Building Six-Pack Abs : Developing the Abdominal Muscles


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Muscle: Rectus Abdominis Origin: At the superior ramus of the pubis, crest of the pubic bone, and the symphysis pubis (the junction of the pubic bones on the midline in front. They form the bony eminence under the pubic hair). Insertion: At the costal cartilages of the fifth, sixth, and seventh ribs and into the lateral aspects of the xiphoid process of the sternum (bottom most part of the breast bone). Function: The rectus abdominis is a long flat muscle on either side of the linea alba. It runs from the pelvic bone to the base of the breastbone and medial parts of the ribs five, six and seven. In well-conditioned, LEAN athletes it will form the “six-pack” or “four-pack” depending on your genetics or a “beer belly” depending on your nutrition habits. The rectus abdominis flexes the spine (as in the crunch), tenses the wall of the anterior abdomen (as in someone is about to punch you in the belly), assists in compressing the abdominal viscera and contents of the abdomen and aids in anterior support for the pelvis (this function helps prevent or remedy, back pain). Indications of Weakness Weakness of the rectus abdominis (or any anterior abdominal muscle: pyromidalis, transversus abdominis external or internal oblique abdominal) can cause chronic instability of the pelvis due to abnormal pelvic rotation and movement. This can lead to back pain. 80% of all Americans will suffer from back pain, and weak abdominals are a primary cause. Weakness of the rectus abdominus and other abdomen muscles can be identified by potting of the abdominal wall in the location of the weakness (upper and/or lower muscle). If the rectus abdominus becomes hypertonic or tight, it can create increased thoracic kyphosis and cause the head to be carried anteriorly. Increased thoracic kyphosis can decrease cervical and thoracic rotation and cause pain and discomfort in the region of the cervical and thoracic spine. Muscle: Transversus Abdominis Origin: At the lateral one-half of the inguinal ligament (groin), the iliac crest (hip bone), lumbodorsal (lubothoracis) fascia and the inside surfaces of the lower six ribs. Insertion: At the linea alba and the superior ramus of the pubis. Function: The transverse abdominis is a flat muscle with transverse fibers that forms the innermost layer of the abdominal wall. The fibers run horizontally around nearly the entire abdominal cavity from near the spinal column to the linea alba. The transverse abdominis compresses the abdominal viscera, assists the expulsion of the contents of various abdominal organs (urination, defecation, parturition {giving birth} and vomiting), aids in the rotational support of the pelvis and is very important at moving food and nutrients through the digestive track. Indication of Weakness: Weakness in the transversus abdominis will cause the abdomen to relax at 70 degrees of lumbar flexion. This will result in a decrease in tension on the thoracolumbar fascia and the stability of the lumbar and pelvic region. This can cause injury, pain and discomfort. Muscle: External Oblique Abdominal Origin: At the external surfaces of the lower eight ribs. Insertion: At the linea alba, the inguinal ligament and the anterior portion of the iliac crest. Function: These muscles are on each side of the abdomen and run diagonally downward from the ribs. The external obliques aid in rotation of the spine when working independently, when working together, aid the rectus abdominis to flex the spine, abdomen compression and to support the abdominal viscera. Abdominal compression is extremely important for protecting the abdomen and low back. Abdominal compression creates intra-abdominal pressure, this is the real reason to wear a weight belt during heavy lifting, to protect the low back and abdomen. Muscle: Internal Oblique Abdominal Origin: At the lateral one-half of the inguinal ligament, anterior portion of the iliac crest, and the lumbodorsal fascia. Insertion: At the superior ramus of the pubis, linea alba, lower three ribs. Function: These muscles are on each side of the abdomen and run diagonally in the opposite direction from the external fibers (the internal oblique muscles run upward from the sides to the linea alba). The internal fibers assist in compressing the abdomen, flexing and rotating the spine. Muscle: Pyramidalis Origin: At the anterior surface of the pubis Insertion: At the lowest portion of the linea alba Function: This is a small, triangular shaped muscle that is in the same sheath as the rectus abdominus. It’s function is to pull on and stabilize the linea alba. Optimal Training Principles The quadratus lumborum is an important muscle for abdomen training, but because it is located in the back, it was grouped with the low back and hip. Depending on your athlete’s goals, body composition may become a major concern in your overall abdominal training program design. Unfortunately, someone can do ab work as long as they can stay awake, but as long as there is a layer of fat 6inches deep on top of their “six pack”, no one will ever know that they are hiding their “wash board ABs” under their “LOOSELY PACKED MUSCLE”, sad, but true! So in order for your “SIX-PACK”, “WASH BOARD”, ABs OF STEEL” to show, you will have to get lean, otherwise your “ABs of Steel” look like a “bowl of Jell-O”. The abdominal muscle group is made up of many muscles with many more movement patterns. The numerous movement patterns will need to be incorporated into your program design: spinal flexion (crunch), spinal rotation (crunch with twist) and high-chair leg and hip raises with spinal flexion. Old-fashion sit-ups, in particular, the straight-legged sit-up with feet anchored are not only completely ineffective for abdominal development they are an unsafe, contraindicated movement. They are unsafe because this movement puts the lumbar spine in hyperextension and dramatically increases the risk of injury. They are ineffective because the feet anchored down, causes the “flexor synergy” described in previous articles: anchoring the feet in any sit-up type movement causes the tibialis anterior, quadriceps (primarily the rectus femoris) and the iliopsoas to contract. The abdominals stay in isometric contraction during this movement. The iliopsoas contracts and pulls directly on the twelfth thoracic to the fifth lumbar vertebrae of the spine, increasing the stress on the lowest six vertebrae. Increasing the effectiveness of your abdominal program requires proper breathing. If you take and hold your breath during a crunch, it causes a neurological inhibition against the abdominal muscles. The abdominals will be inhibited from full flexion if your athlete holds their breath while exercising. In previous FitBit articles, I wrote a description of the proper form for numerous abdominal exercises. The secret to good gains requires proper technique, proper breathing and using the GPO Principle to increase intensity. Most athletes do not put forth the intensity required to develop “AWESOME ABs”, but just as it takes the highest level of intensity you can safely manage to fully develop other muscles of your body, you will need to utilize the highest intensity you can safely manage to give you a “WASH BOARD STOMACH”!

Suggested Exercises:

– Crunch – Crunch with twist – Swiss ball crunches – Swiss ball crunches with twist – Reverse crunch (with weight on feet) – High chair knee-ups with spinal flexion – High chair spinal flexion with NO thigh flexion – Crunch with legs raised in various positions – Crunch with dumbbells with “Russian twist” – 10/10/10 crunch (10 seconds: up – hold – down) Dr. Jim Bell

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