Everybody wants to get their abs in the best shape possible. The abdominal muscles are part of all the core muscles which also include the muscle of the back. All of the core muscles need to be strong for many reasons, and none should be neglected in exercises. Strengthening and toning the abdominal muscles starts down deep, in the pelvic floor and even in the transverse abdominis (the deep core muscles just under the internal obliques). If you want to work your abdominal muscles with the most efficiency, there are a few exercises you should be doing with every ab routine.
Have you ever heard the term “dig deep into the abs”? What this means is that as you are doing any type of abdominal exercise, the power and strength should start way down deep into the core and at the pelvic floor.
By hitting those deep muscles, you’ll have more success with the ones at the surface. That’s because muscles like the transverse abdominis act as sort of a girdle, and pulls your surface muscles (rectus abdominis) inward, creating the appearance of a flatter and fitter belly.
With women, we are built differently than men. Our pelvises are wider, and our pelvic floor muscles are also wider and more flexible. Plus, we house a few more organs down there (the uterus and ovaries), making women’s exercise needs a bit different than a man’s.
When the deep core and pelvic floor muscles are weakened, this can result in the following:
- Lower back pain
- Pelvic pain
- Trunk instability
And with these weakened muscles, many other issues can start to arise over time.
Try These Core Strengthening Exercises For The Best Results
In order to reach those deep core and pelvic floor muscles, each exercise takes some focus and breath work.
As you are in the concentric (lifting) phase of an abdominal exercise, think about pulling the belly button in towards the spine, and bracing those abdominal muscles as if someone is about to punch you in your stomach, everything tightens up and you squeeze the muscles, right? That’s exactly how you should be engaging with each abdominal exercise.
During this squeezing in the abs, think about your breath, you should be exhaling slowly at this time and drawing in the abdominal muscles.
The plank is an excellent exercise to strengthen all the muscles of the core. If done correctly, it will allow you to work the entire rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, and of course, the muscles of the pelvic floor and hip flexors.
- Get into the push-up position and move your hands directly under the shoulders, and bend the elbows so that you come down on your forearms and toes.
- Your back and legs should be straight and the body in line from the feet to the shoulders. Do not let the hips sag, and do not let them raise either.
- As you are in this position, think about drawing in the abdominal muscles. Imagine there is a small fire under your belly and you are sucking in the belly to keep the fire from touching it.
- Hold the position as long as you can while taking normal breaths. Then release, rest, and repeat.
The reverse crunch is a simple exercise that targets the lower abdominal muscles and the transverse abdominis muscles while also providing you with stretching and flexibility in the lower back.
- Lie on your back and extend your arms out to the side, or you can place your hands behind your head if that’s more comfortable for you.
- Bend your knees to a 90 degree angle and raise your feet about 6 inches off of the floor.
- Engage the abdominal muscles by pulling your navel in toward the spine and bringing the knees in toward the chest.
- As your knees are coming towards your chest, lift the hips off the floor slightly.
- Lower the legs back towards the starting position and repeat.
Abdominal Crunches on a Stability Ball
Using the stability ball for crunches helps you to engage deeper into the core muscles because you are using a lot of your stabilizing muscles at the same time to hold your balance on the ball. A stability ball is also a great way to do crunches because it not only supports your lower back, but it allows you to hyperextend in the crunch making for a more challenging exercise.
- To Begin, sit on your stability ball and walk your feet out until the ball reaches your lower back. Keep your knees bent, thighs parallel to the floor and feet directly under the knees.
- Place your hands behind your head for support, engage the abdominal muscles, and slowly raise your chest up towards the ceiling just bringing yourself up a few inches. Make sure that your head and neck is relaxed, do not pull on the head with your hands.
- Lower yourself back down and repeat for as many times as you can. Be sure to exhale as your raise up, and inhale as you lower yourself back down.
There are plenty ways of strengthening your core. Pilates is one of them – find out the range of positive effects Pilates has on your abdominal muscles.
Please Note: Before following exercise routines or changing your fitness regime, please consult a certified fitness professional. Always talk with a medical practitioner before following dietary advice or taking supplements.