Abs have become the obsession of the popular culture today. The six packs and eight packs are visible to us almost daily in the media, leaving everyone striving for a lean and toned tummy. With abs often seen as a representation of ‘the perfect body’, there is a tendency to forget about the functional side of the muscle group and the real benefits of strong abs. We wanted to refresh our memory on the often forgotten reasons to tone your tummy.
Abdominal Muscles Unveiled
Abdominal muscles, often called the abs are located on the front of the body between the ribs and the pelvis. Their function is to support the body – to hold organs in place and allow movement by regulating internal abdominal pressure.
The abdominal muscles are divided into deep (closest to the spine) and superficial (furthest from the spine). Simply put, the abdominals consist of the straight ab muscles and the obliques, however the muscle group consists of a combination of four different muscles:
The transverse abdominis – The transverse abdominal is the deepest ab muscle layer. Its main functions are to support your internal organs, improve posture and help with muscle balance and stabilisation. As transverse abdominis lies beneath the other muscles, they are trained with a series of ‘draw-in’ exercises, rather than flexion and extension-based ones. Examples are stomach vacuum and the classic plank.
The obliques – internal and external – There are two sets of obliques, the internal and external. As suggested by their names, the internal obliques are located beneath the external ones and the two muscles operate in opposite directions. Obliques affect body posture, but their main functions include rotation and lateral flexion of the spine. They can be strengthened through rotational exercises like twists and rotations.
Rectus abdominis – The rectus abdominus is often thought of as the most superficial of the abdominal muscles, but it is actually encased in apneurosis (sheet of connective tissue) of the internal obliques. Rectus abdominis are the ‘abs’ and their main functions range from helping with respiration, stabilisation of the pelvis to inflexion of the trunk. They are trained with classic ab-training exercises like crunches and planks.
Benefits of a strong core
The often viewed six-pack goal can be intimidating for many and lead to false thinking about the abdominal muscles in general. A strong core and abs are important for various different reasons, which highly revolve around health benefits and support for our every-day lives. Here are just a few reasons why you should train your abs and core for well-being!
Improved sports performance
Most sports activities are powered by a strong core. Core strength increases the stability of the pelvis and spine and improves body control and balance during body movement resulting in more efficient athletic movement. Various muscles like the shoulders, arms and legs are anchored to the spine or pelvis, so therefore when these are strengthened, they improve the movement of the anchored muscles as well. When kicking a football, throwing a basketball or swinging the baseball bat towards the ball, the various movements originate from the core, emphasising its role and importance. Therefore, a strong core can assist in various types of sports through various elements such as better coordination, stability and even neuromuscular reaction.
Decreased back pain
Low back pain is an often-experienced inconvenient result of office jobs that involve a lot of sitting at the desk. If the abdominal muscles are weak, the other structures supporting the spine have to work harder, causing an imbalance. The abdominal muscles with back muscles are key to providing strength to keep the body upright and a strong core has indeed been researched to help alleviate back pain. Therefore, training abs helps to building better support for your entire body, alleviating imbalances between muscles that can result in back pain.
A good posture and a strong core are a two-way street. A strong core helps you to keep the back stabilized and hold a better posture. Similarly, holding the posture with standing straight requires you to pull and hold your abs towards the spine, so standing and sitting up straight is a great way to engage your ab muscles during everyday activities. A good posture does not only make us appear better to others, but also ma helps us to feel better. It actually helps to reduce the stress on your spine, improve balance and to optimise breathing.
So therefore there is more to ab-training than just getting that picture-perfect six pack. We’re not saying that a toned tummy is not something to work for, but that people should not be too intimidated by looks-based training as there is huge health-related benefits to a strong core.
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