Duncan is a highly experienced and knowledgeable personal trainer/exercise specialist, operating at the popular Jesmond based Bodyguards Personal Fitness Service. At 36, he has guided many clients to better well being and physical fitness by applying a very scientific, mechanical approach to exercise. He has worked specifically with golfers, skiers and racquet sports players to correct a wide variety of problematic postural imbalances, improving performance and reducing pain or injury.
Today’s world is ab crazy. There are countless books and videos available promising to flatten your abs. Gimmicks appear every year in the form of pieces of equipment and techniques which apparently guarantee solid abs. Classes which specifically focus on “blasting” abs have popped up in nearly every gym. As if that weren’t enough, companies have heavily marketed electrical gadgetry which claims to flatten your abs in just a few minutes a day. But is it worth all the time, money and effort?
Could it be that we are all overlooking some basic principles that create functionally strong and therefore aesthetically pleasing abs?
Firstly, we must take a look at the role of the abdominal muscles within the overall core of the body. The ‘six-pack’ muscles (rectus abdominals) are just one part of the ‘core’ and they function in synergy with side abs (obliques) and back muscles (erector spinae) to form an ‘outer unit’ of the core. However, these muscles are superficial and cannot create a washboard tummy effect on their own. The deeper ‘inner unit’ of the core is what creates a flatness in the abs and prevents a paunch belly, for example doing hundreds of sit ups doesn’t always take away the lower bulging belly.
So, what is the ‘inner unit’? The inner unit consists of four major muscle groups that work as a system. They are:
- the deep muscles running along the spine (Multifidus),
- the muscles of the pelvic floor,
- the deepest abdominal muscle known as the ‘corset’ or ‘belt’ muscle, or more specifically Transverse Abdominal (TVA), and
- the large breathing muscle (Diaphragm).
Together these muscles provide stability to the spine, ribcage and pelvic girdle, allowing the head, arms and legs to have a stable base from which to move. These muscles also provide a protective shield for your spine and internal organs. They support the internal organs and when used correctly help mobilise them, preventing them from adhering together, promoting normal bowel habits. In addition to this,the core muscles create and intra-abdominal pressure which aids blood circulation. if core function diminishes the heart has to work harder, the vital organs drop, posture is altered and digestive problems occur.
Contraction of the TVA muscle through the action of drawing the belly button in towards the spine maintains this pressure which in turn aids protection and support of the vital internal organs, but furthermore flattens the stomach. Feel the muscle work by coughing. It is the TVA which tightens the abdomen, pressing against the diaphragm, to expel air during exhalation. The dreaded paunch belly is one of the many negative effects of a dysfunctional abdominal wall. Over training the six-pack (rectus) abdominals and a weak dysfunctional inner core unit create an imbalance which can detrimentally change your body shape. From a side-view it can cause an overly curved lumbar spine, a slouched, hunched upper back, forward head carriage, a rounded tummy and little, if any, muscle definition in the torso. This is obviously not ideal posture. In more extreme cases the imbalance can cause lower back pain, neck pain leading to headaches, even constipation or digestive issues and often respiratory dysfunction.
The common misconception that doing loads of sit-ups will spot-reduce body fat from the belly area has caused all sorts of problems. Sit-ups specifically strengthen the rectus abdominals and not the inner core unit, therefore a more varied core stability workout is often the solution. It is frequently posture which leads the client to being dissatisfied with the way they look, not always their level of body fat.
From a performance and aesthetic point of view we must train from the inside out. Improve your posture and core stability first. Remember all movements stem from the core and it is these core muscles which initiate any movement of the arms and legs. You are only as strong as your weakest link. The core’s primary functions are to support, stabilise and protect.
In order to make our training more effective we should avoid using equipment that does the support work and stabilisation for us (i.e. equipment which places us in a sitting position, or equipment with a backrest or support pads). We need to look towards ‘functional’ free weight exercises where the core tightens, supporting and stabilising our bodies before moving the limbs.
Good posture makes you slim, but more importantly makes you functionally strong. Training functionally, such as in Swiss Ball exercises, which can use practically every muscle in your body at once, elevates your metabolism and burns off excess fat as well as strengthening and flattening the abs. However, don’t feel that the gym is the only place to be using your inner core muscles. The whole point of doing functional exercises is to create a strength and fitness which can be transferred to your daily activities in order to make your life easier, hence there is no reason why you shouldn’t be using your core muscles in everything you do. This includes lifting a heavy object, walking and even sitting or driving.
In order to find out more about how to correctly strengthen your core and improve your posture, call Bodyguards now on 0191 239 9000.