Abdominal exercises are used in modern exercise programs as the foundation for a complete body workout. It is well documented that a person is only as strong as their core muscles; this is due to the fact that without core strength one can’t support heavier weights on the upper extremities or the lower extremities. The abdomen is located between the chest and the pelvis of the human anatomy and is comprised of eight total muscles. Here is a list of some of the main core muscles that may be focused on when developing a training program. The transverse abdominal muscle is flat and rectangular, and lies at the lowest part of the stomach. This muscle is often exercised to help support and strengthen the lower back. Many times when one suffers from lower back pain this is the first muscle that is targeted and acts as a belt that can be tightened for additional support. The rectus abdominis muscles run vertical from bottom to top and are long and flat. These muscles are also referred to as the six-pack. When one increases their abdominal strength in this region it allows for greater loads to be pushed by the arms and the legs. The obliques are located on the sides of the abdomen and are flat and long; strengthening this region will enable one to have greater torque when rotating at the waste as well as added stability when carrying heavy loads. Being able to correctly execute core exercises is critical for an injury free workout as well as properly developing a strong and symmetric mid region.
The first exercise that will be discussed is intended to develop and strengthen the transverse abdominis muscle, which is the belt shaped muscle that runs horizontally across the lower abdomen. There are not too many ab exercises for this deep muscle; however one doesn’t need a wide variety to help tone and strengthen here. This abdominal exercise is a simple move but really works the transverse abdominal muscle. It is all about holding your position in order to strengthen this muscle. These types of exercises where you hold the position are called isometric exercises and are great for strengthening and toning.
How to do the Plank Pose
- Place your elbows on the floor underneath your shoulders.
- Now place your toes on the floor with legs hip width apart.
- With back straight, lift your body off the floor and pull in your belly button towards your spine
- Hold this position for a count of 30 to 60 seconds.
- Relax placing your body back on the floor and then repeat for 3 to 5 repetitions.
Note: Remember to breathe while you are holding your position and keep your back straight and parallel to the ground. For increased challenge, you can also do this as a straight-arm plank pose, placing your hands on the floor instead of your elbows.
Next let’s talk about the rectus abdominis muscle or ones six pack. Let it be known that for one to achieve great definition in this region and show off all their hard work that they must have around 10% body fat or under. However if this isn’t achieved it is still beneficial to have a strong core for other lifts and daily activities to protect the spine. One of the risks of any workout regimen is the tendency to create imbalances in muscle strength, which eventually leads to injury. Ab workouts share the same pitfall, as most ab exercises (i.e. crunches) do not work over a full range of motion. Researchers at San Diego State University have shown that many of the classic “ab exercises” actually work the hip flexors more than the ab muscles, leading to many problems. Of the exercises studied by the American Council on Exercise the bicycle maneuver was determined to be the most effective at strengthening the rectus abdominis. It is performed as follows:
Begin by lying on the ground in a belly up position. With your hands up beside your head, lift your legs off the ground to a 45° angle. Exhale and contract the abs to lift your torso off the ground at a 45° angle as well. Contracting the abs, move the legs in a pedaling motion, touching the left elbow to the right knee. Alternate and repeat. Focus on keeping the rectus abdominis contracted during the entire exercise.
Lastly let’s focus on the obliques. This exercise is similar to the abovementioned plank but this time lie on the side with your elbow on the floor or a mat. Tighten your core and lift your hips up so that your body is in a straight line. Make sure that you don’t allow your hips to sag. Do this on both sides for 30-60 seconds and build up time after a while. Remember these core exercises should be done with great technique and consistency every other day. So get started today and never look back!
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