This is an excerpt from Delavier's Sculpting Anatomy for Women by Frederic Delavier & Jean-Pierre Clemenceau.
SCULPT YOUR ABS
The core and abdominal muscles play an important role in the body's aesthetics. Getting a muscular and toned belly in a few months is possible with targeted exercises. Say good-bye to your love handles and belly!
The abdominal wall is made up of four muscles:
1. The rectus abdominis is usually called the abs.
2. The external oblique is located on either side of the rectus abdominis.
3. The internal oblique is located underneath the external oblique.
4. The transversus abdominis is located under the obliques.
Unlike other muscles where you want to develop some size, here the focus is on keeping the waist small by having well-defined muscles.
Muscles in a Slim Waist
The rectus abdominis does help contain the belly, but there are some less well-known muscles that make the waist as small as possible:
> Transversus abdominis acts just like a corset.
> Internal and external obliques, to a lesser degree, also help to refine the waist when they are toned but not too muscular.
ROLE OF THE ABDOMINAL MUSCLES
When talking about the abdominal muscles, the first thing that comes to mind is definitely looks: Well-defined abs are synonymous with a flat belly void of any extra fat. But Mother Nature did not give you abdominal muscles just to look nice. The abdominal wall fulfills vital functions for movement and health. There are six good reasons to take care of your abdominal wall:
1. Increase your athletic performance. The core plays a large role in all physical activities requiring rapid running or twisting of the torso (such as golf or tennis).
2. Protect your spine. In concert with the lumbar muscles, the abdominal muscles support the spine. Weak core and abdominal muscles and a large belly increase the risk of lumbar degeneration.
3. Reduce muscle tension. A few minutes of core and abs work before going to sleep will relax the lumbar muscles, allowing the spine to decompress from the pressure experienced during the day. No more waking up in the morning with back pain.
4. Improve digestive health. Core and abs work improves digestion of food, thereby preventing bloating and constipation.
5. Reduce risk factors for health conditions such as diabetes.
6. Maintain cardiovascular health. Working the core and abdominal muscles is an excellent cardiorespiratory workout, similar to running but without the trauma to the knees and the spine.
Unfortunately, the lower part of the abdominal muscles is much more difficult to strengthen than the upper part. It is possible to do bridges primarily using the strength of the upper abdominal muscles. However, the lower abdominal muscles play the most important role in protecting the spine and preventing bloating in the abdomen. And it is also this part that tends to accumulate fat most easily. A good training program should therefore work both the upper and lower parts of the abdominal muscles. You should know that exercises that involve raising the torso recruit mostly (but not exclusively) the upper part of the abdominal muscles. Exercises that involve lifting the pelvis target the lower part a little better.
TIPS FOR A MORE EFFECTIVE WORKOUT
> It is important to breathe well during a set of abdominal and core exercises. The tendency is to hold your breath, but this is a mistake since breathing gives you more endurance by providing oxygen to your muscles during exercise.
> Beware of fake abdominal exercises! Fake exercises, unfortunately, are very common. They are ineffective and put the spine in danger. There is a way to differentiate the good exercises from the bad. When the abdominal muscles contract, they round the lower back. So any exercise that arches the lumbar region instead of rounding your back cannot work the abdominal muscles effectively.
> Beware of your head position! The position of your head has a profound impact on muscle contraction; when you lean your head back, the lumbar muscles that support the spine contract reflexively, while the abdominal muscles have a tendency to relax.
Even if this contraction is not very strong, it is inevitable. On the contrary, when you lean your head forward, the abdominal muscles contract while the lumbar muscles relax; the body tends to round forward. The most common mistake is to look up at the ceiling, when you actually need to keep your head leaning forward and your back rounded. Ideally, you should always keep your eyes on your abs. What you must avoid above all is moving your head from side to side. This movement is not useful and can hamper proper muscle contraction. It also can cause cervical problems. In the same way, it is counterproductive to move your head frenetically when the exercise gets really difficult. Instead, your body must be very stable when an exercise gets difficult.
> Take care in the placement of your hands and elbows during sit-ups. To avoid pulling too much on your neck, do not cross your hands behind your head; rather, place them on your ears. Note that the wider you place your elbows, the harder the exercise will be. Conversely, the closer your elbows are together and the more they tilt toward the front, the easier the exercise will be.
> Do not confuse pulling your abdomen in with contracting your abdomen. When you have to pull on a pair of tight jeans, you suck in your abdomen by pulling the abdominal fibers up (without any particular tone) so you can fasten the button. However, abdominal contraction is a compression of the fibers that lets you strengthen and tone this part of the body. Do not forget that all your strength comes from your core and that this contraction stabilizes the body, providing support and power. If you do abdominal work by pulling your abdomen in, you will have no chance at all of developing your abdominal muscles.
Read more from Delavier's Sculpting Anatomy for Women by Frédéric Delavier and Jean-Pierre Clemenceau.