Abdominal Exercise Reality

Most everyone wants abdominal muscles they can see or show off, especially bodybuilders.  Guess what? We all have abdominal muscles but some of us have fat hiding them. It is true however, that toned ab muscles have a better chance of being noticed even when they have some fat covering them. This simply emphasizes the need for good exercise complimented with good nutrition to maintain muscle while losing bodyfat.

Our “abs” are formed by four main muscles that aid in performing many bodily functions. These muscles draw your pelvis upward and help you lean forward/downward – flex your thoracic (mid) and lumbar (low) spinal column. Although your ab muscles are used in a static contraction (isometric) along with other muscles of your trunk to help maintain your body’s core and assist in numerous movements, it is movement that causes spinal flexion that allows your abs to work through a range of motion. With an understanding of this, it becomes very evident why sit-ups and leg raises are exercises of the past.

Choose Your Abdominal Exercises Carefully

Your abdominal muscles might feel like they contract all at once but there is more or less nerve activity in the upper versus the lower abs, depending on factors that include the speed of movement, range of motion, and type of movement. Therefore, the upper and/or the lower abdominals will work more (or less) during various abdominal exercises.

So what does this mean for you as a bodybuilder? It simply means that you perform exercises that either tilt your pelvis forward and upward toward your chest or round-out your back (chin toward your navel).

Don’t be confused by the thousands of abdominal “experts” or machines available these days. Perhaps all of these “experts” or inventors should begin by reading and rereading an anatomy book. A physiology book may be too complicated for most of these so-called experts, but it is also recommended. Such research can inform these well-wishers of abdominal function.

Exercises that tilt your hips upward, toward your chest like a Reverse Crunch place an emphasis on your lower abdominals. Similarly, exercises that move your upper body toward your pelvis like the Crunch place an emphasis on your upper abdominals. And exercises that flex and twist your spine like the Twisting Crunch emphasize your oblique muscles.

All of these exercises, when performed correctly, allow your abs to work throughout a range of motion. And since your spine is capable of flexing little more than 30-degrees and your pelvis is capable of tilting roughly 10-degrees, most of your abdominal exercise should be performed in a somewhat small range of movement.

Exercise Order

It is easy to rationalize why a synergistic approach to abdominal training may be best for ab training. Synergism is defined as “the sum of the parts is greater than the whole”. This translates into the need to perform multiple exercises, each with an emphasis on upper abs, lower abs, or obliques.

When you work your oblique muscles or your lower abdominals, your upper abdominals assist to a small degree. On the other hand, when you work your upper abs, your lower abs and obliques are relatively inactive. This dictates the order of exercises as indicated below:

  1. lower abdominal exercise (example: reverse crunch)
  2. oblique exercise (example: twists)
  3. upper abdominal exercise (example: crunch)

Empirical evidence supports super-setting of these exercises in this proper sequence to produce the best results. If you perform multiple sets, repeat in the same sequence.

How Many Reps? How Often?

Many uninformed bodybuilders brag about performing hundreds of repetitions in a single abdominal exercise. That’s great! But a trip to your favorite coffee shop will do about as much good. Even though these muscles are made up of “endurance or slow-twitch” fibers, you must stimulate them by utilizing heavy enough resistance to fatigue them by way of a relatively higher number of repetitions. In addition, you shouldn’t work your abs more than 4-5 days/week. To take the guessing game out of this, you can utilize the myTRS System to ensure full recover of these and all other muscles of your body.

I strongly recommend your repetition range to be 10-20 per exercise, of slow, controlled repetitions. This means you need to work hard enough to produce muscle fatigue within this range but not be able to perform more than 20 consecutive repetitions in any single exercise.

The choice is yours – but give this program a try. Within three weeks of four to five- times-a-week training, you will see results become more evident than ever before. I guarantee it! But remember, it is important to completely recover before working these muscles again.

The four major muscles forming the abdominal wall are: 1) Rectus abdominus, 2) Transversalis, 3) External Obliques, 4) Internal Obliques.These muscles work together to 1) expel feces, help to excrete urine and aid vomiting, 2) assist in expiration and trunk rotation, and 3) draw the pelvis upward, bend vertebral column to each side, and flex the spinal column.

Northrip, JW; Logan, GA; McKinney, WC. Biomechanic analysis of sport, Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Company Publishers, 1974

Further Links