ABS! We all want them to look awesome. But how do we do that? What are they actually for? Are abs really made in the kitchen? Are the 100 crunches a day that you are doing helping? Could you actually be hurting yourself by working on them? All your questions answered here plus a BONUS ab blasting workout attached! Tight hips? Sore back? Yep, you guessed it. It's all about the abs.
Ok, so am I a squeaky wheel yet? 3 weeks in to the newsletter and I'll say it again. Let's shift that mindset from looks to function. And - you guessed it - that's how we'll actually seethe results you've been looking for! Let me show you how (and why!)
Abs (at least the way they look) actually are made in the kitchen: Whether you're a man or a woman, that 6-pack has probably always been on your wish list - whether you see it as a distant fantasy or a goal you hope to achieve but just cant seem to nail down. It is what many people strive for but, in actuality, having a 6 pack showing is really only indicating that you have a low body fat percentage. Doing massive amounts of sit ups isn’t going to help that much. Just lose body fat. You can (and may already!) have it fully developed but covered by some layers of what I like to call "good times." So it does become about your nutrition at that point.
If you want strong abs - make it happen by doing workouts like the one pictured below (those really are the best ab exercises!). Throw all your arm and leg work onto an unstable surface or focus on unilateral training (doing weights and exercises one side at a time) to really get those abs going, too.
BUT if you want to see those abs? You need to uncover them.
Men will be around 6-9% body fat and women will be around 16-19% body fat when they can start seeing the definition (These ab-revealing body fat percentages are significantly lower than the healthy recommendation of 15 to 20 percent for adult males and 20 to 25 percent for females).
So if you want to have those "good times" you may need to relent on the visuals. Pro tip - you can still look AWESOME at any body fat - Don't forget: awesomeness lies in looking and FEELING healthy.)
The extra ab work people do to "get the flat tummy"? Most of those exercises don't really help and may actually hurt you. But there are a lot of really great ab workouts that will get you stronger and target the abs. You can, however, absolutely get a 6 pack and the strength you need without ever lying on a mat (see above!).
If you do want to really hit them hard, below I've attached a awesome ab blast workout for you. I love to tack it on to the end of a workout - it accesses all the great ab muscles to keep you strong and pain free.
Why do we need abs? They're not just for looks, your transverse abdominis (TvA) are the deep muscles that connect with the oblique muscles (on your sides) and work together (with several other core muscles) to keep your spine stable. Whether you’re jumping, lifting, carrying a box or have your kid on your shoulder, those are the muscles hard at work to make sure nothing bad happens to your back. And when they get tired? Yep, you guessed it, they quit and all that carrying of kids, golf bags, jogging, nursing, etc. loads into your spine and the smaller back and hip muscles. This causes tightness which leads to imbalance which leads to pain and inflammation.
So it's not just for looks or to improve your performance in the gym or sports. They literally keep you moving and help make life pain free. Breathing, poor posture, interrupted sleep, hip pain, low back pain, neck pain, even knee and ankle pain, can all get a boost (and sometimes be solved!) by having a stronger core.
Stop with the crunches. Crunches aren't going to get at those TvA muscles and unless you are trying to create a bicep on your abdomen, you don't need them. As I said above, challenge your balance, stand on one leg, do your arm exercises one side at a time - all of those things will work the core. It's functional and it will get you STRONG for life. Endless crunches or doing leg lifts (on your back or hanging) will often just work the hip flexors and low back and won't even touch your actual ab muscles without proper coaching.
So what does work? Let's address the exercises above! Leg lifts are a great exercise for the core, you just need to do them correctly.
Lying leg lifts - start with the legs straight (ish) up in the air. Relax the neck and shoulders and press that spine into the ground. Lower the legs only as low as you can while keeping the spine pressed into the ground. Maybe you can get them an inch from the ground, but that doesn't mean you're using the right muscles to do it. Honestly, you may only be able . to properly lower the legs just a few inches. That's fine! Do them that way and you will get stronger. Do them without properly utilizing your abs and you will not only not get stronger abs, you may get injured.
That doesn't mean you're not strong enough, it just means you need to establish the proper muscle recruitment so your body will naturally use your abs when they're needed. Try bending the knees to allow you to actually work the abs instead of the hip flexors and low back while you do your leg lifts. And/or do one side at a time. Placing the hands with the thumbs and forefingers of both hands making a triangle under the tailbone will also allow you to keep the abs activated a bit easier as the hips are forced to tuck and release the low back muscles - try it!
For those hanging leg lifts, if that's your thing, it's actually not about pulling those knees up, it's about getting those knees up and then lifting that tailbone up, tucking the hips and curving that spine. THOSE are the abs working. The lifting of the knees is mostly in the hip flexors. Pull that belly button in toward your spine as you lift and you will get the abs to help out (which is a good thing!). But the real strength work comes in the (no matter how small) booty lift as you round your spine and really pull those knees up to the chest. You may only be able to do a few of these. That's fine - strength will build!
Especially new moms who are used to having a strong core - make sure you take the time to rehab and re-ignite those abs. Once you feel your low back or hip flexors start taking the workload - stop and rest for a few seconds and let the abs reset. They'll come back quickly, but hammering into your low back and hip flexors will do nothing more than lead to some pretty severe chronic aches and pains.