Title:
Inflatable abdominal exercise apparatus
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An abdominal exercise apparatus has an inflatable seat that resiliently supports at least the buttocks, torso and neck of a user. The upper support surface of the seat and the bottom surface of the seat have profiles that are substantially C-shaped. The seat preferably has raised sides that form a shallow cavity that is adapted to resiliently support the body of the user therein. Hand grips may be affixed to opposite sides of a top portion of the seat and/or to opposite sides of a bottom portion of the seat. The apparatus may also include an inflatable back wedge section whose inflation level is adjustable to accommodate different levels of effort. A wide variety of effective abdominal and other exercises can be performed with the apparatus.



Inventors:
Webb, Nicholas J. (Redding, CA, US)
Application Number:
10/842127
Publication Date:
11/10/2005
Filing Date:
05/10/2004
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63B21/015; A63B23/02; A63B26/00; (IPC1-7): A63B26/00; A63B21/015
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
BAKER, LORI LYNN
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
GORDON & JACOBSON, P.C. (60 LONG RIDGE ROAD SUITE 407, STAMFORD, CT, 06902, US)
Claims:
1. An abdominal exercise apparatus comprising: an inflatable seat that is adapted to resiliently support at least the buttocks, torso and neck of a user, said seat having an upper surface and a bottom surface with profiles that are substantially C-shaped, wherein said seat comprises an inflatable air chamber having multiple compartments that are in fluid communication with one another, said compartments spaced apart from one another along length of said seat and extending transversely between sides of said seat.

2. An abdominal exercise apparatus according to claim 1, wherein: the sides of said seat are raised to form a shallow cavity therebetween, said cavity adapted to support the upper and lower body parts of the user therein.

3. An abdominal exercise apparatus according to claim 1, further comprising: an inflatable back wedge section, operably disposed adjacent said seat, for adjusting an angle of the torso and neck of the user relative to a horizontal direction.

4. An abdominal exercise apparatus according to claim 3, wherein: said inflatable back wedge section is removably attached to said seat.

5. An abdominal exercise apparatus according to claim 3, wherein: said seat and said inflatable back wedge section have flocked surfaces that are adapted to provide resistance to sliding of said seat and said inflatable back wedge section on the floor.

6. An abdominal exercise apparatus according to claim 3, wherein: said back wedge section is adapted to vary a range of motion of the user's torso and neck up to at least 30 degrees.

7. An abdominal exercise apparatus according to claim 1, wherein: said seat has a lower portion that supports the buttocks of the user and a first pair of hand gripping mechanisms affixed to said lower portion of said seat.

8. An abdominal exercise apparatus according to claim 7, wherein: said seat has an upper portion that supports at least the neck of the user and a second pair of hand gripping mechanisms affixed to said upper portion of said seat.

9. An abdominal exercise apparatus according to claim 1, wherein: said seat comprises at least inflatable air chamber that is adapted to provide resilient support to the lower back of the user and to provide a soft intermediary between the floor and the lower back of the user.

10. An abdominal exercise apparatus according to claim 2, wherein: said raised sides have a central bulbous region.

11. (canceled)

12. An abdominal exercise apparatus according to claim 2, wherein: said multiple compartments extend horizontally with respect to said raised sides.

13. An abdominal exercise apparatus according to claim 1, wherein: an inflation level of said seat is adjustable to accommodate users of different sizes and shapes.

14. An abdominal exercise apparatus according to claim 3, wherein: an inflation level of said back wedge section is adjustable to accommodate different levels of effort during use.

15. An abdominal exercise apparatus according to claim 3, wherein: an inflation level of said back wedge section is adjustable to accommodate different body inclination angles during use.

16. A method of exercising comprising: providing the abdominal exercise apparatus of claim 1; and inflating the seat to provide a resilient support structure for supporting the user's body parts during use.

17. A method according to claim 16, further comprising: performing at least one exercise with the abdominal exercise apparatus.

18. A method according to claim 16, further comprising: performing a variety of exercises with the abdominal exercise apparatus.

19. A method according to claim 18, wherein: said variety of exercises are selected from the group comprising i) conventional sit-ups; ii) twisting sit-ups; iii) elevated sit-backs; iv) side leg lifts; v) oblique muscle exercises; and vi) buttocks exercises.

20. A kit comprising: the abdominal exercise apparatus of claim 1; and an air-pump for inflating air chambers of said abdominal exercise apparatus.

21. A kit according to claim 20, further comprising: a patch kit for patching said air chambers.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention relates to exercise devices and methods for isolating, strengthening, and toning the abdominal and lower back muscles.

2. State of the Art

Sit-ups are used by many to strengthen and tone the abdominal muscles. Typically, the sit-up is executed by placing one's back to floor with the knees bent and feet flat to the floor. The hands are placed behind the head with the elbows extending forward. The head and shoulders are lifted using the abdominal muscles until the elbows touch the knees, and then the head and shoulders are lowered back to the floor.

