Explaining the Abdominals
When you think of abs, you probably think of your 6 pack or lack thereof, but that is just the first of several layers of muscle that construct the abdominals. The deep V line near the groin, or sex lines that some people like to refer them as, are the next layer also known as the external obliques which striate from your ribs to your belly button. Underlying this layer are oppositely striated muscles, originating from the hips and meeting at the solar plexus, called the internal obliques. Lastly, is the most important but most overlooked layer, the human body’s weightlifting belt/container for internal organs the transversus abdominis.
Why do I care about anything other than a 6 pack?
Have you ever experienced lower back pain? Feel like you’re slouching a lot? Do you have abs but your lower abdominals stick out past your belt? These are all signs and symptoms of a weak transversus abdominis, which can lead to a variety of issues because the core, fittingly named, is the center of all human movement. Think about the last time you squatted, tackled somebody or were expecting to get hit. Now imagine that instantaneous exhalation of breath and tightening up of your body in preparation for the impact or exerted effort. That sensation is known as the Valsalva maneuver which increases intra-abdominal pressure to stabilize the trunk and allow greater physical exertion during weightlifting. Not only does this technique allow for greater physical feats, but it will improve posture as well by forcing the chest up and shoulders back which will naturally lead to less general joint pain, particularly lower back pain during running.
How do I train my abs?
Recently a trend called the stomach vacuum has resonated across the fitness community because of the universal activation of the abdominal muscles. The exercise focuses on contracting the deepest layer, transversus, first and then sequentially contracting each superficial layer. To perform the exercise follow these simple steps:
- Stand upright
- Exhale all the air out of your lungs
- Expand your chest with air and bring your stomach in
- Focus on making your belly button touch your spine
- Hold and squeeze for your life
This might seem simple but one quick attempt will make you realize the difficulty of holding this isometric contraction because we rarely ever activate it. This simple but difficult exercise will burn fat, improve control of your midsection, reduce pain and most importantly help you lose a few inches off your waist just in time for beach season. If a training schedule is followed for several weeks, you can lose up to 4 inches off of your waist in three weeks. A Typical training schedule is as follows:
- Week 1: 3 days
- 3 sets of 20 seconds
- Week 2: 3 days
- 3 sets of 40 seconds
- Week 3: 3 days
- 3 sets of 60 seconds
One piece of equipment that has really helped me improve and maintain my abs is the Ab Wheel. I have been using mine for years and always carry it in my gym bag. Generally, I put a weighted plate on my shoulder blades just below my head. This adds resistance throughout the full range of motion to the exercise.