Abdominal Muscles Location and Function
If you exercise, you may be looking for the best routine to build tight, straight abdominal muscles. Every year there are dozens of new exercises, fitness classes, products, devices or routines that aim to sculpt and strengthen the abdominal muscles.
While some of them may offer a new approach to working the abdomen, many exercises are ineffective. And some abdominal devices can even increase the risk of injury.
To avoid falling victim to unproven, misleading, or unsafe abdominal exercise claims, it is important to understand the function of your abdomen. This includes knowing where each of the muscles is, what they do, and how they can be exercised with the least risk of injury.
The best known and most prominent abdominal muscle is the rectus abdominis. It is the long, flat muscle that runs vertically between the pubis and the fifth, sixth, and seventh ribs. The rectus abdominis connects to the xiphoid process, a bony landmark at the bottom of the breastbone.
A strong tendon sheath called the "linea alba" or white line divides the rectus abdominis in half. Three more horizontal tendon sheaths give the muscle its familiar six-pack appearance in very healthy athletes.
The rectus abdominis helps flex the spine, narrowing the space between the pelvis and the ribs. It is also active during lateral flexion movements and helps stabilize the trunk during movements involving the limbs and head.
The next group of muscles that make up the abs are the external obliques. This pair of muscles is located on each side of the rectus abdominis.
The muscle fibers of the external obliques run diagonally downward and inward from the lower ribs to the pelvis, forming the letter V. You can locate them by putting your hands in the pockets of your coat.
The external obliques arise from the fifth to twelfth ribs and insert into the iliac crest, the inguinal ligament, and the linea alba of the rectus abdominis. They allow flexion of the spine, rotation of the trunk, lateral flexion and compression of the abdomen.
The internal obliques are a pair of deep muscles that lie just below the external obliques. The internal and external obliques form right angles to each other.
The internal obliques join from the three lower ribs to the linea alba and from the inguinal ligament to the iliac crest and then to the lower back (thoracolumbar fascia). The lower muscle fibers of the internal obliques run almost horizontally.
Along with the external obliques, the internal obliques are involved in spinal flexion, lateral flexion, trunk rotation, and abdominal compression.
Due to their unique alignment (at right angles to each other), the internal and external obliques are called the opposite side rotators. Both flex to the same side, but the left external oblique rotates the trunk / spine to the right, while the left internal oblique rotates the trunk / spine to the left.
The deepest layer of the abdominal muscles is called the "transversus abdominis" or TVA. The TVA muscle wraps the torso from front to back and from the ribs to the pelvis. Its muscle fibers run horizontally, similar to a corset or a weight belt.
This muscle does not move your spine or pelvis, but it helps you breathe and breathe. Specifically, it helps facilitate forced exhalation of air from the lungs while stabilizing the spine and supporting the abdominal wall.
To activate the transverse abdominal muscle, "focus on the exhale and, at the end of the exhale, contract the pelvic floor muscles and the TVA," says Kristin McGee, a yoga and meditation instructor at Peloton.
"When you fill up with air, try to expand the back and sides of the waist," adds McGee, "and don't put too much pressure on the front of the abdomen."
The hip flexors are a group of muscles that connect the legs and torso in a bending motion. They are not technically abdominal muscles, but they do facilitate movement during various abdominal exercises. The muscles that make up the primary hip flexors are:
- Psoas major
- Rectus femoris
- Psoas minor
Some abdominal exercises work the hip flexors more than the abdominals. An example is the full abdominal exercise, especially when the feet are kept on the floor.
This movement mainly affects the hip flexors and can cause an arch in the lower back. This can increase your risk of back pain, especially if you have weak abdominal muscles. Therefore, full crunches are not recommended for beginners.
Another example of an abdominal exercise that works the hip flexors is any leg lift exercise performed in a supine position (lying on your back).
Again, this movement works the hip flexors much more than the abdomen and should not be done until you have good abdominal strength.
Design an Effective Abdominal Exercise Routine
Now that you have a basic understanding of what abdominal muscles are and how they work, you can create exercises that really target those muscles. Select five to ten exercises that combine these four elements. Do 10 reps of each exercise, then move on to the next. Change your exercise routine every two to three weeks.
- Basic crunch
- Reverse crunch
- Ab crunch on an exercise ball
- Long arm crunch
- Captain's chair
- Bicycle crunch
- Seated oblique twist with medicine ball
- Back extension
- Side plank
- Reverse plank
Isometric exercises (such as the plank and bird dog) that focus on limiting the movement of the torso are excellent abdominal exercises. Another option is the pallof press, an anti-rotation movement that strengthens the core.
To perform the movement, use a strap or cable that is secured to a stable surface at torso level. Stay far enough away from the strap so that when you hold it in front of your breastbone, there is tension. When you look forward, the banner will stick to your side.
Extend your arms (and band) fully in front of your chest, then bring them back to your chest. Resist giving in to the side pull and twisting your torso toward the anchor of the band.
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