When the sit-up is performed on a flat surface, the hip-flexor muscles provide assistance the abdominal muscles and thus take away some of benefits to the abdominal muscles. To alleviate this problem, exercise cushions have been developed and sold commercially, such as that sold under the AB-MAXIMIZER name. These cushions are placed under the lower back and provide improved isolation of the abdominal muscles during the sit-up by eliminating assistance from the hip-flexor muscles.

While these exercise methods and apparatus have achieved moderate success, several drawbacks and deficiencies are known to exist. First, placing the hands behind the head during the sit-up stresses the neck muscle, which can strain and injure the neck muscle. Second, significant stress is applied to lower back during the initial part/final part of the sit-up when the lower back is close to the floor. Such lower back strain is associated with the majority of sit-up related injuries.

Thus, there remains a need in the art for exercise methods and apparatus that provide isolation of the abdominal muscles while at the same time reducing stress to the neck and lower back.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

It is therefore an object of the invention to provide an exercise apparatus that provides isolation of the abdominal muscles while at the same time reducing stress to the neck and lower back.

It is another object of the invention to provide such an exercise apparatus that can be used to perform a variety of abdominal exercises.

It is a further object of the invention to provide such an exercise apparatus that can be used to exercise other muscle groups (such as leg muscles and oblique muscles).

It is also an object of the invention to provide such an exercise apparatus that enables control over range of motion and effort such that it is suitable for different users.

In accord with these objects, which will be discussed in detail below, an improved abdominal exercise apparatus is provided with an inflatable seat that resiliently supports at least the buttocks, torso and neck of a user. The upper support surface of the seat and the bottom surface of the seat have profiles that are substantially C-shaped. The seat preferably has raised sides that form a shallow cavity that is adapted to resiliently support the body of the user therein. Hand grips may be affixed to opposite sides of a top portion of the seat and/or to opposite sides of a bottom portion of the seat. The apparatus may also include an inflatable back wedge section operably disposed adjacent the seat.

It will be appreciated that a wide variety of effective abdominal exercise and other exercises can be performed with the apparatus while stress to the lower back and neck are reduced.

According to one embodiment of the invention, the inflation level of the back wedge section is adjustable to vary the range of motion of the user's body (and thereby avoid lower back strain and provide different levels of effort of exercise).

According to another embodiment of the invention, the inflation level of the front wedge section is adjustable to vary the range of motion of the user's body.

According to a further embodiment of the invention, the seat is realized by three independently inflatable cushions including a first cushion disposed under the upper legs of the user during use, a second cushion disposed under the lumbar section of the user during use, and a third cushion disposed under the upper torso, neck and head of the user during use. The second (lumbar) air cushion supports the lower back and also reduces lower back strain. The third air cushion supports the head and neck to reduce lower neck strain.

Additional objects and advantages of the invention will become apparent to those skilled in the art upon reference to the detailed description taken in conjunction with the provided figures.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is an isometric view of an abdominal exercise apparatus according to the present invention;

FIG. 2 is side view of the abdominal exercise apparatus of FIG. 1, supporting a user's body in use;

FIG. 3 is a side view of the abdominal exercise apparatus of FIG. 1, showing the starting inclination angle of the body of the user as controlled by the level of inflation of the back wedge section of the base portion;

FIG. 4A is a top view of the seat portion of the abdominal exercise apparatus of FIGS. 1 through 3; and

FIG. 4B is a side view of the seat section and base section of the abdominal exercise apparatus of FIGS. 1 through 3.

FIG. 5 is a side view of the seat section and base section of an alternate abdominal exercise apparatus in accordance with the present invention.

FIG. 6A is an isometric view of the seat section and base section of the abdominal exercise apparatus of FIG. 5, showing hook and loop fastener straps that removably attach the base section to the seat section.

FIG. 6B is an isometric view of the seat section and base section of the abdominal exercise apparatus of FIG. 5, showing the base section removably attached to the seat section with hook and loop fastener straps.

FIGS. 7A and 7B are side views of the seat section and base section of the abdominal exercise apparatus of FIG. 5 during conventional sit-up exercise.

FIGS. 8A, 8B and 8C are side views of the abdominal exercise apparatus of FIG. 5, showing different configurations of the inflatable back wedge section for different levels of effort (from the easiest level of effort to the hardest level of effort).

FIG. 9 is a side view of the seat section and base section of another embodiment of an abdominal exercise apparatus in accordance with the present invention.

FIG. 10A is an isometric view of the seat section and base section of the abdominal exercise apparatus of FIG. 9, showing hook and loop fastener straps that removably attach the base section to the seat section.

