If you aren’t taking a ‘ Core ‘ fitness class, abdominal exercises are often tacked onto the end of a fitness class, with the conventional crunch as the mainstay of these exercises. Once in awhile, if you are lucky enough to have a good instructor, the exercises might tackle the “lower abs” as well. ‘Lower abdominals’ and ‘upper abdominals’ are often used to describe the abdominal muscles, but in reality, these are not really muscle groups. Is a matter of fact, the lower and upper abdominals are really only referencing one muscle group of your abs. Contrary to popular understanding, your abdominal muscles are actually made up of four muscle groups.
To truly strengthen and firm your abdominal muscles, it is important that you work all four of these muscle groups. Further, you should do exercises that strengthen your lower back, as the lower back is part of the core. Here is a description of the each muscle in your abdominal section, and a video of four exercises you can use to target all abdominal muscles, as well as your lower back:
Rectus Abdominis: These are probably best known as the ’six-pack’. They start at the point where the rib-cage meets (also known as the sternum) and ends at the pubic bone. Funny enough, they actually make up both ‘upper abdominals’ and the ‘lower abdominals’ and more likely than not, when you do abdominal exercises, these are the muscles you are targeting.
Their Job: They help flex the spine, and support bending and rotation.
External Obliques and Internal Obliques: These are two groups of muscles that work together. The external obliques stretch from the side of your rib cage and extend down to the hip bone. While the internal obliques are attached from the bottom of the rib cage down to your pubic bone.
Their Job: Working together, both sets of the oblique muscles are instrumental in helping you twist and lean.
Transverse Abdominus: These muscles reside beneath all of the other abdominal muscles. They are very deep muscles and are hard to reach with conventional crunches. Yet, they are extremely important in maintaining a healthy ‘core.’
Their Job: They are instrumental in stabilizing your core and spine. They help prevent injury when you lift heavy objects or do exercises involving your ‘core.’
So next time you want to resort to the traditional crunch, try some of these exercises to effectively reach all four muscles in your abdominal section. Do you have any favorite ab exercises other than the crunch? Did you know there were four muscle groups in your abdominals?