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All About Abs

Posted by Jill Derryberry on Aug 19, 2022 11:34:35 AM
Jill Derryberry
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Many people want to work their abdominal muscles (abs) to get a toned stomach or a defined six pack.  It is important to work these muscles but not just for looks.  Having strong abs (along with the other muscles that make up your core) will help with your balance, your posture, reduce the risk of injuries and can reduce back pain!  It is important to keep our core strong since it is the basis of almost every movement we make in our day to day lives.   

A quick look at what makes up your ab muscles which are a big part of your core.  Everyone has four layers of abs.  The deepest layer is called the transversus abdominis (TVA).  The TVA wraps around your waist to connect the ribcage to the pelvis.  On top of the TVA are the internal and external obliques which criss-cross your torso.  Finally, the top layer is your rectus abdominis which are the muscles that form the frequently mentioned six-pack.  When all four of these ab muscles are braced together, working with the muscles that line your spine, you have what is called an engaged core.  Your core also includes your glute muscles and adductor muscles in your hips along with your lower back and abs.   


When you are performing most exercises, especially those that focus on the ab muscles, it is important to engage your core.  You may have heard fitness instructors cue you to engage your core or to tighten your abs.  Engaging your core during your workout helps reduce the risk of injury, especially injuries of the lower back.  For example, think about when completing standing shoulder presses.  As your shoulders get tired you may start arching your lower back which puts a dangerous strain on your spine and the muscles around it.  By zipping up your abs and squeezing your glutes, your spine is more protected, and you can move your shoulders through a safer range of motion.  Also, engaging your core ensures your ab muscles are doing the work instead of recruiting other muscles to take over so you will get the most out of your ab exercises.   


So how do you engage your core?  Your abs should be tight and pulling in, but you should be able to breathe and move normally.   It is NOT sucking in your stomach and holding your breath.  You can practice engaging your core at any time by feeling your ribs expand to the sides while you inhale, then as you exhale contract and visualize zipping up your abs, thinking about pulling your navel up and in toward your spine.  Keep breathing normally while you continue to hold your abs in.   


Whether you want to have a six-pack or improve your balance, there are many reasons to strengthen your stomach muscles and the other muscles around your mid-section that make up your core.  Your core muscles are used in just about every movement you make so it is important to keep them strong.  Keep in mind, doing core and specific ab exercises will strengthen the muscles but won’t spot reduce fat from that area.  You can’t control where you lose fat. If you are looking to lose fat from your stomach, check out my post with 5 tips to lose belly fat.   


The Workout


Here are two three-move workouts for your abs.  These are exercises you can do at home or at the gym.    One circuit works your abs while standing, the other circuit is done while lying on a mat.  You can do one or the other or both circuits for a real ab burner! 


Start with 10-12 reps of each exercise.  Rest for a minute then repeat all three exercises two more times. 


Mat Circuit 


Straight Leg Bicycle Crunches 

Lie on your back with your legs straight out. Interlace your fingers behind your head, gently resting your head on your fingers. Keep your elbows point out to the sides and try to relax your neck. 

Lift your shoulders off the floor. Twist your upper body to the right as you lift your right leg.  Your left leg will stay extended hovering just above the floor. 

Return to starting position and repeat alternating sides. 


 Performed correctly, the dead bug encourages the deep, stabilizing muscles of your low back, abdominals, and hips to engage, preventing your back from twisting or arching during the exercise.  

Lie on the mat with your arms extended straight over your chest so they form a perpendicular angle with your torso. Bend your hips and knees 90-degrees, lifting your feet from the ground. Your torso and thighs should form a right angle, as should your thighs and shins. This is the starting position 

Engage your core, maintaining contact between your lower back and the mat. You want to make sure your spine maintains this steady and neutral position throughout the exercise. 

Keep your right arm and left leg exactly where they are, then slowly reach your left arm backward, over your head and toward the floor as you simultaneously extend your right knee and hip, reaching your right heel toward the floor. Move slowly and steadily, breathing in as you perform the extensions, avoiding any twisting or movement of your hips and abs. Stop the movement just before your arm and leg touch the ground. 

Reverse the movement and return your left arm and right leg to their starting positions. Move slowly and steadily, exhaling as you go. 

Perform the same movements to the opposite sides, this time keeping your left arm and right leg steady as you extend your right arm and left leg. 

Do the same number of repetitions on each side. 


Roll Up (or crunch) & Two Cross Punches 

Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. 

Brace your abs, exhale, and sit up (or lift your shoulder blades up) and punch across your body. 

Return to start and repeat for the desired number of repetitions. 


Standing Circuit 

Many people are looking to do standing ab work. Maybe it is low back pain or knee pain that prevent you from getting up off the floor.  Or perhaps you are just looking for a change! No matter what the reason is, standing ab exercises can be just as effective as those done lying on the mat. 

Standing Oblique Burner 

Stand with feet a little wider than hip distance apart, knees bent and hands held behind the back of your head. 

Bend to the right reaching right hand toward floor behind your leg. Keep spine long. 

Return to center and repeat on the left side. 

Continue switching for desired number of repetitions. 

Toy Soldiers  

Keep your back and knees straight.  

Flex your toes as you lift your leg straight out in front of you. Reach your arm forward and try to let your toes touch your hand.  

Continue switching for desired number of repetitions. 


Steam Engines 


Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart. Place your hands behind your head with elbows in line with your shoulders.  

Raise your left knee up, simultaneously bring your right elbow toward your knee. Try to touch your elbow to your knee without bending over at your waist.  

Reverse the movement and repeat with opposite leg and arm. 

Be sure to follow @livriteindy on Instagram to see the videos for these exercises along with other helpful tips and workout ideas! 


To find more great ab exercises visit our exercise library .