FIG. 10B is an isometric view of the seat section and base section of the abdominal exercise apparatus of FIG. 5, showing the base section removably attached to the seat section with hook and loop fastener straps.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

Turning now to FIGS. 1 and 2, there is shown an abdominal exercise apparatus 10 in accordance with the present invention. It includes a seat portion 12 that is centrally disposed on and attached (preferably by hook and loop fastener(s)) or affixed to a base portion 14. The base portion 14 includes an inflatable front wedge section 16 and an inflatable back wedge section 18. Preferably, the inflatable chambers (not shown) within the front wedge section 18 and the back wedge section 18 have their own air valve assemblies (not shown) and thus are independently inflatable. The seat portion 12 has an outer support structure 20 that maintains a C-shape profile (or shape similar thereto) when viewed from the side as best shown in FIG. 2 in order to support the user's body. The outer support structure 20 is preferably realized by two sections 21A, 21B that are interconnected by a hinge 22 (such as a live hinge) that enables the top section 21A to flex downward toward the bottom section 21B during use. The hinge 22 may be adapted to provide resistance to such flexing movement if desired. Such resistance increases the energy applied to the abdominal muscles during use. The outer support structure 20 has raised sidewalls 28 that form a shallow central cavity 30 therebetween. Preferably, the shape and form of the outer support structure 20 is resiliently retained by heat sealed vinyl internal ribs or other support structure s (not shown). Two inflatable support cushions 32A, 32B provide a floor below the central cavity 30. The user's body (from the buttocks to head) is disposed within this shallow central cavity 30 during use and thus centralized on the apparatus. Preferably, three inflatable chambers 33A, 33B, 33B within the two support cushions 32A, 32B have their own air valve assemblies (not shown) and thus are independently inflatable. As shown in FIG. 2, the support cushion 32A and the inflatable chamber 33A support the upper legs of the user, the support cushion 32B and the inflatable chamber 33B support the lumbar region of the user, and the support cushion 32B and the inflatable chamber 33C support the upper back, neck and head of the user. Preferably, the upper surface of the support cushions 32A, 32B are contoured to fit the body of the user as shown. Moreover, the upper surface of the support cushion 32B optimally forms a spinal cavity 34 that fits around the backbone of the user and a head cavity 35 that fits around the head of the user. The spinal cavity 34 and the head cavity 35 provide improved support of the back and neck, respectively.

A first pair of hand straps 36A, 36B are affixed to opposite sides of the upper portion 24 of the outer support structure 20. The upper hands straps 36A, 36B are preferably positioned to provide a natural hand position that encourages positioning the user's hands adjacent his/her head. The upper-hand straps 36A, 36B can be used to exercise the abdominal muscles as described below. A second pair of hand straps 38A, 38B are affixed to opposite sides of the lower portion 26 of the outer support structure 20. The lower hand straps 38A, 38B are preferably positioned to provide a comfortable way for the user to position himself/herself on the apparatus. The lower hand straps 38A, 38B can also be used to exercise the upper abdominal muscles and oblique muscles as described below. Preferably, the upper and lower hand straps are formed from nylon webbing that are stitched or heat sealed to the support structure 20 to provide reliable and low-cost manufacturing.

As described above, the inflatable chambers of the apparatus are provided with air valves. The air valves can be mouth valves, needle valves, pump valves or any other type of air valves known in the art. Preferably, the air valves are adapted to permit the respective air chambers to be rapidly emptied of air. An air pump (not shown), which is preferably packaged along with apparatus 10, mates to the air valves to inflate the respective chambers. The air pump can be a manually-actuated air pump (e.g., a foot pump or hand-pump) or an electric air pump.

The support cushions 32A, 32B of the seat 12 and the wedge sections 16, 18 of the base 14 are preferably realized from plastic, such as vinyl or heavy gauge PVC, that is welded together (preferably using well-known heat welding or ultrasonic welding techniques) to provide the air-tight chambers therein. The seat 12 and the base 14 are preferably formed from ribs, channel, columns or other inflatable support structures that provide rigidity to retain their desired C-shape and structure. The outer surface of the seat 12 and base 14 preferably has flocking (or double-flocking) to provide a soft intermediary between the user and the plastic. Such flocking also aids against scooting of the apparatus on the floor (e.g., carpet). Sewn nylon or another suitable bag may also be used for the inflatable structures. Preferably, the outer support structure 20 is realized with inlay cotton. An outer sock (not shown) that slips over the seat 12 may be provided. The outer sock is preferably formed from a durable resilient material. The outer sock may have slits that enable the user to insert and remove the inflatable seat cushions 32A, 32B (preferably in a non-inflated state) into place. The outer sock may also have access flaps (not shown) that provide quick and easy access to the air valves that are used to inflate the air chambers of the apparatus. In addition, the outer sock (or the outer support structure of the seat 12) may have a pocket 73 (or other storage compartment) as shown in FIGS. 6A and 6B that can be used to hold electronic devices (such as MP3 players, CD players, etc). Such electronic devices produce audio signals (and possibly video signals) for supply to the user during exercise. Preferably, the bottom surface of the base 14 (including the bottom surface of the wedge sections 16, 18) is substantially flat and rests on the floor.

