Moving in the Right Direction  

Abs for summer

Wow, the hot weather is here and tank tops, barely tops, and bathing suits are in. Hopefully you are already enjoying your summer wardrobe and getting to the beach. Or maybe you want to tone up your torso a little before you venture into those cute tank tops or that bathing suit. Pilates has some great abdominal exercises that can help you to strengthen your torso and create a beautifully shaped middle.

There are four abdominal muscles that you need to be aware of when you are doing your abdominal exercises. As I explain abdominal anatomy, try to picture the placement and shape of the muscle in your mind so that when you do your abdominal exercises, you can be mindful of each of your contractions, thereby, increasing the intensity of your contraction by 30%.

The rectus abdominis is a long, flat band of muscle fibers extending vertically between the pubis and the cartilages of the fifth, sixth, and seventh ribs on the front part of your trunk. Its right and left halves are separated in the middle by a strong tendinous sheath. There are three horizontal tendinous creases that give the muscle that “washboard” appearance on some individuals. The rectus abdominis flexes the spinal column, bringing the rib cage and/or the pelvis toward each other, and assists in sideward bending.

The external oblique muscles are the outermost fibers of the trunk, and are located on each side of the rectus abdominis. Their upper and lateral attachments are to the lower eight ribs. The lower and middle attachments of the external obliques are to the front of the pelvis (iliac crest). The fibers of this muscle run diagonally, forming a “V” shape, similar to putting your hands into your coat pocket.

Beneath the external oblique muscles, running at approximately right angles to them, are the internal oblique muscles which form an inverted “V” shape. Their upper and medial attachments are to the lower three ribs. Their lower and lateral section attach to the crest of the pelvis, and the fascia (connective tissue) of the lower back (erector spinae). At the lower end the internal oblique muscle fibers run almost horizontally. Both the external and internal oblique muscles are involved in flexing the rib cage and the pelvic bones together, sideward bending (lateral flexing) of the trunk, and rotating the trunk. Although most people think of the oblique muscles as being only frontal muscles, it is important to note that their fan-like fibers extend all the way around the sides to the lower back in much the same way a corset fits a person.

The deepest layer of abdominal muscles, the transversus abdominis, is not involved in movements of the trunk. Instead, this respiratory muscle plays an important function in forceful expiration of air from the lungs as well as compression of the internal organs. The transversus is crucial for stabilizing the pelvis when the legs are moving.

Try to do an abdominal routine 3 - 5 days per week. Actually, it would make sense to do some type of abdominal strengthening exercise on a daily basis to try and counteract the excessive tightening of your lower back muscles and hip flexors. Just because you may work the abdominals regularly, there should be no fear that these muscles will get too big. In fact, the abdominals are very thin muscles compared to other muscles, such as the deltoids, gluteals, hamstrings, biceps, and quadriceps. So, unless you are progressively overloading these muscles with additional external resistance, such as ab machines, it is unlikely that the abs will become "too thick".
For effective abdominal training, emphasize body position and movement proficiency. Greater results will be attained with a focus on technique. Furthermore, do the exercises slowly, with control. Focus more on the abdominal movement, trying to accentuate each contraction. In other words, “make every repetition count.”

The time that it takes you to reach the goal of toned abdominals will depend on your consistency and thoughtfulness with your routine. Doing abdominal exercises will help you to enjoy your summer feeling strong and looking great.

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About the Author

Lori Rockl graduated from UBC with a Bachelor of Political Science. After working with the Federal Government through two elections, she escaped back into her gifted life of fitness training and now owns a successful Pilates & Yoga studio. Although her clientel tell her often how much they learn from her, Lori would tell you that she is the one that learns the most from her clients. For Lori, the study of the mind-body connection is an infinitely fascinating study. She has found that Pilates and yoga are excellent tools for healthy living and incorporate those tools into her marathon and triathalon training. Please contact lori at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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