Strengthen those abs for summer


Winter has finally left our part of the world, making way for the sun and more light, with all its benefits in both physical and mental terms. The return of the sun also heralds the arrival of summer and with it the pressure to have a newly slim body, ready to slip into your swimsuit or bikini.

They’re targeted by both men and women in terms of exercise, particularly at this time of year. It’s never too late to work on them. Of course, they are the abdominal muscles. If there’s one area which is poorly understood and not tackled effectively, it’s the abdominal zone.

Let’s remind ourselves about the anatomy of the tummy. We have superficial muscles which essentially allow the body to make short, intense movements againstresistance: the rectus abdominis or large straight abdominal muscles (‘six pack’) and the large oblique muscles (under the ‘love handles’). We also have the deep muscles which help the body maintain posture and protect the joints: the small oblique muscles (under the large oblique muscles) and the transverse abdominal muscles (forming a belt under the six pack and the oblique muscles).

In this article, we’ll concentrate on the rectus abdominis and the transverse muscles.

The transverse is a deep muscle, essential for posture, protection of the back and for a flat tummy. It’s best worked in long sets of support exercises and can be disturbed by inflammation of the digestive system (constantly bloated tummy). It is under-represented in 95% of training programmes.

The rectus abdominis muscle is a superficial muscle and should be worked in short sets (maximum 15) with resistance. It’s an important muscle in sport and in certain situations in everyday life: when you lift your case into the locker above your seat on an aeroplane, for example.

However, if you continue to work your rectus abdominis, you risk aggravating problems with your back or maintaining your pelvic floor (urinary incontinence for women). You also risk weakening your transverse muscles (too weak to hold their own against the larger rectus abdominis muscles). At best, you’ll continue with your crunches without any results, workout after workout, week after week.

Coach’s advice:

1. Stop doing abdominal exercises of the crunch, sit up or plank type
2. Work your transverse muscles
3. Work your rectus abdominis muscles using negative extension (on a Swiss ball for example)

Reference: Paul CHEK “Eat, move and be healthy” C.H.E.K Institute, LLC (Dec 2004)