The Abdominals

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This article was edited and updated on November 9, 2015.

The Abdominals

(Thanks to Wikipedia for the drawing.)

Strong abdominal muscles (along with the lower back) support our core. The core is important for postural support and balance. We need to know about these four muscles and how to take care of them:

The Rectus Abdominis

The rectus abdominis runs from the breastbone and fifth, sixth and seventh ribs to the top of the pubic bone. It flexes the lower back, assists with breathing, and assists in respiration. You’re very grateful to have it working — and working well — when you get out of bed in the morning, but it is not as critical for posture as the other abdominal muscles.

When people talk about having a "washboard" look, they are talking about this muscle.

The Transverse Abdominis (TVA)

The transverse abdominis helps give us good posture by supporting and protecting the spine. It is important during exhalation (especially during exercise); it holds in the internal organs, assists in childbirth; and you’ll notice it when vomiting (which hopefully you don’t do often!).

It runs horizontally, and covers the entire abdomen, holding its contents in like a girdle, and wraps around the sides of the body. It attaches along the rib cage and into the back muscles. When you suck in your stomach, you are using your transverse abdominis.

Internal and External Obliques

The internal obliques run along the side of your body diagonally from the pelvis and ribs to the rear of the rectus abdominis. 2 They provide a layer of support over the TVA and act as an opposing muscle to the diaphragm, helping to reduce the volume of the chest cavity during exhalation and increasing volume during inhalation.

The external obliques pull the chest downwards and compress the abdominal cavity. They also have limited actions in both flexion and rotation of the spine.

Working together, the obliques also help to turn the rib cage.

How do we keep our abdominals Strong?

Tip 1: Work Out With Weights

All weight-lifting exercises will work your abs because you must stabilize your core muscles to perform the movements correctly. As well, if you are sitting on a ball or standing on a half-roller (or even standing on one foot) while doing strength exercises, you will work your abdominal muscles.

How often should you lift weights? Studies indicate that you need to do it two to three times a week. Just remember that weight lifting alone is not enough; it must be in combination with aerobic training and good nutrition.

Tip 2: Use Proper Form in any Abdominal Exercise

No matter what exercise you choose to do, it’s important to do it correctly. If you do it wrong, you are defeating the purpose. Here are some things to remember:

Tip 3: Get Cardiovascular Exercise

Cardiovascular exercise is part of your three-pronged program to good health: good nutrition, strength training, and aerobics. You need to do cardiovascular exercise about three times a week. Use it as a tool and do not assume that you must “do as much as possible” every day. Research shows that taking thirty-minute walks three times a week will make a difference.

Other research suggests that cardiovascular exercise helps control visceral fat which is located deeper in the body and is more dangerous than subcutaneous fat (near the skin) because it accumulates around the internal organs.

Tip 4: Try these abdominal exercises. They’re some of the best!

Tip 5: While strengthening the abdominals, you must also strengthen their opposing muscles.

Other pages about other muscles:

I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.

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  1. These three dots behave exactly like a footnote. Click on them and you will get more information about the topic. 

  2. Many people are unaware that the abdominals include muscles on the side.