#abs: The Money Muscles

Due to overwhelming demand, relatively speaking of course(I get overwhelmed easily-just ask my partner), it is with great pleasure that I introduce to you the first in a series that will feature the abdominal muscles, and how to go about training them as well as what needs to be done to get your body fat levels low enough in order to show them off. I’ll see how far along that list we can get today as I am finally caving under the pressure to write about this subject, and this first part will be posted in about 16 hours from now. Readygo!

To answer the question I get most often, yes that’s really me in my @Matttoronto1 twitpic, and yes I really have abs like that all throughout the year. I don’t always have that tan, and I may not be quite that dry looking all the time, but just like everyone I’ve ever met I too have abdominal muscles. The first thing that I try to bring to you from this corner of the internet is education, because I can tell you what to do and how to do it, but unless you really understand what is happening for yourself you won’t be able to get everything that you can from each movement. Having clarified things a little bit, lets dig in!

The abdominal muscles are different than any of the other muscles in your body because they provide postural support. The deeper the abdominal muscle is, and the closer to the spine the particular abdominal muscle is, then the greater its role is in providing support to the spine. This means that the stronger these muscle are and the more developed, the greater the carryover will be in their ability to positively effect overall body posture. This will also play a major role in having a healthy back and spine as well. This is why the foundation of strength training, especially functional strength, always has an extremely large core training component to it. Without a functionally strong core, which includes well developed abdominal muscles, your strength in other areas will always be compromised, and as a result your athletic ability will not ever reach its potential.

All six abdominal muscles significantly affect body posture as we now understand. The closer to the spine, the more powerful the effect it will have, and the greater capacity it will have for helping to create and maintain a healthy spine. Starting with the deepest muscle and finishing with the most superficial, those muscles are: transverse abdominis, the internal oblique muscles, the external oblique muscles, and the rectus abdominus. Hey wait a minute, I thought you said there were six, you might be thinking. Both sets of oblique muscles come in a pair, one on each side of the torso, so that explains how for our purposes, four equals six.

Back to those muscles again, let’s begin with the transverse abdominis. This is the deepest of the six(or four) abdominal muscles. This muscle has a tremendous effect on posture. Posture means a lot more than standing up straight in the world of weight training. It means keeping our back straight and our spine stable during squats and deadlifts. It means holding our back up when we’re doing push ups or planks. It also means that as you’re heaving that heavy powerclean off the floor, that your spine doesn’t literally snap in two. This is a heavy responsibility for the transverse abdominis, and we’ll get into methods on how to train this muscle shortly. Due to the fact that this muscle is so deep that it cannot be touched from outside of our body, training it will not be easy you might be thinking. Don’t worry, I have your back on that one. Which ties in nicely to the fact the transverse abdominis wraps around our torso, and has a similar effect functionally to a back support belt.

Moving on to the first of those pairs I spoke of earlier, the internal obliques are a couple of ab muscles that reside on each side of the torso. They are the next deepest muscle after the transverse, and function somewhat similarly. Specifically, they have a strong effect on body posture, only slightly less due to their more superficial position. Where their function differs is in their direct involvement with the rotation and lateral flexion of the spine. All of the abdominal muscle work together as one as well as have functions that they specialize in, and do a little better individually than the other muscles.

Like the internal obliques, the external obliques are the other pair of abdominal muscles that are located on either side of the torso. The difference between the two is that the external obliques are more superficial. As a result, they have less effect on body posture than the first two muscles mentioned, but they still do contribute to it. Like the internal obliques, the external obliques are involved in, among other things, the rotation and lateral flexion of the spine. On a less functional note, these muscles are very visible and look great when body fat levels are low. They are often disguised by love handles however, so this is one of the reasons I often preach having year round low body fat levels, as there is little point to me to have some muscles only visible for small periods of time. That is an opinion of course, and the level of body fat has nothing to do with function, and everything to do with aesthetics.

The last of the muscles of the abdominal region is the rectus abdominus. This is the most superficial of the abdominal muscles, and in certain fitness circles the most highly prized of them all. Once again, due its superficial location the effect on posture is less than the above mentioned muscles, but that is still the main role that the rectus abdominus plays. This is the muscle often referred to as the six pack, and it really is the one muscle that says to the world that you are fit and strong if it is visible.

As I mentioned before, the abdominal muscles work in groups, and are referred to as spinal flexors. The main job of our abdominal muscles is to bend the spine forward when they are contracting coencentrically. The muscles of the back counterbalance the action of the abs,and are called spinal extensors. This means that the abdominal muscles shorten to flex the spine, the back muscles are put on a stretch, and the reverse is true also.

Another, less thought about function of the abdominal muscles is their role on breathing. During exhalation the abs force the air out of the lungs by depressing the thorax. Due to the heavy circuit training and sprint combination component of the training that I do, I can speak from experience in saying that when I’m finished a ‘set’ and bent over at the waist gasping for air, I can feel those muscle contracting very strongly.

So that concludes the general overview of what the muscles of the abdominal region are, and their main function. On Tuesday when I post the second installment of #abs: The Money Muscles, I’ll get into techniques used to train each of the muscles individually and collectively. As you can already see though, the main job of these muscles is to stabilize the spine as well as to bend it forward, and they do so by working as a single unit mostly. This will obviously dictate a lot of how they are trained, but there are of course methods that will be better than others, and that will be the focus when I get that far along in the next article. On Thursday of next week I’ll be looking at the best ways to get these muscles to show themselves, as they seem to prefer to hide for most folks under a blanket of fat. For some, this is a big reason why they train as they do-to show off those abs! I aim to help you to do the same. Until tomorrow then my friends,

Happy Lifting!

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