test is administered strongly influences most fitness test scores. When testing abdominal fitness, physical educators need to provide careful instructions on proper technique, conduct practice trials before actual testing, monitor technique and test rules, and solicit maximum effort from students. Attention to these details will allow a more accurate assessment of abdominal fitness.

Historically, the timed bent-knee situp has been used as the field test of abdominal muscular fitness in the first "health-related" fitness test batteries. Concerns about hip flexor involvement and the ballistic nature of this one-minute test (Jette, Sidney, & Cicutti, 1984) prompted the development of a variety of curl-up tests. Correct technique in curl-up tests is critical to insure that the advantages of a curl-up are utilized. Leaving the legs unanchored will make it difficult for hip flexors to initiate the upward movement, but unfortunately, positioning a person in greater hip flexion without foot stabilization will not guarantee the absence of hip flexor activity (Andersson, Nilsson, Ma, & Thorstensson 1997; McGill, 1995). The combination of pelvic stabilization, maximal abdominal activation, and minimal hip flexor activity is a motor skill that requires practice to develop (Miller & Medeiros, 1987; Sarti, Monfort, Fuster, & Villaplana, 1996).

A correct curl-up begins by stabilizing the pelvis, flattening the lumbar region, and gradually curling-up to lift the shoulder blades clear of the floor. The end of the concentric phase can be standardized in several ways that limit trunk flexion to less than 40 degrees. For example, the concentric phase of the modified curl-up [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED] for young children ends when the fingertips slide three inches along the floor. The end of the eccentric phase is usually the return of the shoulder blades to the floor. Instructions for testing should stress the importance of using the correct technique with a slow and controlled motion.

It is important that the instructor monitor technique and provide corrective feedback when incorrect technique is used. Technique evaluation and feedback should be provided in practice tests before actual testing. Practice tests should be given several days before actual testing. This also minimizes any learning effects in testing and gives students a general idea of their abilities.

Before testing, instructors should provide little information on what curl-up scores are passing, good, or excellent. …