Why Your Abs Are About More Than Just Aesthetics
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel confident in a swimsuit, but the truth is that a strong core offers so many more benefits than looking good. In fact, it can even protect your back from injury. Let’s dive into how your ab muscles work and how to strengthen your core effectively…
Your abs are more than just one muscle, so here’s a quick primer on the key muscles involved:
- External Obliques – These muscles wrap around your side and run downward. Basically, where that pesky “muffin top” might sit.
- Internal Obliques – They’re just under your external obliques along your side, but they run upward.
- Rectus Abdominis – That six-pack you’re aiming for is created by these two sheets of muscles that line from the ribs to the pelvis.
- Transversus Abdominis – The reason your core is so important is because of these muscles. They wrap around your waist and help support your back and spine.
Benefits of a strong core
Think of it this way — your abs support the weight of your entire body. Having a strong core helps you stay upright, maintain proper posture and protect your back and neck.
“The core as a whole also contains muscles in your back, pelvic floor and glutes. As the pillar of support for your entire body, it may just be your most important muscle group,” says CA personal trainer Andy Guerin. “Core strength is crucial in literally every movement you do. It helps stabilize your body, improves your balance and reduces strain on your back, knees and hips.”
A weak core puts you at an elevated risk of injury (especially in the lower back), and can sabotage your performance in a bevy of other exercises, from deadlifts to pushups. That means when you focus on your core, you’re building strength for virtually every other workout you do. Not to mention everyday activities like lifting a vacuum or loading groceries into the car.
Mix it up!
The key to building strong abs is to mix up the workouts you do. Essentially, you want to choose moves that hit every one of the muscles we mentioned above and focus on them two to three times a week.
It’s also a wise idea to stay away from excessive crunches in the pursuit of strong abs. Studies actually show that repeated flexion of the back can cause damage over time. That means cranking out crunches can come at the expense of the back — quite the opposite of our goal of injury prevention. Plus, crunches only work a few isolated muscles. Anti-resistance exercises like plank, on the other hand, strengthen more of your core muscles while also protecting your back and neck.
Here are some other great options to incorporate into your routine:
Don’t forget cardio & nutrition
Targeting your abs via exercise is important, but it isn’t all you need to do for more defined abs.
Cardio is also a vital component. This form of exercise gets a rep for being tedious, but hitting the treadmill isn’t your only option. Swimming, HIIT training, cycling, dancing, circuit training, jump-roping, kickboxing, power yoga, running stairs and even heavy cleaning are all ways to torch calories. Strength training is another way to accelerate your abs, because it revs up your metabolism and helps you burn more calories even when you’re resting.
Lastly, your diet plays an important role in building abs; hence the term, “Abs are made in the kitchen.” But don’t start a fad diet with the intention of stopping once you reach your goal — make lifestyle changes that are sustainable. Focus on whole foods rich in fiber, protein and healthy fats and avoid processed, boxed foods that are high in sugar. Choosing the right foods will help improve your body composition and reveal those sculpted abs.
Sculpt your abs at CA
CA offers countless ways for you to build a stronger core. Our three fitness clubs provide state-of-the-art equipment, a wide variety of group fitness classes, and personal and small group training programs. Learn more on our website!