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Posts Tagged ‘Six Pack’

In celebration of winter’s end–which judging by the recent weather may be closer than I’d previously assumed–I’d like to dedicate this article deconstructing the infamous abdomen. With Spring Break less than a week away, I’ve noticed more gym patrons down on the mats, trying to get their midsections in shape for their poolside vacations. Fitness magazines have rolled out their spring issues, filled with advice on how to burn belly fat fast, but here at Barbelle, we prefer to discuss fitness as a lifetime habit rather than a short-term fix.

Now, I don’t mean to discourage you from focusing on your abs. The muscles in your trunk (your abdominal muscles, transversus abdominus, obliques, lats, and other smaller stabilizer muscles) may be referred to as your core for their central location, but more importantly they are the source of power for your body’s movement. According to Elizabeth Quinn at About.com (apparently, all of their articles are reviewed by a panel of health professionals), a strong core stabilizes your spine and allows you to more powerfully transfer movement into the extremities. So, rather than focusing on the often-unattainable aesthetic apex of the six-pack, reorient your fitness goals to a more long-term outlook. To do this, you need to move past the superficial rectus abdominus to the transversus abdominus.

According to the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma (NISMAT), the first hospital-based facility dedicated to the study of sports medicine in the country, “the transversus abdominus is the deepest of the abdominal muscles and is also a stabilizer of the spine. Support by this muscle is considered to be the most important of the abdominal muscles and has also been found to be in a weakened state in those who have chronic back pain or problems. ” Strengthening your core thus not only stabilizes the body and powers the movement of the extremities, but it also prevents the back pain you probably experience after hours sitting hunched over your computer.

Interested in learning more about the transversus abdominus, I turned to Caitlin Trainor, who teaches in the Dance department at Barnard and who also owns her own fitness business:

The TA wraps around your waist like a belt. Visualize this wrapping while you stand in line, ride the train, or are practicing your posture.

The TA wraps around your waist like a belt. Visualize this wrapping while you engage your TA as you stand in line or ride the train.

A question: why does anyone want to do anything involving “crunching” in the body? Spinal flexion can be conceived as curving, bending, folding, hollowing, scooping, and so on. But seeing that crunches are so wildly popular, I will explain why crunching is not adequate core conditioning. Firstly, it is worth mentioning that people spend much of their lives positioned in some degree of forward flexion (bent forward). Humans are very ventral beings! Sitting in general is a forward bent position (at the hip joint), and since most people do not sit erect, they are also bending forward at the spine. It is a natural for a person to stick her head out or down (more forward flexion) to peer at the computer screen, read, text, or drive. Too much forward flexion is problematic because it creates imbalance and stress on the muscles and discs of the spine. Crunches are also spinal flexion, and, especially if they are done with poor form (yanking the neck up with the arms) can be less than beneficial.

When engaging the TA, imagine you are zipping up your center line. Tilt your pelvis up towards your belly button so that your tailbone points to the floor and your pelvic floor is points down right between your ankles. You shouldn't be able to see a hip crease while wearing spandex!

When engaging the TA, imagine you are zipping up your center line. Tilt your pelvis up towards your belly button so that your tailbone points to the floor and your pelvic floor points down right between your ankles. You shouldn't be able to see a hip crease while wearing spandex!

Assuming that freedom of movement, length, and stability are desirable, I would recommend a core program of spinal extension exercises and strengthening the deep abdominal support muscles. Maybe crunches have become so popular because they target the most superficial abdominal muscle, the “rectus abdominis”, known for creating the appearance of “six pack abs”. However, crunches alone do not make a strong core. Performing crunches fails to engage the deepest abdominal layer, the transverse abdominis (TA). The fibers of the TA run horizontally, and tighten like a belt around the waist when engaged. Unlike spinal flexion exercises, the TA is worked by stabilizing the spine while moving the limbs. This explains why a person can do 500 crunches a day and still have a very weak TA, leaving even an experienced athlete vulnerable to spinal injury and subpar performance. Check out Caitlin Trainor’s TA strengthening exercises after the jump! (more…)

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