Research and our Rectus Abdominis Everybody admires a mid-section that is well carved out and defined. Some people exercise their abs everyday for hours to achieve this rock hard look, while others starve themselves hoping that six pack will just pop out one day. Many go so far as to have a medical procedure called liposuction or liposculture, which will surgically remove fat deposits or rearrange fat cells on your body. Believe it or not, others just have awesome abs their entire life no matter what they do! This group is has a combination of genetics, fast metabolism and good a good somatotype. Somatotype is a word we use in the medical field to describe a patients general body shape. The question then arises, if you don’t have good genetics, a fast metabolism and adequate body typing, what can you do? The first concept you must understand is that the cornerstone to a solid trimmed gut is diet. The second is training, aerobic fitness would be third and finally body symmetry is key to overall appearance. To really achieve an understanding of the abdominals, it is imperative to have a good functional understanding of the anatomy. In essence, the anatomy will dictate the workout. Let’s get right down to business. Your trunk muscles are comprised of a lot more than just the six-pack. In anatomic terms, the six-pack is called the rectus abdominis. We also have internal and external obliques on the sides of our mid-section and the transverse abdominis deep to it all. Training these muscles correctly not only ensures an tight stomach but a strong, erect and supportive spine. Ultimately, training the abs right, enables you to strengthen the body’s own natural corset. This is demonstrated by the interconnections of muscles in the low-back and abdominal wall. The key is understanding how to do the exercises properly. Before you get on the floor to start exercising, I recommend knowing your initial functional strength level. I have been using this test for years with both professional and Olympic athletes. To perform the first test, which tests the upper abs, we start in the traditional hook lying position or bent knee position. (see fig. 1) Do not brace your feet on anything. If you can cross your arms on your chest and perform a full sit up, you have 60% of your upper ab strength. If perform the same sit-up with the arms clasped behind your head, with your elbows open you have 80% and with the arm extended over the head (biceps near your ears) you have 100% of your upper abdominal strength. Now lets get to the lower abs. Here you start on your back with your legs in the air making an “L”.(see fig.2) Knees are straight and hips are flexed. Right know your L/S is flat against the ground. Slowly start to lower your legs straight down and at the moment you lower back arches and comes off the floor will represents how much strength of your lower abs you have. (see fig 3) Now that you know were you are in the mix of things, let’s talk training. It is well known to therapists and trainers that when a muscle contracts to perform an action, there is usually the help of ancillary muscles to aid in the task, especially if you are fatigued. These muscles substitute unconsciously and are known as back-up patterns in the Central Nervous System. In physical therapy we call them synergy and overflow patterns.Well for years, the eastern block countries have understood this concept and have used it successfully to increase the strength of a contraction and increase the performance of a skill. Try squeezing a small pliable ball between your knees while doing a sit up or crunch. Squeeze the adductors consistently throughout the entire exercise. This applies a downward and outward force on the pelvis and it forces your abs to contract against an opposite force, thus making it harder. You can use this same concept when performing hanging leg raises or even crunches. The simple addition of the groin muscles contracting has been known to further emphasize abdominal recruitment in the Bulgarian literature. Another approach to the crunch is to place the hip flexors in the active insufficient position. This is so they can’t assist. To try this technique, lay on your back in the traditional crunch position with the feet unanchored on the floor. Place the bottoms of your feet together, so your knees aim out to the sides as if you were doing the butterfly stretch. Now try to perform crunches. (see fig. 4) Anatomically, the hip flexors (HF) are known as an external rotator. If we bring the legs into full external rotation it cannot contract or be used in the crunch from this position. This is the idea of active insufficiency. The muscle is actively insufficient. If you want to further negate the HF, which always seems to bet the culprit muscle in abdominal exercises, you can perform The Janda Sit-Up. This is where you take advantage of the exercise principle call reciprocal inhibition. Here we take advantage of the fact that when the hip extensors are engaged, the body reflexively shuts the HF off from contraction. If you don’t understand this concept, try making a full biceps and triceps contraction simultaneously. You will realize that as you flex your arm in making a muscle, your tri’s must stretch. Can you even think of contracting your triceps while flexing your Bi’s, NO. This is Reciprocal Inhibition. To Begin, start in the initial crunch position, we have talked about previously. Now dig your heel down and inward towards your body firing your hamstrings and glutes and start crunching. You will find you cannot do as many as you are used to and you cannot come up as high. Shut your ego off and chase the burn! By understanding these principles you may find you can apply them to different exercises. For more killer abdominal exercise see AWESOME ABS II.