I was working with a new client this week who was referred to me by her chiropractor. She came to me because she has lower back pain and her core stability needs a bit of work. When we were chatting to determine her goals, she said that she didn’t understand why her back was sore because she did sit-ups every day and that her abdominals were strong. When I did a few tests for her abdominal strength, we determined that she was actually very weak. Once I taught her a bit about the anatomy of the abdominals, she understood why sit-ups weren’t helping her back (in fact, they were making it weaker).
There are four different layers of abdominal muscles.
Most of us are very familiar with the outermost, superficial layer because this layer creates the “six-pack” look that you see on fitness models. This outermost layer is called the Rectus Abdominus. The job of the Rectus Abdominus is to curl the trunk forward so it’s the main layer of abdominal muscle that is used when you do a traditional sit-up. Most people who want to flatten their tummy will start doing lots and lots of sit-ups so that they have a strong outer layer of muscle. Unfortunately, this is NOT the way to flatten the tummy because flattening the tummy is the job of a different layer of abdominal muscle.
The next two layers of abdominal muscle are called the Outer and Inner Obliques. These two layers of muscle wrap around the body on an angle and their job is to curl and twist the trunk. So if you are a golfer, these muscles need to be strong!
The fourth layer is the innermost layer of abdominal muscle. It’s called the Transversus Abdominus. It is like a corset that wraps around the body and holds everything in place. This is the layer of abdominal muscle that supports the spine so that you don’t have lower back pain. It’s also the layer of muscle that you need to strengthen if you want to flatten your tummy!
If you want to flatten your tummy, here’s an easy exercise that will strengthen the innermost Transversus Abdominis muscle.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat
- Place one hand underneath your lower back
- Place the other hand on top of your navel
- Take a breath in through your nose
- When you exhale, gently pull your navel down towards your bottom hand (avoid doing a pelvic tilt!)
When you exhale, you will feel that your tummy flattens underneath your top hand! That’s the Transversus Abdominis muscle doing its job!
It’s important NOT to flatten your lower back when you do this exercise because doing so actually weakens the lower back. So gently pull your navel down when you exhale but try not to squish your bottom hand!
Need help? Have questions? Let me know….I’m happy to help you!