Sir Mix-A-Lot approves of doing side bends and sit-ups – but that doesn’t mean your tummy will become flat if you do them.
Most people focus on the rectus abdominis when training abs. This muscle is the most superficial – it runs down the front of your torso and is your visual “six pack abs.” While it is important to train this along with all other core and abdominal exercises for proper core strength and stability (and to look awesome) – it is actually NOT the way to flatten your stomach.
The one you want to focus on is your transverse abdominis. This is your deepest of all abdominal muscles and wraps around your stomach & spine horizontally. It is the one responsible for pulling in and “tightening up” the lower abs. When it is weak (this happens with age and/or during pregnancy as your belly expands), your lower belly will “pooch” out. Specific and consistent transverse abdominis exercises will help pull everything back tight again and get you on your way back to a six pack!
Below are my four favorite exercises for working this muscle – you can do all of them in one workout or add a few into your workouts throughout the week!
Reverse crunches with an oblique twist
Reverse crunches engage your lower abs and adding the twist will give you an extra kick working your obliques. Lie on your back with your hands tucked under your butt and your knees bent. Bring your legs up into the air at a 90° angle from your torso, pull your belly button in toward your spine while you do a pelvic tilt to lift your butt and hips off the ground with your feet aiming for the ceiling.
Aim for 15-20 reps
Planks stimulate your entire core, including the muscles in your back. Facing the ground, hold yourself up on your forearms and the balls of your feet, with your body in one straight line from the top of your head down to your heels. Pull your belly button in toward your spine and don’t forget to breathe.
My favorite plan variation for the transverse abdominis is the plank with knee tuck. From your plank position, lift one foot off the ground keeping the leg straight. Hold it there for a 1-2 second count and slowly drive the knee of the lifted leg toward your chin. Hold the knee there under your torso while keeping your perfect plank form for a 1-2 second count, then slowly return to the starting position with your toes on the ground. Repeat on the opposite leg and continue to alternate.
Aim for 30-90 second holds on standard planks and 15-20 reps per side on knee tucks.
Start by lying on your back with your elbows bent and hands by your ears or resting lightly on the nape of your neck. Bring your knees up to form a 90 degree angle and crunch up and twist bringing opposite elbow to opposite knee, performing a bicycle motion with your legs. Keep your belly button pulled in toward your spine and breathe.
Repeat for 20 reps per side.
Lie flat on your back with your legs extended, a slight bend in your knees, elbows bent and hands by your ears or resting lightly on the nape of your neck. Lift your shoulders off the floor, keeping your neck in line with your spine and begin moving your legs up and down (keeping the slight bend in your knees), alternating right and left in a fluttering motion while you keep your belly button pulled in toward your spine and breathe.
Repeat for 20 reps per side.