All AB-out ABs

By Jocelyn Heminitz ’13, Kinesiology Student, Certified Group Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer for Campus Recreation Services

What is one of the most talked about parts of the human body? Our abs!

Ab exercises often find their way into the final minutes of our workout routines, and there are always advertisements for the latest quick and creative ab routines. Have you ever wondered what muscles make up our abdominals? Or how we can train them safely and more effectively? Read on!

Anatomy of the Abdominal Muscles

Transverse Abdominus: This layer is the innermost layer of the abdomen, closest to the spine. It is responsible for compressing the ribs and internal organs, while also providing pelvic stability. This muscle is used during every breath you take, but it is the hardest abdominal muscle to work on its own.

Rectus Abdominus: This is the middle layer of the abdominals, responsible for that ‘6 pack’ look. It’s action involves flexion of the trunk and lumbar spine; bending forward at the waist and mid back.

Obliques: These are the outermost layer of the abdominal wall, a pair of muscles located on the sides of the torso. They consist of internal  and external obliques, which aid in forward and side bending, and also rotation of the torso right and left.

How effective is your Abs Routine?

3 Common Abs Myths

  1. Ab exercises will give you a ‘6 pack’.You cannot spot reduce any area of the body. It is physiologically impossible. Performing ab exercises will strengthen the abdominal muscles, but exercises such as crunches and planks alone will not shrink your middle. What makes the difference here is the layer of fat that lies over the abdominals, and the only way to get rid of that is to decrease your body fat percentage. An all around full body training program that includes both aerobic and anaerobic exercise is important. Venture outside of Abs & Low Back classes. Try out Cardioboxing, Step, or Zumba for a cardiovascular workout, strengthen your full body in BODYPUMP, and enhance your flexibility in Yogafit. View descriptions of all CRS group fitness classess >>
  2. The upper and lower abs are separate parts.The abdominals are actually made up of several long muscles. Each ab exercises you perform incorporates both the upper and lower regions of the abdominal muscles at the same time to complete the movement. That being said, you can perform exercises that will emphasize a specific area of the abdominals, but it is impossible to isolate different areas of the one muscle. For example, reverse crunches will emphasize the lower portion of the abdominals and crunches will emphasize the upper, but the entire length of the muscle is always engaged while performing each of these exercises.
  3. The ‘Captain’s Chair’ is an effective ab exercise.You can lift your legs in the Captain’s Chair till no tomorrow in hopes of working the abdominal region, but truth is, your hip flexors will get more of a workout than your abs. The abdominals are utilized for stabilization during this exercise, but the hip flexors are the muscles that actually do the primary work of getting the legs to raise. Overworking the hip flexor muscles can cause tightness and result in low back problems.


    Captain’s Chair exercises shown in this photo are not the most effective way to work your abdominal muscles.

The best way to work the abdominals is in a neutral alignment in a plank position.

Top left: modified plank on hands // Top right: Full plank on handsBottom left: Modified plank on forearms // Bottom right: Full plank on forearms

Top left: modified plank on hands // Top right: Full plank on hands
Bottom left: Modified plank on forearms // Bottom right: Full plank on forearms

Follow these Top 4 Dos and Don’ts

  1. Do keep a space between the chin and the chest. Maintaining a straight and stable spine is key while performing abdominal exercises. Tucking the chin to the chest, a common habit of many, takes the spine out of line, posing a risk for injury.

    do (1)

    Keep a space between the chin and chest while doing abdominal exercises.

  2. Don’t put your hands behind your head while doing crunches. Putting the hands behind the head gives us the tendency to pull on the neck, posing a risk of straining the neck muscles. A better option is to place the hands on the chest or in fists by the ears.

    dont (2)

    Avoid tucking the chin to the chest to prevent injury.

  3. Do keep breathing! Holding your breath will increase your blood pressure and make the exercise more difficult to perform. Always exhale on the hardest part of an exercise and inhale on the easiest. For example, exhale as you lift up the torso in a crunch and inhale as you lower down.
  4. Don’t give up! Core strength and stability is one of the most important aspects of the human body. Without the abdominals, we wouldn’t even be able to stand. You are worth the time and effort it takes to create a strong core!

Want to design your own abs routine?  Visit the American Council on Exercise’s Exercise Library for ideas.

Share with us! Do you have any tips that help you make your abs routine more effective?

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4 Responses to All AB-out ABs

  1. Steve Rohrbach says:

    Excellent Article, the myth section is outstanding. There are so many misconceptions about how “6 pack abs” are created. I really liked how you made sure to debunk those few myths as well as point of the facts that are missed because of them. Also the form section is key, because so many people don’t know proper form for these ab exercises and then get discouraged when they see no results. Like I said Excellent Article!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Excellent information!!!!!!!!

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