A patch kit (not shown), which is preferably packaged along with apparatus 10, may be used to repair damage (e.g., holes) to the inflatable chambers of the apparatus.

Prior to (or during) exercising, the user can adjust the level of inflation of the front wedge section 16 and/or the back wedge section 18 and/or the seat 12. The level of inflation of these sections adjusts the range of motion of the user (and corresponding level of effort when performing sit-ups through the range of motion). A lower inflation level provides a larger range of motion than a higher inflation level. For an extreme level of effort, the back wedge section 18 can be deflated entirely (or removed from the seat 12 and not used (FIG. 8C)).

Note that by adjusting the inflation level of the back wedge section 18, the user can control the starting inclination angle α as shown in FIG. 3. Preferably, the inflation levels of the back wedge section provide a range of starting inclination angles between zero and thirty degrees and possibly between zero and forty-five degrees. Note that a starting inclination angle greater than 5 degrees may be desired. In this configuration, lower back strain that occurs in body positions at inclination angles between 0 and 5 degree is avoided. Such lower back strain is associated with the majority of sit-up related injuries as described above. Moreover, neck strain is avoided because the neck and head are well supported by the seat with the hands held in their natural position by the upper hand straps.

Also note that by adjusting the inflation level of the front wedge section 16, the user can control his/her leg position. Because the front wedge section 16 pushes the pelvis back towards the back wedge section 18, adjustment of the inflation level of the front wedge section 16 enables the user to adjust the position of the pelvis and lower back against the back wedge section 18 as desired.

The apparatus 10 can be used to perform a wide variety of abdominal exercises as well as other exercises. For example, the user can perform “conventional” sit-up exercises that target the lower abdominal muscles by positioning his/her body as shown in FIG. 2, grabbing the upper hand straps with his/her hands with the elbows extending forward (or/or possibly outward), and then moving the head and shoulders forward (and back) using the abdominal muscles. The resilient nature of the apparatus 10 works against the lower abdominal muscles during such movement to strengthen and tone the lower abdominal muscles. The inflation level of the front wedge section 16 and the inflatable chamber 33A of the seat 12 can be varied to adjust the bend angle of the legs for bent-leg sit-ups. The front wedge section 16 can be deflated entirely (or removed from the apparatus) for straight-leg sit-ups. For a lower level of exercise, the user can grip the lower hand straps 38A, 38B instead of the upper hand straps during the exercise. The “conventional” sit-up exercise can also be accomplished without the use of hand grips. In this configuration, the user positions his/her hands with the elbows extending forward (and/or possibly outward), and then moving the head and shoulders forward (and back) using the abdominal muscles. The C-shaped profile of the upper surface of the seat 12 provides a natural supporting shape for the entire back of the user in the reclined position during the exercise.

Similarly, the user can perform “twisting” sit-up exercises that target the lower abdominal muscles and oblique muscles. In this exercise, the user grabs the upper hand straps with his/her hands and holds the head rest of the seat 12 against the head. If need be, the inflation level of the seat 12 may be adjusted to provide the desired resiliency during the user's twisting motion. The user twists his/her upper body while moving forward to strengthen and tone the lower abdominal muscles and oblique muscles. The resilient nature of the apparatus 10 works against the lower abdominal muscles and oblique muscles during such twisting movement to strengthen and tone these muscles. The inflation level of the front wedge section 16 and the inflatable chamber 33A of the seat 12 can be varied to adjust the bend angle of the legs for bent-leg twisting sit-ups. Alternatively, the front wedge section 16 and the inflatable chamber 33A of the seat 12 can be deflated entirely (or removed from the apparatus) for straight-leg twisting sit-ups. For a lower level of exercise, the user can grip the lower hand straps 38A, 38B instead of the upper hand straps during the exercise. The twisting sit-up exercise can also be accomplished without the use of hand grips. In this configuration, the user positions his/her hands with the elbows extending forward (and/or possibly outward), and then twists his/her upper body while moving forward (and back) using the abdominal and oblique muscles. The C-shaped profile of the upper surface of the seat 12 provides a natural supporting shape for the entire back of the user in the reclined position during the exercise.

The upper abdominal muscles may be exercised by positioning the base 14 of the apparatus 10 on an elevated surface (such as the seat of a reclining chair). The inflation level of the back wedge section 18 and/or the inflation level of the seat 12 may be adjusted to provide the desired resiliency during the exercise. If need be, the back wedge section 18 may be deflated entirely (or removed from the seat). The user positions his/her body as shown in FIG. 2, grabs the lower hand straps with his/her hands with the elbows extending forward, and then moves the head and shoulders backward (and forward) using the upper abdominal muscles. The resilient nature of the apparatus 10 works against the upper abdominal muscles during such movement to strengthen and tone the upper abdominal muscles.

