Whether it’s the beginning of a new year or a month before the beaches are open for business, ab workouts are always in high demand! There’s just something about a sleek and slender torso that boosts confidence and makes you feel “sexy”. But … with the thousands of ab workout plans out there to choose from (i.e., in magazines, on the latest fitness DVD’s, streaming on YouTube, or even featured on social media) how do you choose?
First things first … working out your abs to decrease your waistline and reveal the definition under the layers you’ve acquired over the years takes hard work, commitment, and effective exercises that focus on challenging the abdominals with proper form and good technique. As with any exercise, good technique begins with understanding how the muscles work.
We use the abdominal muscles in our torso for movement and many basic functions we take for granted each day. They are important for sitting down, standing up, walking, rolling over, bending forward, laughing, sneezing, coughing and more! Although we assume the abdominals are found on the front side of the body, the abdominal group actually wrap all the way around the torso, from front to back. They are made up of four muscles (layered one on top of the other):
- Transverse abdominis
- Internal oblique
- Rectus abdominis
- External oblique
The transverse abdominis is the deepest of the abdominal muscles. It runs laterally (along your side from back to front) between the bottom ribs and the hipbone. This muscle is not involved in the actual movements of the trunk but is used to compress the ribs and the torso. It plays an important respiratory function as it is used to forcefully blow out air from the lungs.
The next layer, above the transverse abdominis, consists of the internal oblique muscles that form the inverted “V” shape of the torso. The internal oblique muscles are involved in side bending, where the rib cage and the pelvic bones move closer together, and rotating the trunk.
Most people are familiar with the “mighty” rectus abdominis (commonly known as the “six pack” muscle)! This is the paired, long, flat muscle that runs the length of the front part of the abdomen. The rectus abdominis functions to flex the spinal column bringing the pelvis and rib cage closer together by rounding the spine (like a traditional abdominal crunch movement).
The external oblique muscles are relatively in comparison with the other three muscles in the group. They are located on each side of the rectus abdominis. The external oblique muscles are involved in forward flexing, sideward bending, and rotating the trunk (left and right).
BACK TO BASICS – THE ABDOMINAL CRUNCH
Although there are hundreds of different abdominal exercises to choose from it’s good to get back to basics and learn the fundamentals before venturing into various lower ab workouts, plank progressions, or ab exercises using weights!
The traditional abdominal crunch is an exercise that strengthens, tones and stabilizes the muscles of the core. Start by lying on your back with your feet flat on the floor, hip-distance apart. With your arms bent, elbows out to the side and fingers gently tucked behind the ears, lift the head and shoulders off the ground as you flex forward (chest moves towards the top of the knees) to varying degrees of flexion. To finish, roll down, one vertebrae at a time, and return back to the starting position. Although this exercise seems really simple, it can be challenging for the most physically fit people (when done properly)!
Four ways to ensure you maintain proper form (to get the most out of your abdominal crunch) include:
- Maintaining a neutral spine. Maintain a small space the size of a cranberry between your lower lumbar spine and the floor. Don’t squish your back down)
- Keeping your feet flat on the floor. Your feet will naturally want to lift up off the floor. So keep them secure and only curl up as far as your feet will let you.
- Lengthening through the head and neck. Keep your chest open and lead with the bottom of the chin as you roll the shoulders up off the floor.
- Keeping your gaze above the knees. Tthis will help you maintain a neutral spine and lengthen through the head and neck at the same time)
AB WORKOUTS TO TRY
Once you master the basics of the abdominal crunch you can add variations to challenge different angles and change the exercise focus to other areas of the core. Below are a few ab workouts to try as you get primed for the best abs of your life!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrea Oh is an accomplished writer, published author, podcaster, and local blogger in Calgary, AB (Canada). She is the Editor-In-Chief of Business.fit and SixFootCanasian.ca and author of “GET MOTIVATED! Powerful Quotes and Exercise Tips to Inspire 52 Weeks of Extraordinary Workouts” and “The Business of Personal Training: Essential Guide for the Successful Personal Trainer”.