There are three components to working your abs to get that sculpted look—nutrition, aerobic exercise and abdominal training. Truth is, you won’t have a washboard stomach with a 6-inch layer of fat over it, no matter how many crunches you do. In order to get a good six-pack, you have to remove the fat that covers your abdominal muscles, and that takes a nutritionally balanced weight-loss diet and aerobic exercise.
You can, however, strengthen your abs even before you lose the fat; the abdominals are core muscles and strong abs stabilize your spine, give you good posture and balance and help you move smoothly and gracefully.
There are three layers of abdominal muscles, and they run in three different directions. The outermost layer contains the outer oblique muscles, which run diagonally along the sides of your abdomen, connecting the posterior ribs, spine and pelvis. The next layer contains the internal obliques, which run just under the external ones, and the rectus abdominus. The rectus is a broad, flat muscle that runs vertically down the front of your abdomen from the ribs to your pelvis. It is crossed by several horizontal tendons, which is what gives you that six-pack look. The bottom layer contains the transverse abdominus, which runs horizontally across your abdomen from side to side.
It’s helpful to know what the function of each of the muscles is:
• The rectus flexes your spine.
• The transverse abdominus is primarily used for abdominal breathing.
• The external obliques rotate your body toward the opposite side (contracting the left external obliques causes you to rotate toward the right.)
• The internal obliques rotate your body toward the same side.
Protect Your Spine
When you’re doing ab training, remember that these muscles attach to your spine. It’s important to make sure you are doing exercises correctly; consult with a trainer if you’re not sure how to perform them.
Full sit ups are not recommended anymore by anyone because they 1)aren’t necessary for exercising your abs and 2)can injure your spine. We do crunches instead.
Whenever you are doing ab training, place your hands behind your neck and press your back toward the floor. Keep your knees bent. This protects the natural curves of your spine.
IMPORTANT: If you have osteoporosis or a previous back injury, check with your doctor before attempting any ab training exercises.
All ab training exercises are a variation on the basic crunch. You can raise your hips or your shoulders, but the object is to contract the abdominal muscles. Here are a few crunch pointers:
• Save crunches for the end of your workout. Remember, the abdominal muscles are involved in respiration, and you don’t want to fatigue them early in the workout.
• Pull your stomach in—press your belly button into your back—to contract the transverse muscle. Remember not to hold your breath while you’re doing this.
• Keep your abdominals tightened throughout a series of reps. Make your movements slow and controlled, and pause briefly at the top of each rep.
• Don’t raise your hips or shoulders more than 4-6 inches off the floor—that’s all you need for full contraction of the muscles.
• Do lateral crunches to work the obliques—pointing your left shoulder at your right knee.
Crunches are the key to strong abs—regular crunches, oblique crunches, hip raises, crunches with added weight. Keep crunching and soon you’ll have great abs.