In addition, the apparatus 10 can be used to perform side leg lifts and oblique strengthening. In these exercises, the front and back wedge sections 16, 18 are deflated and the user lies on his/her side in the seat portion 12. In effect, the seat portion 12 is used as an inflated exercise mat with raised sidewalls that keep the user centered on the mat during exercise. When performing the side leg lifts and/or oblique muscle exercises, the user can grasp onto one of the lower hand straps for support.

Similarly, the apparatus 10 can be used to perform buttocks strengthening. In these exercises, the front and back wedge sections 16, 18 are deflated and the user rests his/her knees and hands on the seat portion 12. In effect, the seat portion 12 is used as an inflated exercise mat with raised sidewalls that keep the user centered on the mat during exercise. When performing the buttocks exercises, the user alternates between legs, lifting the leg back and straightening it. The user can grasp onto one of the lower hand straps for support.

Advantageously, the back wedge section 18 and/or the inflatable support cushion 33B provide a soft intermediary between the floor and the upper buttocks/lower back of the user. It also provides an impact cushion (air cushion 33B) to smooth out the transition from rocking back to rocking forward, which avoids the jerkiness of the sit-up which caused injuries in the prior art. It also enables adjustable positioning of the lower back and aids to isolate the muscle groups in the stomach during exercise (by eliminating assistance from the hip-flexor muscles). Moreover, the inflation levels of the air chambers provide control over the hardness of the apparatus, which provides variable resiliency. Moreover, the inflation levels of the air chambers provide user control over different levels of exercise (from a low level of exercise to a high level of exercise).

FIGS. 4A and 4B provide general dimensions of the abdominal exercise apparatus of FIGS. 1 and 2. As shown in FIG. 4A, the seat section is on the order of 24 inches wide and 38 inches long. The raised sidewall is on the order of 2 inches wide. The support cushions 32A, 32B are one the order of 18 inches wide. As shown in FIG. 4B, with the back wedge section 18 fully inflated, it has a height on the order of 8 inches. The top portion of the seat extends to a height on the order of 30 inches, while the bottom portion of the seat 12 extends to a height on the order of 11.25 inches. Preferably, the back wedge section 18 is shaped and dimensioned such that one or more surfaces of the wedge is disposed at an angle (relative to horizontal) that substantially matches the natural angle (relative to horizontal) of the bottom surface of the seat structure 12 when inflated.

FIGS. 5, 6A and 6B illustrate an alternate abdominal exercise apparatus in accordance with the present invention. In this embodiment, the seat 12′ is adapted to include an inflatable wedge section 51 that is coupled via a living hinge interface 52 to a back rest section 53. The back rest section 53 is supported by a back wedge section 18′. Both the wedge section 51 and the back rest section 53 have raised sidewalls (similar to the embodiment described above) that form a shallow central cavity therebetween. The user's body (from the buttocks to head) is disposed within this shallow central cavity during use and thus centralized on the apparatus. As shown, the wedge section 51 supports the upper legs of the user during use, while the back rest section 53 supports the lumbar section, upper back, neck and head of the user. The profile of the upper surface of wedge section 51 and the back rest section 53 may be contoured to fit the body of the user (and for example, form a spinal cavity) as described above.

The apparatus 10′ includes three air chambers—a first air chamber 54 that is part of the wedge section 51, a second air chamber 55 that is part of the back rest section 53 and that is disposed under the lumbar section of the user, and a third air chamber 56 that is part of the back wedge section 18′. The second air chamber 55 may be extended such that is disposed under the upper back and possibly the neck and head of the user. Preferably, the inflation levels of the three air chambers are independently inflatable.

The apparatus 10′ may include upper hands straps 66 (one shown) and/or lower hand straps 68 (one shown) similar to those described above. In addition, the apparatus 10′ may utilize hook and loop fastener straps 71A, 71B that removably attach the back wedge section 18′ to the wedge section 51 of the seat. As shown in FIGS. 6A and 6B, the fastener straps 71A, 71B preferably wrap under the wedge section 51 and are removably attached to hook and fastener pads 72A, 72B affixed to the front of the wedge section 51. In this configuration, the straps 71A, 72B effectively hold the back wedge section 18′ in place adjacent the upper section of the seat as shown. Alternatively, surfaces of the seat 12′ and the inflatable back wedge section 18′ may be flocked to provide resistance to sliding of both the seat and the inflatable back wedge section on the floor. Preferably, the back wedge section 18′ is shaped and dimensioned such that one or more surfaces of the wedge 18′ is disposed at an angle (relative to horizontal) that substantially matches the natural angle (relative to horizontal) of the bottom surface of the seat 12′ when inflated.

