Abdominal Training – Don’t Just Sit Up

What Are The Abdominal Muscles?

The abdominal muscles consist of anterior, or front, and side trunk muscles that move the trunk and create stability. Most commonly known is the six pack muscle, the rectus abdominis, which is often referred to when people talk about “ab” muscles. Aside from the rectus abdominis, there are other abdominal muscles that have their unique functions, namely the transverse abdominis and the internal and external obliques.

Abdominal Muscle Functions

The abdominal muscle functions consist of spine movements. The rectus abdominis flexes or crunches the lumber or bottommost spine. The transverse abdominis compresses the abdomen and its contents, generating stability in the trunk. The internal and external obliques mainly rotate the trunk.

Doing The Sit Up For Abdominal Muscles

The sit up is the most common abdominal exercise, used in many fitness tests, such as the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT), seen in school physical education programs and the military. The sit up is a trunk flexion and hip flexion exercise, mainly targeting the rectus abdominis and hip flexor muscles, such as the iliopsoas. Given the sit ups focus on the rectus abdominis, more exercises have to be implemented into a program to develop the abdominal muscles.

Oblique Rotation Training – The Cable Wood Chop

One of the most underrated exercises for the trunk are rotation exercises. The cable wood chop is a rotation exercise that requires a cable machine or resistance band as a substitute. The cable wood chop involves holding on to a cable machine handle with both hands, stepping away from the machine to generate initial tension, before rotating the trunk and feet to pull the handle away. The cable wood chop can be done from any height along a cable machine’s column, making it versatile in hitting the obliques from a variety of angles to train it fully.

Developing The Transverse Abdominis – Planks

The transverse abdominis plays an important role in maintaining stability; by contracting the transverse abdominis and compressing the abdominal contents, spinal movement can be prevented. This action of contracting the transverse abdominis to prevent spinal movement can be seen in the plank exercise. Failing to contract the transverse abdominis results in either arching the back or shifting the hip higher. Variations of the plank will challenge how hard the transverse abdominis needs to contract to prevent the spine from moving during the exercise.

Harder Than Sit Ups – The Leg Raise

The leg raise exercise is often touted as a better alternative to the sit up. The sit up requires the feet to be anchored down to the ground, allowing the hip flexors to contract harder to perform the movement. The leg raise exercise can be done on a flat surface like the floor or a bench, supported on a dip bar, or hanging from an overhead bar. The exercise requires the rectus abdominis and hip flexors to contract, bringing the feet up in an arc.

Putting Together An Abdominal Muscle Training Plan

While it is rare to have a dedicated abdominal training day, it is common to find abdominal exercises included in full body training splits. However, it is possible to create abdominal training workouts that target all the abdominal muscles.

A sample beginner ab workout could look like:

ExerciseMuscles TargetedSets and Reps
Bodyweight PlankTransverse Abdominis4 sets of 30s holds
Lying Leg RaiseRectus Abdominis3 sets of 12 reps
Cable Wood ChopInternal and External Obliques3 sets of 8 reps

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