You’ve worked out your abs wrong for years- yes, you. I am confident when I say that because even I was doing things wrong, and I consider myself an experienced fitness professional. I was a culprit to what I like to call “hip flexor-itis”. That’s not a real diagnosis. I call it that because when I observe people working out their abs in the gym, the majority of time they’re actually only working their hip flexor muscles and not their abs at all! I ask myself, “Why does everyone want big, muscular hip flexors?” In reality, they don’t. We all want chiseled abs. So it’s about darn time we workout our abs the right way.
Here’s the deal.
Duh. Most of us know that! However we are creatures of habit and we are used to doing abdominal exercises certain ways. Well not after today you won’t.
Today, I am going to open your eyes to a game changer; workout your abs correctly from now on! We are going to cover two things: First, the actions of the abdominals so you better understand your anatomy. Second, let’s look at how to optimize some of the most common ab exercises. Let’s get to it.
photo credit: james patrick
The muscles of the trunk can be divided into "mobilizers" and "stabilizers".
The Mobilizers of the spine are the more superficial muscles that cross over multiple joints so that when they contract they move many joints at once. These are the muscles we feel firing with voluntary movement. These muscles are designed for quick, powerful and explosive movements so they fatigue quickly. Their capacity for endurance or sustained activity is limited due to their muscle fiber type (fast twitch). Therefore, their capacity to provide core stability is limited.
The Stabilizers of the spine are the deep, core muscles that go from spinal segment to segment. By their fiber type (slow twitch), the core muscles are designed for long term, prolonged use with a high capacity for endurance. They contract for long periods to support us when we sit or stand for a prolonged time. They fire beyond our conscious control, for the most part.
The point: The abs mostly do Spine Flexion which is the rounding of the spine. To practice this, lie on your back and let's perform a "posterior pelvic tilt". Start with a slight amount of space under your lower back which we would consider neutral. Then flatten your lower back into the ground by tilting your pelvis toward your, bringing your pelvic bones closer toward your lower ribs. That simple movement of going from spine neutral to spine flexion is the perfect start to engaging your abs. I recommend you do this before initiating any abdominal exercise. Pelvic tilt first, then do the exercise action. For this to make better sense, watch the video below. Practice pelvic tilts daily and you'll improve your mind-muscle connection with your abs!
Below are some popular abdominal exercises that I see done incorrectly. Let’s compare the incorrect (hip flexor-itis) version versus the correct version. Once you distinguish the difference, your ab workouts will be changed forever.
#1 Hanging Leg Raises
Focus more on the pelvic tilt than on bringing your legs up. I am able to achieve this better with bent legs (as seen below).
#2 Roman Chair Leg Raises
Do a pelvic tilt first and keep your lower back flattened against the pad the entire time.
#3 Cable Rope Crunches
Focus more on shortening the distance between your ribs and pelvis. This will cause you to bring your arms down and away from the weight stack. The more rounded your back is, the better.
To train the abdominals optimally, concentrate on spinal flexion. For me, with every single rep I pretend I am shortening the distance between my lower ribs and my pelvic bones (i.e. pelvic tilt). Try imagining that!! Best of luck getting those abs!
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Stephanie Dorworth is the Founder of Beautiful to the Core. She is a Doctor of physical therapy, Pilates instructor, Internationally published fitness model, and Freelance health & fitness writer. She is passionate about empowering other women to lift heavy, practice flexible dieting, and love their bodies.