The seat 12′ and the wedge section 18′ are preferably realized from plastic, such as vinyl or heavy gauge PVC, that is welded together (preferably using well-known heat welding or ultrasonic welding techniques) to provide the air-tight chambers therein. The seat 12′ and wedge section 18′ are preferably formed from ribs, channel, columns or other inflatable support structures that provide rigidity to retain their desired C-shape and structure. The outer surface of the seat 12′ and wedge section 18′ preferably has flocking (or double-flocking) to provide a soft intermediary between the user and the plastic. Such flocking also aids against scooting of the apparatus on the floor (e.g., carpet). Sewn nylon or another suitable bag may also be used for the inflatable structures. Preferably, the bottom surfaces of the wedge sections 51, 18′ are substantially flat and rest on the floor.

Advantageously, the apparatus 10′ can be used to perform the wide variety of abdominal exercises as well as other exercises. For example, the user can perform “conventional” sit-up exercises that target the lower abdominal muscles by positioning his/her body as shown in FIG. 7A, grabbing the upper hand straps 66 with his/her hands with the elbows extending forward (and/or possibly outward), and then moving the head and shoulders forward (and back) using the abdominal muscles. The resilient nature of the apparatus 10′ works against the lower abdominal muscles during such movement to strengthen and tone the lower abdominal muscles. The inflation level of the wedge section 51 can be varied to adjust the bend angle of the legs for bent-leg sit-ups. Alternatively, the inflation level of the wedge section 51 can be deflated for straight-leg sit-ups. For a lower level of exercise, the user can grip the lower hand straps 68 instead of the upper hand straps 66 during the exercise. The “conventional” sit-up exercise can also be accomplished without the use of hand grips. In this configuration, the user positions his/her hands with the elbows extending forward (and/or possibly outward), and then moving the head and shoulders forward (and back) using the abdominal muscles. The C-shaped profile of the upper surface of the seat 12′ provides a natural supporting shape for the entire back of the user in the reclined position during the exercise. The C-shaped profile of the bottom surface of the seat 12′ provides a rocking surface that fosters linear rocking movement back and forth by the user during the exercise.

Similarly, the user can perform “twisting” sit-up exercises that target the lower abdominal muscles and oblique muscles. If need be, the inflation level of the seat 12′ may be adjusted to provide the desired resiliency during the user's twisting motion. The user twists his/her upper body while moving forward to strengthen and tone the lower abdominal muscles and oblique muscles. The resilient nature of the apparatus 10′ works against the lower abdominal muscles and oblique muscles during such twisting movement to strengthen and tone these muscles. The inflation level of the wedge section 51 can be varied to adjust the bend angle of the legs for bent-leg twisting sit-ups. Alternatively, the wedge section 51 can be deflated for straight-leg twisting sit-ups. For a lower level of exercise, the user can grip the lower hand straps 68 instead of the upper hand straps 66 during the exercise. The twisting sit-up exercise can also be accomplished without the use of hand grips. In this configuration, the user positions his/her hands with the elbows extending forward (and/or possibly outward), and then twists his/her upper body while moving forward (and back) using the abdominal and oblique muscles. The C-shaped profile of the seat 12′ provides a natural supporting shape for the entire back of the user in the reclined position during the exercise. The C-shaped profile of the bottom surface of the seat 12′ provides a rocking surface that fosters linear rocking movement back and forth by the user during the exercise.

The upper abdominal muscles may be exercised by positioning the seat 12′ of the apparatus 10′ on an elevated surface (such as the seat of a reclining chair). The inflation level of the back wedge section 18′ and/or the inflation level of the seat 12′ may be adjusted to provide the desired resiliency during the exercise. If need be, the back wedge section 18′ may be deflated entirely (or removed from the seat). The user grabs the lower hand straps 68 with his/her hands with the elbows extending forward, and then moves the head and shoulders backward (and forward) using the upper abdominal muscles. The resilient nature of the apparatus 10′ works against the upper abdominal muscles during such movement to strengthen and tone the upper abdominal muscles.

In addition, the apparatus 10′ can be used to perform side leg lifts and oblique muscle strengthening. In these exercises, the back wedge section 18′ is detached from the seat 12′ (it is not used) and the wedge section 51 is deflated. The user lies on his/her side in the seat portion 12′. In effect, the seat portion 12′ is used as an inflated exercise mat with raised sidewalls that keep the user centered on the mat during exercise. When performing the side leg lifts and/or oblique muscle exercises, the user can grasp onto one of the lower hand straps for support.

