Abdominals are one of the most important muscle groups of the body, they have influence on all positions and postures of the human body. When we think of ab training many will directly go to the sit up as ab training which is not wrong but let's take a deeper look at the muscles. The muscles that make up the group of abdominals are the rectus abdominis, the external oblique, internal oblique and the transverse abdominis, they help stabilize the trunk, spine and hips, and assist with rib cage movement in breathing. The rectus abdominis which is the 6 pack muscle group is the most well known and most trained when it comes to abs, it helps compress the abdomen and flex the spine, your traditional sit up exercise. Next is the obliques broken into the external oblique which compresses the abdomen, flexes and laterally rotates the spine and depresses the ribs, and the internal oblique which compresses abdomen, flexes and laterally rotates spine and posteriorly depresses the ribs.
The deepest layer is the transverse abdominis which compresses the abdomen and depresses ribs. The abs have similar functions on the body but are all positioned differently to make it a stabilizing system, the rectus abdominis runs from the sternum down to the hips right in the middle, the external obliques attach at the outer rib cage and run diagonal to the hips to the midline, while the internal obliques run the opposite direction away from the midline and the transverse runs lateral to the midline. The way they are layered keeps the body in balance and creates an overlapping stabilization. The overlap is by design to keep the other abdominals in check an example is the external obliques attach at the front of the ilium while the internal obliques attach more posteriorly on the ilium, paired with serratus anterior and the hamstrings it keeps the abs and hips in check. Too much training only on one aspect of the abs leaves the other parts to try and catch up and they do not function as a group.
While performing resistance training the goal of the abdominals is to stabilize and protect our trunk and allow for proper movement. The spine links the hips and trunk together posteriorly and anteriorly we have our abs which need to anchor the ribcage down as we perform movements. When performing lifting movements the abs connect the upper body and the lower body, and their contractions increase the rigidity of the entire torso making it easier to support loads. This is a key aspect to training, if there is no rigidity through the torso the human body gets put in a position where the muscles of the back will engage to be able to accept the load placed on the body and that creates compressive forces through the spine and can lead to lower back issues, disk issues. The main focus of lifting starts and revolves around the abdominal contraction, when starting off, lifting it is very important to teach the brain to maintain ab contraction and posture through movements, at first it can be tough because as we move the ribs and hips have a tendency to move in opposite directions. The ribs will want to externally rotate and lift up while the hips want to tip forward and down, putting all the pressure on the abdominals to keep the ribs and hips close to each other. If the position is lost the person should reset the position of the hips and ribs and re-engage the abs, if not with repeated loaded movement it can start to lead to the back muscles kicking in.
We want to focus on training the deeper core muscles, forget about the traditional six pack muscles, the external/internal obliques and transversus abdominis have great surface area and more sturdy attachment points. They should be the main focus of ab training due to greater influence on the rib cage and hips. Traditional sit ups are off the ab training list in our programs, we focus more on maintaining positions of the trunk and hips and then adding movement to them and increasing the demands of the abs to keep proper function and position. Our number one go to exercise to start people with are the deadbugs, lying supine arms reaching up towards the ceiling inhale through the nose and exhale all the air out and feel the ribcage drop, flatten the lower back into the floor, bring the knees up to a 90/90 tabletop position, in this position you will feel your tailbone come off the floor and hips tilt back towards the ribcage to complete the lower half of the abs. In this position extend one leg out as you exhale and maintain the lower back position, do not let the back arch or the ribs come up and fill with air. Bring the legs back slightly, inhale through the nose and extend the other leg and exhale, as you exhale you will feel the ribcage on the same side drop and the abs engage. Perform 10-15 reps per leg for 2 sets and feel the obliques keep the rib and hip position. Once you train the brain to keep that position you can progress up towards standing, the end goal of ab training is to be able to engage them in various standing positions because that's the position we perform most of our exercises in. Then the 6pack will come in conjunction with proper nutrition (we’ll get to that later.)
Abs should be the base and starting point of all resistance training programs, to skip them is trying to build a building on an unsecured foundation, the building can be built but at some point the load will be too much and the foundation can’t support the demand. So make sure to train the abs in the proper way and feel them as you lift.