In the pursuit of getting a “six pack” or even flat abs, I’d like to touch on a couple of myths and provide some sound information.
First of all, getting a six pack requires more than just abdominal crunches or planks.
The most important element to getting a six-pack is diet. Yes, I know, no one wants to hear it. We all want to believe “spot reducing or target training” alone with give us those washboard abs. It just ain’t going to happen without a proper, low carb and calorie restricted diet. So if a six-pack is at the top of your body-comp list, start with a diet overhaul.
Point number one, is to realize is that some people will just never get a six-pack. Call it genetics, or body type, but honestly, some people will never get one. Other people, with work, can achieve great looking abs.
Point two, just because a person doesn’t display a picture-perfect “washboard”, doesn’t not mean they don’t have very strong core and good abdominal strength.
This brings me to another important truth; you can actually train yourself OUT of a six-pack! I would like to go one step further, doing crunches incorrectly, may lead to even MORE protruding of the abdominal wall.
Let’s take a very brief look at what makes up the abdominal wall. There are 3 basic muscles groups, Rectus Abdominis, Internal/External Obliques and the Transverus Abdominus.
The Rectus Abdominis, is the most superficial of all the Ab muscles. These are the muscles lying just under the skin (or uhumm, fat); they are what we think of when we see a six-pack. You are actually seeing these muscles under the skin, and if they are strong and defined you’ll get the lines of the six-pack. The main purpose of this muscle is to flex us forward, into a crunch for instance.
The next set of muscles, I’ve lumped together, the Internal and External Obliques, these muscles lie underneath the Rectus and they flex side to side and rotate the torso.
The Transverus Abdominus is the deepest of the 3 abdominal muscles. They are the muscles responsible for pulling our belly in, you know when you’re walking along the beach and you see an attractive person you want to impress. Or you are trying to put on your tightest jeans and you have to “suck it all in”. These muscles also stabilize the pelvis and are very important for lower back health.
Now that we have a basic overview of what makes up our abdominals, let me explain why doing just one type of ab exercise – at the expense of others OR doing them improperly will not lead you to develop “bullet-proof abs of steel” and a six pack!
As I mentioned you do have to do flexion exercises in order to develop and define the outer most Rectus muscles… the “six-packers”. Planks alone will not give you those, but you must do your flexion exercises whether they are crunches or hanging leg raises correctly.
The KEY to getting the most from your crunch is to engage the T.A (transversus abs) BEFORE you engage the outer abs. Otherwise, what you are doing is TRAINING your Rectus to pouch outward. The result is a protruding, shapeless – but possibly strong abdominal core.
Not only will you not get the abs of your dreams, you risk not engaging the pelvic floor muscles, which fire when you use your TA. You also need to engage the T.A. before and while performing your planks.
Many people don’t’ know how to engage them and since they are the deepest you have to really focus on them. I’m going to give you an exercise that will teach you how to feel them engage.
Stand 6-8” away from a wall, with your feet hip distance apart. Round your back and press your lower back firmly into the wall. You will be “slouching or rounding forward. Get a balloon and holding it with one hand, hold it to your mouth and exhale keeping your tongue close to the roof of your mouth. Inhale and don’t let any air out and exhale again. Repeat until the balloon is filled with air and then release the air.
While you are exhaling you will tighten the muscle just above your public bone that runs across from hip to hip. You will keep firmly pressing your lower back into the wall. You should feel a tightening of that muscle with each exhale. As you breath in expand your ribcage and DO NOT let your lower belly push out.
Once you have learned how to engage the TA at the wall you are ready to try in the crunch position. Lie on your back with knees bent. You can start with the balloon breathing as that seems to help keep the lower abs in and tight.
When applying this to your crunches your focus should be on pressing your lower back into the floor and tightening your lower abs AS you crunch up… Do not let your abs push up as you lift up.
I guarantee you will have abs of steel. Don’t forget to add other oblique exercises as well as planks, into your mix.