Similarly, the apparatus 10′ can be used to perform buttocks strengthening. In these exercises, the wedge section 51 and the back wedge section 18′ are deflated and the user rests his/her knees and hands on the seat portion 12′. In effect, the seat portion 12′ is used as an inflated exercise mat with raised sidewalls that keep the user centered on the mat during exercise. When performing the buttocks exercises, the user alternates between legs, lifting the leg back and straightening it. The user can grasp onto one of the lower hand straps for support.

The inflation level of the air chambers 54, 55, 56 of the apparatus 10′ can be varied to control the range of motion (i.e., inclination angle and level of effort) of the user's body during use as shown in FIGS. 8A-8C. FIG. 8A illustrates the configuration with the back wedge section 18′ fully inflated, which provides the easiest (least) level of effort. FIG. 8B illustrates the configuration with the back wedge section 18′ partially inflated, which provides an intermediate level of effort. FIG. 8C illustrates the configuration with the back wedge section 18′ removed, which provides the hardest (most advanced) level of effort. Such inclination angle control can be used to avoid lower back strain that results from inclination angles less than 5 degrees as described above.

Also note that the starting inclination angle α can be controlled by varying the relative position of the back wedge section 18′ along the bottom surface of the seat 12′. By moving the back wedge section 18′ toward the end of the seat 12′ that supports the user's buttocks, the starting inclination angle α is increased. By moving the back wedge section 16′ toward the end of the seat 12′ that supports the user's neck and head, the starting inclination angle α is decreased.

In addition, the inflation level of the air chamber 54 of the wedge section 51 can also be used to control position of the user can control his/her leg position, which enables the user to adjust the position of the pelvis and lower back as desired. Finally, the inflatable lumbar support chamber 55 provides a soft intermediary between the floor and the upper buttocks/lower back of the user. It also provides an impact cushion (air cushion) to smooth out the transition from rocking back to rocking forward, which avoids the jerkiness of the sit-up which caused injuries in the prior art. It also enables adjustable positioning of the lower back and aids to isolate the muscle groups in the stomach during exercise (by eliminating assistance from the hip-flexor muscles).

FIGS. 9, 10A and 10B illustrate another embodiment of an abdominal exercise apparatus in accordance with the present invention. In this embodiment, the seat 12″ has raised sidewalls (similar to the embodiments described above) that form a shallow central cavity therebetween. The user's body (from the buttocks to head) is disposed within this shallow central cavity during use and thus centralized on the apparatus. The C-shaped profile of the upper surface of the seat 12″ may be contoured to fit the body of the user (and for example, form a spinal cavity) as described above. The C-shaped profile of the bottom surface of the seat 12″ provides a rocking surface that fosters linear rocking movement back and forth by the user during the exercise as described below. The seat 12″ is supported by an inflatable back wedge section 18″ as shown. Preferably, the back wedge section 18″ is shaped and dimensioned such that one or more surfaces of the wedge 18′ is disposed at an angle (relative to horizontal) that substantially matches the natural angle (relative to horizontal) of the bottom surface of the C-shaped seat 12″ when inflated.

The seat 12″ and the wedge section 18″ are preferably realized from plastic, such as vinyl or heavy gauge PVC, that is welded together (preferably using well-known heat welding or ultrasonic welding techniques) to provide the air-tight chambers therein. The seat 12″ and wedge section 18″ are preferably formed from ribs, channel, columns or other inflatable support structures that provide rigidity to retain their desired C-shape and structure. The outer surface of the seat 12″ and wedge section 18″ preferably has flocking (or double-flocking) to provide a soft intermediary between the user and the plastic. Such flocking also aids against scooting of the apparatus on the floor (e.g., carpet) as described below. Sewn nylon or another suitable bag may also be used for the inflatable structures. Preferably, the bottom surface of the wedge section 18″ is substantially flat for resting on the floor (e.g., carpet). It is contemplated that more than one outer surface of the wedge section 18″ may be placed downward on the floor. In this configuration, each of these outer surfaces are substantially flat for resting on the floor.

The apparatus 10″ includes four air chambers—first and second air chambers 79, 80 (FIGS. 10A, 10B) that form the raised sidewalls of the seat 12″, a third air chamber 81 that is part of the seat 12″ and that is disposed under the lumbar section, upper back, neck and head of the user, and a fourth air chamber 83 that is part of the back wedge section 18″. The third air chamber 81 has multiple compartments 85 (which are in fluid communication with one another via channels 87 therebetween) that run horizontally between the raised sidewalls (FIGS. 10A, 10B). Preferably, the inflation levels of the four air chambers are independently inflatable. Alternatively, the raised sidewalls can be formed from a plurality of isolated air chambers or air chamber(s) with multiple compartments that are in fluid communication with one another. The air chamber(s) that form each sidewall preferably includes a central bulbous region 89 as shown.

