Contributed By NASM
Blame the celebrity icons who dared to bare their midriffs, or even the clothing manufacturers that followed the trend without hesitation. Whomever you choose to blame, revealing abs is all the rage, and summer trends are coming fast.
As I see it, there are three very distinct categories of absters:
1) “I never dare to bare.” 2) “I only bare my midriff when it is dark.” And 3) “I can wash your clothes on myabs!”
Which category do you fall into? I don’t know about you, but most of us fall into either category 1 or category 2. So, if you never dare to bare, or bare only when you feel you can get away with it, don’t worry, some simple tips can start you on the road to your own picture-perfect beach body. And even if you are the owner of a righteously defined midsection, you ab gods and goddesses can learn a few tips as well! So sit up straight and read on!
First and foremost, let’s just lay it all out. The ab machine alone will not define your abs. Neither will the Abfitter, the AbCruncher, the AbIsolator, or what we all feel is a gift to flat abs… the Swiss ball. If ripped abs came in a pill or a box, or with a machine or a ball, would I need to write this article? Go ahead, pull, sweat, beat, or kick your way to flat abs… Any luck so far?
How about this for the truth…
Only diet, exercise, and dedication to an integrated training program can get you the midsection you desire. Now some of you may have put down this article or even used it to wipe away your tears. Sorry! Instead of trying to sell you a magic fix, pill, or machine, I want you to swallow the truth. Your midsection is made up of a few essential muscles.
We’ll start at the core of the matter. Your core is made up of essentially two layers of muscle. The deepest, or innermost, layer is called the “inner unit” and consists of muscles that help to stabilize the spine. Each of these muscles has a special job to do, but they work together to keep the spine stiff so that, as we crunch or move our torso, we can avoid any exaggerated movement of the segments of our spine. Imagine how your body moves when you pull on your head to perform a crunch, or twist/rotate your body to train your obliques. Now imagine if your spine was not stabilized and each segment was able to move more than necessary. Over time and continual training this could lead to back discomfort.
What about those other muscles? These are the muscles that are more visible to the eye and they are themovers of the body. The rectus abdominus, for example, is that muscle with those “packs” that number about eight. Contrary to belief, that abdominal muscle is one long muscle, not eight individual muscles, and it helps us flex our spine. The muscles you see on the side of the rectus abdominis are the external obliques. They sit on each side of the rectus abdominis, on top of the internal obliques, and they help us turn or twist our torso, among other things.
Then there are the erector spinae muscles. These muscles run up and down the spine and their job is to help extend the spine. Traditionally, when you see people in the gym training their “abs,” you see them crunching, twisting, bicycle-kicking, leg-raising, doing situps, side bends, back extensions, and other exercises that look like they were taken straight out of medieval torture devices. What do all these exercises have in common? They all are movement based. They focus on training the “outer unit,” the movers. However, the two units must work together, in synergy.
So let’s get into the cool stuff…
All of your systems-your nervous, muscular and skeletal systems-are all interconnected! So, they are allrequired to do a job when we move. First, your nervous system sends out a message to move, yourmuscles receive that message and move your skeletal system (bones & joints), which basically provide the framework for the body. In other words, your brain sends out the signal to your muscles, your muscles move your joints, and your joints allow you to move.
As it turns out, your nervous system recruits your muscles in synergies (groups of muscles helping each other). Think of it as teamwork. Now, if one member of that team does not do its job correctly, what happens to the rest of the team? The other members of the team are asked to work harder or take on different jobs they might not normally do! If this happens, will that team work efficiently? No. If we only train the movers of our core, and not the stabilizers, the muscle synergies are thrown off! This leads to muscle imbalances.
Muscle imbalances occur when one muscle becomes shortened and the opposing muscle then becomes lengthened. This happens if we overuse a muscle, or if we continually keep that muscle in a shortened position. We learned earlier that if all of the members of the team don’t work together properly, the team doesn’t work efficiently. So… Shouldn’t we work on training both units together? We need to train the stabilizers to stabilize us so that, as we move, we move efficiently and safely.
For this assignment, let’s challenge you a bit with the prone iso-abs.
*If you can master this exercise, challenge yourself a bit more by squeezing your glutes tight, raising one foot slightly off the ground, and pointing your toe.
Ready to move?
This next exercise is the ball crunch . We’ve seen it many times before, but technique is key here.
Want more of a challenge?
Try this one! Knee-ups :
Finally, put all the pieces together!
First, no matter how hard we train our abs, they won’t show if they’re covered by fat! Focus on nutrition and watch what you eat. Keep your diet balanced, and move more than you consume. Next, train from the inside out! This keeps your exercise safe and effective.