Your abdominal muscles are the body’s forgotten muscles. The use of poorly designed chairs and seats has reduced the ability of your body to activate the abdominal muscles.

The next time you sit in your car or lounge chair, put your hands on your midriff and feel for your abdominal muscles. I bet you won’t be able to feel anything. The seat design tilts your pelvis back and then curves your spine forwards, and stops the abdominal muscles from working.

Now try sitting slightly forward in your seat and sitting up straight instead of slumping your spine against the seatback. Now feel your midriff, and you should find that your abdominal muscles are contracting and relaxing with every slight movement you make.

The consequences of spending hours every day sitting in lousy chairs are that your abdominals will be de-conditioned when you are standing and won’t be able to properly support your upper body, and if you try and put them under load (for example by carrying something) your lower back will be at risk of injury.

Poorly conditioned abdominals will eventually lead to chronic and severe lower back pain. I find that the average person over 30 years of age has completely lost the ability to voluntarily contract any of the abdominal muscles. Strangely enough, the worst ones are the serious exercisers who’ve spent a lot of time doing the poor types of sit-ups with the aim of increasing their abdominal muscles strength and endurance. These ineffective exercises actually de-train the abdominals, not train them.

It is easy to learn how to re-activate those lost abdominal muscles, with four simple exercises that isolate each of the three major abdominal muscles. Follow the general guidelines from last week when exercising the abdominals. As well, make sure you:

  1. Concentrate on your abdominal muscles, and work to contract the target muscle as hard as you can. To demonstrate the principle, put your left hand on your right biceps muscle and flex that right biceps. Did you feel it contract? You should be able to put your hands on your abdominals and feel them contract when you perform these exercises;
  2. Keep the rest of your body completely relaxed;
  3. Breathe out strongly when you’re contracting the muscles, and then breathe in as you relax between repetitions. This breathing pattern will activate the stabilizing muscles deep within the abdominal cavity, and help support your spine as you exercise;
  4. Work slowly and with control. The abdominals are postural muscles designed for regular controlled contractions, not for fast explosive movements.
  5. Put your arms in a position where you can perform 10 repetitions of each exercise.

Exercise 1: Upper Rectus Abdominous

This exercise is the basic abdominal curl that targets the upper part of the abdominal muscles at the front of your abdominal cavity between the ribs and the pubic bone of the pelvis.

Use a rolled or folded towel to support the lumbar curve of your lower spine. Then, while slowly exhaling, push your lower back into the towel and flex the spine to lift your upper back off the floor while you count one-two-three. Count four-five as you lower your upper body down to the floor, then count six-seven-eight as you relax all the muscles of your upper body while lying on the floor and exhaling. Do 10 repetitions.

Exercise 2: Lower Rectus Abdominous

This exercise targets the lower part of the muscle from the previous exercise. Instead of using the muscle to pull your ribs towards your pelvis, you’re going to use them to pull your pelvis towards your ribs.

Lie in the position of the photo with a rolled or folded towel to support the lumbar curve of the lower spine. Then, while slowly exhaling, push your lower back into the towel and try and pull your pubic bone towards your ribs while you count one-two-three. Count four-five as you lower your pelvis down to the floor, then count six-seven-eight, as you relax all the muscles of your upper body while lying on the floor and exhaling. Do 10 repetitions.

If you have poor hamstring flexibility and can’t get into this position, then simply bend your knees, but keep your feet off the floor. Don’t swing your legs backward and forwards as you do this exercise. Keep your legs still — it’s your pelvis that’s moving, not your legs.

Exercise 3: External Obliques

These muscles run at an angle from the pelvis out to the ribs and pull the ribs towards the pelvis at an angle. Start in the same position as the first exercise, and follow similar guidelines with the following variables that will involve these external obliques which are off to the side of the abdominal cavity.

Instead of lifting your upper body off the floor, raise only one shoulder in the direction of the opposite knee so that you twist before doing the curl. Don’t curl up and then twist as you can cause serious lower back damage to the facet joints of the spine. Twist, and then curl up as far as you can. The count for this exercise is twist-two, raise-four, down-six, relax-eight.

Exercise 4: Internal Oblique Abdominals

These muscles run at an angle from the ribs into the pelvis and pull the pelvis towards the ribs at an angle.

Start in the same position as the previous exercise, and follow similar guidelines. As you start to lift your upper body off the floor try and pull the side of your pelvis towards the side of the ribs rather than raising your torso off the floor. The count for this exercise is twist-two, pull pelvis-four, down-six, relax-eight.

These four exercises could be all that you need for everyday strong abdominals if performed correctly. That’s right, just 40 repetitions every second day is enough, not minute after minute of agony at the end of aerobics or hours at the gym.

As well as exercising these abdominal muscles, if you spend more than 30 minutes at a time sitting down, then you need to get up and stretch and activate your abdominal muscles every 30 minutes. You also need to get yourself a decent chair and make sure your sitting posture is sound. Try sitting upright on the floor for five minutes and you’ll find how poor your sitting posture has become as you’ll get uncomfortable pretty quickly.

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