The apparatus 10″ may include upper hands straps 66 (one shown) and/or lower hand straps 68 (one shown) similar to those described above. In addition, the apparatus 10″ may utilize hook and loop fastener straps 71A, 71B that removably attach the back wedge section 18″ to the wedge section 51 of the seat. As shown in FIGS. 10A and 10B, the fastener straps 71A, 71B preferably wrap under the seat 12″ and are removably attached to hook and fastener pads 72A, 72B affixed to the front of the seat 12″. In this configuration, the straps 71A, 72B effectively hold the back wedge section 18″ in place adjacent the upper section of the seat 12″ as shown. Alternatively, surfaces of the seat 12″ and the inflatable back wedge section 18′ may be flocked to provide resistance to sliding of both the seat and the inflatable back wedge section on the floor (e.g., carpet).

Advantageously, the apparatus 10″ can be used to perform a wide variety of abdominal exercises as well as other exercises. For example, the user can perform “conventional” sit-up exercises that target the lower abdominal muscles as shown in FIGS. 8A-8C. The resilient nature of the apparatus 10″ works against the lower abdominal muscles during such movement to strengthen and tone the lower abdominal muscles. The C-shaped profile of the seat 12″ provides a rocking surface that fosters linear rocking movement back and forth by the user during the exercise. The inflation level of the air chamber 83 and/or position of the back wedge section 18″ can be varied to control the range of motion (i.e., inclination angle and level of effort) of the user's body during use as described above. For a lower level of exercise, the user can grip the lower hand straps 68 instead of the upper hand straps 66 during the exercise. Such inclination angle control can be used to avoid lower back strain that results from inclination angles less than 5 degrees as described above. The “conventional” sit-up exercise can also be accomplished without the use of hand grips as described above. The C-shaped profile of the bottom surface of the seat 12″ provides a rocking surface that fosters linear rocking movement back and forth by the user during the exercise.

Similarly, the user can perform “twisting” sit-up exercises that target the lower abdominal muscles and oblique muscles as described above. In this exercise, the resilient nature of the apparatus 10″ works against the lower abdominal muscles and oblique muscles during such twisting movement to strengthen and tone these muscles. For a lower level of exercise, the user can grip the lower hand straps 68 instead of the upper hand straps 66 during the exercise. The twisting sit-up exercise can also be accomplished without the use of hand grips as described above.

The upper abdominal muscles may be exercised by positioning the seat 12″ of the apparatus 10″ on an elevated surface (such as the seat of a reclining chair). The user grabs the lower hand straps 68 with his/her hands with the elbows extending forward, and then moves the head and shoulders backward (and forward) using the upper abdominal muscles. The resilient nature of the apparatus 10″ works against the upper abdominal muscles during such movement to strengthen and tone the upper abdominal muscles.

In addition, the apparatus 10″ can be used to perform side leg lifts and oblique muscle strengthening in addition to buttocks strengthening as described above. In these exercises, the seat portion 12″ is used as an inflated exercise mat with raised sidewalls that keep the user centered on the mat during exercise.

Advantageously, when the apparatus 10″ is used to perform sit-up exercises, the movement of air (e.g., the filling and emptying) between the compartments 85 of the air chamber 81 of the seat 12″ provides an even (e.g., linear) amount of resistance and rocking movement over the range of motion.

There have been described and illustrated herein several embodiments of an abdominal exercise apparatus and method of using such apparatus. While particular embodiments of the invention have been described, it is not intended that the invention be limited thereto, as it is intended that the invention be as broad in scope as the art will allow and that the specification be read likewise. Thus, while particular hand gripping mechanisms have been disclosed, it will be appreciated that other hand gripping mechanisms such as straps or support bars can be used as well. Alternatively, the grips can be molded holes into the support structure, or the top grips and/or the bottom grips can be eliminated altogether. In addition, while particular types of air chambers have been disclosed, it will be understood that other inflatable air chamber types can be used. For example, the air chambers could have structural support members therein. Moreover, the abdominal exercise apparatus described herein can be manufactured with different sizes, with different shapes and with different materials. For example, the sectional parts of the apparatus described herein may be integrally formed into common structure(s) (e.g., one or more wedge sections can be integrally formed with the seat). In another example, the inflatable seat can be readily adapted to support fewer body parts (e.g., only the buttocks, lower back, torso and the neck) of the user or readily adapted to support additional body parts (e.g., upper legs and possibly knees) of the user. Preferably, the apparatus can be folded and compressed such that it fits into a small box or a suitcase for traveling. Moreover, the parts of the device can be used for other purposes. For example, the back wedge section may be used as its own exercise device for performing a variety of exercises (e.g., where the users rests his/her stomach on the top edge of the wedge section and performs reverse sit-ups or other exercises). In another example, the back wedge section may be placed in front of the C-shaped seat and under the user's legs for bent-leg sit-up exercises. It will therefore be appreciated by those skilled in the art that yet other modifications could be made to the provided invention without deviating from its spirit and scope as claimed.