Get to know your abs

As you read this, millions of people are working on their abs at their local health club.

They are performing abdominal crunches, sit-ups, front and side planks, etc… Nine out of ten are doing this because they want a flatter stomach.

Those of you who read my May column know that crunching is absolutely the wrong way to get that flatter stomach. This article, though, is not about devaluing the abdominals, but rather, finding out why they are so important.

The abdominals have the huge responsibility of bringing stability to the middle of the body, so that all extremities will have more control and more leverage. You may have known that, but did you know strong abdominal muscles are also directly in charge of stabilizing the pelvis, whose proper position ensures back health? If the abdominals are weak, the pelvis can tilt and rotate, causing improper movement among inter-vertebral segments. Stable abs are very important!

So, let’s meet the first abdominal muscle.

The rectus abdominus, the most popular, and the muscle that is primarily recruited during crunches, is an important postural muscle but it’s not a muscle you want to work to death. Simply holding a front plank for extended amount of time will strengthen this muscle (as well as others).

Q: How do you know if you’re weak in the rectus abdominus?

A: Try sitting on your bottom with your chest up and legs in the air. Try to hold the position for 30, 45, 60 seconds. If you can hold it for one minute, you’re doing great. If that’s too hard, try less time or try holding only one leg in the air until you can get to two legs.

Q: How do you know if you need to reduce work on the rectus abdominus?

A: Do you perform lots of crunches? If so, stand in front of a mirror. Do your shoulders round over, as if you’re slumping? Do your hips appear to be pulled in and forward when you’re standing tall? From a side view, do you see your upper back rounding over in what is called “kyphosis”?

If any of these are the case, and you ARE already doing ab work, you may be over-developing the RA, thereby creating more postural problems. Instead, implement more pectoral stretching, back rows and pulling motions to offset this forward slumping of the shoulders.

Jeff Howerton is a trainer and owner of LEAN Personal Training, where he and his trainers work with clients to lose fat, develop lean muscle and implement strategies for healthier living. He can contacted at

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