Building ab muscles that are strong and look defined can be challenging, but you can achieve the abs you want by using 10 tricks that focus on all areas of the abdominals using multiple techniques.
Strengthening the Abdominals
Strengthen the Rectus Abdominis (Six-pack muscle): This is the most external muscle of the abs so it is important you focus on it for the “six pack” definition. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on floor, placing your hands behind your head. Inhale to prepare, then exhale as your curl your head, neck and shoulders off the ground. Hold as you inhale, then release as you exhale. Create the movement by sliding your ribcage down toward your hip bones. Do 20 to 25 repetitions, rest and repeat.
Work the Oblique Muscles: The obliques are on both sides of the torso, and there are two layers on each side: the internal and external obliques. These muscles are responsible for rotating the torso and add to the overall definition and strength of the abdominals. To strengthen, lie on your back with your feet propped up on a chair or bench, then turn both knees to the right side and allow your left hip to come off the ground. Place both hands behind the head, and with an exhale curl your head, neck and shoulders off the ground. Your left ribcage slides toward your left hip to create the movement. Perform 20 to 25 repetitions on each side, rest and repeat.
Find Your Lower Abs: Although the lower abs are actually part of the rectus abdominis muscle, it is possible to target your strengthening efforts on this area by moving from the pubic bone in an upward motion versus moving your upper body toward your pelvis. Lie on your back with your legs straight up in the air over your hips and place your arms by your sides. On an exhale pull your lower belly inward and simultaneously lift your hips and legs up toward the ceiling. This will be a small movement, mainly moving the tailbone and two to three vertebrae off the floor. Perform 20 to 25 repetitions, rest and repeat.
Learn Kegels: Kegels are an internal action of the body that conditions the pelvic floor, which helps you build the internal musculature that supports the external ab muscles, resulting in stronger abdominals. Sit upright in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. With an exhale breath, draw inward and upward between your rectum and your urethra. This should feel exactly like when you have to hold your urine until you get to a bathroom, or if you stop in midstream when urinating. Your buttocks stay relaxed throughout this exercise.
Engage Your TVA: The transversus abdominis (TVA) is a large muscle that sits underneath the obliques and supports your abdomen from the public bone up to the ribcage, then wraps around to the spine for back support. When you perform kegels, the TVA automatically begins to contract, but you can engage it more by focusing on it intentionally. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. With an exhale breath perform a kegel, then gently pull your lower belly (from belly button to public bone) down toward your spine. This should feel as if you are trying to flatten your lower belly without anyone else noticing.
Pilates Breathing: Practice inhaling through your nose, then exhaling forcefully through pursed lips. It should feel like you are blowing out birthday candles. When you exhale through the lips, pull your abdominals inward and do not allow them to push outward. Breathing in the Pilates style helps your TVA and abdominals contract and become stronger.
Yoga and Pilates Exercises
Roll Like A Ball: Pilates exercises that involve rolling are an effective way to strengthen the abs. Try the basic Roll Like A Ball exercise by sitting on a mat, bending your knees, and lifting your feet off the ground as you balance. Pull your abdominals in, round your back and slowly with control roll back onto your upper back then back to balance position.
Yoga Twists: Practicing yoga twists strengthens the abs and back. Sit tall with your right leg extended out in front of you, your left knee bent with foot on the floor. Hold lightly onto your left leg and twist to your left, looking over your left shoulder. Repeat on right side.
Yoga Plank: Rest on your forearms and toes, keeping the rest of your body in a straight line, parallel to the floor and lifted off the floor. Pull your abdominals in and breathe normally, hold the plank for one minute.
Yoga Boat Pose: Sit on the floor, with your legs lifted off the ground (knees can be bent) and balance on the back of your buttocks, making sure not to put your weight on your tailbone. Keep your back straight, pulling your abdominals in and your shoulder back. Breathe normally as your hold the Boat Pose for one minute.
About this Author
Linda Freeman Webster is a certified personal trainer, group fitness, yoga and Pilates instructor who has been in the fitness industry for 20 years. She has published articles for IDEA Health and Fitness Journal, IDEA Fitness Manager, and USA Hockey Magazine.