Understanding Abdominal Training – A quick Nip and Tuck on those abs.

Firstly one issue needs to be made clear. The abdominal muscles are not one of the larger group of muscles, they do not demand, nor consume lots of energy. If you carry out daily amounts of 100’s of repetitions of sit ups or such like, this is neither the best way to produce a strong abdominal wall, nor to promote a visible ‘six pack’.

Also people mention ‘lower abs’ a lot. – There is no such thing! The rectus abdominal group wall inserts distally (lower) to the pubic area and proximally (upper) to base of the sternum and 5th,6th and 7th rib cartilages. The main action of rectus abdominis is to flex the spine i.e. bend forwards. These muscles are not attached to the hips so doing leg raises does not directly work ‘the lower’ abs. What happens when leg raises are incorporated as part of an abdominal training routine is that abdominal muscles have to work hard isometrically to stabilise the pelvis whilst the legs are lifted. Being able to powerfully lift the legs and stabilise the pelvis has important postural benefits and is an integral part of good abdominal training.

The muscles that lift the legs are know as the hip flexors and can be broadly divided into two categories; the one joint hip flexors made up of the illiacus and the psoas (iliopsoas) which originates from the last 5 lumber vertebrae and attaches to the top of the hip, and the 2 joint hip flexor (retus femoris) which originates on the lower part of the pelvis above the hip joint and extends just below the patella.

The one joint hip flexor just crosses the hip, the two joint hip flexor crosses both the hip and the knee. You will find it helpful to remember to extend your toes when doing leg raises as this helps to extend the two joint hip flexor and give better balance to this movement and less stress just on one joint hip flexor if toes are pulled back – and more stress placed on upper part of one joint hip flexor…. Attached to the lumber spine – hence one of the possibilities of strain in this area when leg raises are not carried out correctly.

There are a number of different muscles contained around the girdle:
Transversus abdominals, internal and external obliques, as well as intercostal margins. These muscles have to interact together when performing. Although there is a myriad of exercises as well as dozens of variations of each, it is worth noting that most of all these muscle groups are thoroughly innervated when simple basic movements are carried out like sit ups/crunches or leg raises.

The abdominal group of muscles also have to work hard isometrically when performing movements like squats and stiff leg deadlifts as well as many exercises where a substantial effort is made or weight lifted in these plains of motion. So it is worth remembering to include some of these movements within your weekly regime.

Pointing down to fat on the stomach is the first thing that 9 out of 10 people will tell me when they want to start training at maximum fitness.

These visible areas of fat are in fact generally, in most individuals far less in fat percentage terms, than what they are carrying on their back – which is hidden from sight and a long period of pour eating as well as training habits will taken hold all over the body.

Of course the tummy is most visible to the individual.

But don’t think that the fat on the tummy is the only area of concern as there are considerable deposits throughout the body. This has to be bourne in mind when looking for the structure of training to produce results that are worthwhile in abdominal training.

To achieve good results and strong, supportive and profiled abdominals, the training needs to be developed in 3 ways. Failure to observe regularity in any one of theses three aspects will mean slower or little results despite efforts in the other 2.

  1. Good aerobic or aerobic based weights strength and conditioning whole body programme carried out at least twice per week for an hour
  2. Stringent adherence to regular low fat eating pattern, reduction in alcohol, juices, soft drinks at least 5 days per week and in most cases increase in plain water intake
  3. Balanced abdominal workout carried out 3 times weekly for 20 – 30 mins i.e.:
    A spinal flexion and lift ( a full sit up movement )
    B hip flexion ( full leg raise movement )
    C partial spinal flexion ( partial sit up/crunch style movement )
    D Lateral lift ( like dumbbell side bends
    E Back extension movements… This important area is often overlooked in abdominal training and the spinal extensors and glutal muscles involved in this exercise play an important part in supporting overall ‘core’ strength as well as the abdominals working iosometrically to hold the spine level as the upper body is elevated.

Reps/combinations/rest periods of these exercises depend on your level of fitness, Strength – and to some extent enthusiasm, as if it’s going to work it’s going to hurt a little!

Whilst on the subject of pain it’s important to bear in mind that some types of abdominal training exposes the back to injury if carried out poorly. But done correctly with the right form and effort, this type of strengthening and conditioning is one of the proven methods to help support the back, and help to reduce incidences or reoccurrences of back pain in a majority of sufferers

Most of these exercises should be carried out in sets of 2 or 3 and reps of no more than 20 each set. With a minutes rest between sets. As you progress with abdominal conditioning the best way to advance this is to start combining movements by superset ting ( carrying out 2 separate movements together – one immediately followed by another ) and on from that to use ‘TRI’ (triple) sets where you combine 3 movements before taking a minute rest.

You can experiment with starting on basic single sets for a 2 week period then advance to supersets for a further 2 weeks, before finally arriving at being able to competently use ‘tri’ setting to complete the final phase of your abdominal programme. Do not start on the full programme as its far better to do a little bit well and with regularity and progress rather than too much of not enough too soon. Find the level that suits your ability and a level you can proficiently maintain. The only abdominal training that works is the one you do well- not don’t do!

This systems works very well if carried out as instructed – AND ensuring all other 2 phases outlined previously are adhered to.

If you are unsure how to perform any of the movements or to combine/how to put your routine together then book a 1-1 session with one of the maximum fitness coaches. Don’t flounder too long on your own… if things do not feel right – they probably aren’t and you need a professional eye to set you straight?