With the approach of summer getting a chiseled mid-line becomes a hot topic.
let's get you set up!
First off let's clarify what makes up the anterior (Front) core:
Starting with the traditional "Six pack" Rectus abdominis, the segmented muscle across the front of the belly which is responsible for spinal flexion (bending forward above the hips). This is framed by the obliques which are split into internal and external. The obliques are responsible for Spinal rotation (twisting). Having defined obliques not only increases the control over the body but also creates the "tapered" look, acting like a picture frame for the rectus abdominis.
Lastly i want to draw attention to the transverse abdominis, this is a deep set muscle responsible for stabilising the lumbar (lower back) but also assists drawing in. This is important if your focus is aesthetics to develop a "flat" set of abs, I will touch on this later on.
There are 5 main functions to your anterior core:
Stabilization of the trunk in resisting motion whether it is bending or twisting. An example being if you held your arms out straight and someone tried to push them sideways you would have to resist the rotation.
2. Top down flexion:
Bringing the ribs closer to the hips in a classic movement of a crunch / sit up
3. Bottom up flexion:
bringing the hips closer to the ribs an example would be a leg raise.
4. High-low rotation:
Bringing the rib of one side closer to the hip of the opposite side, such as in a wood chop bringing the right ribs close to the left hip.
5. Low-high rotation:
Bringing the hip of one side closer to the ribs of the other side, angled leg raise for example.
Training in order to hit every aspect:
Firstly let's elaborate on the impact of drawing in using the transverse abdominis, This will initiate a pre-contraction as you'll be starting with tension before you even begin the exercise. The benefit of this is that you will always be training the core to draw in. If you push the Abdominals out as you exercise they will develop in that position hence the muscle gut.
You might be thinking: "sounds great but how do i do that?"
Think about the last time you got into cold water and we all do that pull in of the stomach instinctively. That pulling in is what you want to do before you even begin the exercise.
Another huge tip is breathing out fully as you contract the muscle, the abdominals assist in the pressure generation for respiration. by exhaling as you complete the movement you reach the greatest possible contraction. The example would be to exhale as you raise the legs in a leg raise so you have emptied the lungs by the time the legs reach their top range of movement.
Now because of how close these muscles are to major organs they have a rich blood supply which allows them to recover quickly. This means you can train the frequently 4+ times a week. One day focus more Linear motions (up and down) and the next focus more rotation exercises (side to side)
My top 5 exercises to hit every area and sculpt some killer abs:
Remember prior to beginning draw the abs in!
Standing Pallof Press:
Set a cable at chest height with a single handle attached, grip with both hands in front of the chest.
Facing side on to the cable keep hips straight (tuck pelvis under).
Slowly straighten the arms out in front of you, the further you go the more tension pulling you sideways.
3/4 sets of 10-12 reps each side.
This is a great anti-rotation exercise also incorporating hip stability.
I know i know how cliche! Hear me out though.
By actively tucking the hips and squeezing the glutes we place maximal tension through the anterior core and de-load the lumbar spine (lower back).
Positioning is important with this, build up through quality not quantity first.
The aim is to be able to hold it for a minute, take a 30-60s break then a minute again. At this point you need to progress the exercise whether it by adding a weight onto your back or moving to a different variation. Note if you are going to add weight the hips should stay tucked under throughout to prevent the load being taken by the muscles in the lower back itself.
This is a great exercise for strengthening position and bracing.
Standing cable wood chop:
Using the Single handle on a Cable gripped with both hands.
Side on to cable column.
Hips straight, rotate rib cage around from full stretch to peak contraction.
Both High to low and low to high:
Two sets starting from shoulder height and finishing at hip height, each side, 8-12 reps.
Two sets starting from hip height and finishing at shoulder height, each side, 8-12 reps.
Active rotation is your prime attribute of this movement.
Lower back stays actively pushed into the floor throughout, do not compromise on this!
Slow and controlled lowering of the leg (5 seconds).
If the lower back comes away from the floor at all the pressure is placed in the lower back back itself. Only work as far as you can while keeping the back flat.
Take your time with this one, control is key.
3/4 sets of 10-12 reps each leg.
V-Up / Curl-Up
Flat on your back, extend the arms overhead and the legs out straight. Brace the core hard and flatten lower back. Explosively draw legs up and crunch upper half down, finishing in a tucked position. Slowly control yourself back to start position.
Are you ready to up your core game?
Building Athletic Lifestyles
You should understand that when participating in any exercise or exercise program illustrated above, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in this exercise or exercise program, you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, assume all risk of injury to yourself.
If you are unsure consult your physician.