The Six-Pack Solution
If you’re performing hundreds of sit-ups every day and still not developing that perfect set of washboard abs that seems so hard to attain, don’t worry. You may not see them, but you already have them. Contrary to popular belief, everyone has a beautiful six-pack just waiting to be discovered. Like a sculptor chiseling away at a slab of granite to unleash a beautiful work of art, depending on how you eat and the exercises you perform, chisel out your own masterpiece. It takes a little bit of time and some patience, but your abdominals are there. They just need the right motivation (i.e. exercise and nutrition) in order to show themselves.
The Path Towards Discovery
The first step towards attaining six-pack abs is to gain an understanding of the muscle you are trying to work and how best to strengthen and develop said muscle. The abdominals (or abs as they are often called) are made up of a number of unique muscles that have a variety of different functions.
The first section is referred to as the rectus abdominis, which is what most people know as the “six-pack.” This muscle extends from the breast bone all the way down to the pubic bone. Its primary function is to flex the spine, but it also helps to rotate the body at the waist and also helps with bending to the side. When you perform various types of crunches and leg raises, you are generally focusing on this area as you work towards the all important chiseled six-pack.
The next muscle group is known as the obliques, which are composed up of the internal and external obliques. These muscles primarily attach at the rib cage and travel down to the pubic bone. Both of these muscles work together to allow you to bend at the waist and they also work to twist and rotate your body. When you perform oblique crunches, side bends or any sort of twisting crunch you are working this section of your abdominals.
The transverse abdominis is the least known of the abdominal muscles and is also the least worked as a result. This muscle is the deepest section of the abdominal muscle group and acts as a corset around the spine. It helps to protect the spine by offering spinal stability and is crucial for proper lifting mechanics. Whenever you suck your abs in toward your spine, you are targeting and working this muscle. The most popular abs exercises like the crunch and leg raises do little to target this area which is why it is regularly underdeveloped. Without proper conditioning, a muscular imbalance is created which leads to a strong outer wall of the abdominals with a weaker inner layer supporting the spine. This can cause many lower back injuries which is why strengthening the transverse abdominis is vital to the recovery of many patients with injuries to the spine.
Nutrition: The Key to the Six-Pack
One of the most overlooked factors in obtaining a set of rock solid abs is proper diet and nutrition. As stated earlier, everyone has abdominals, but for some people they are lying under a layer of thick body fat. In order for the abdominals to see the light of day, diet becomes just as important as exercise. You can do as many sit-ups and crunches as you want, but if you go home at night and open a bag of chips and down a case of beer, you might as well stick to the other six-pack.
Losing weight, and body fat by extension, is a numbers game. You have to consume fewer calories than you expend on a daily basis. One pound of fat is about 3500 calories, so that means you will have to burn that many extra calories by the end of a week to lose one pound of fat. This breaks down to about a 500 calorie deficit a day. That’s tough to accomplish through exercise alone no matter how many hours you spend at a gym so proper nutrition is key.
Also keep in mind that in order for your abs to become visible, you will have to be able to get your body fat percentage down around 10 percent or lower. This may vary from person to person, but 10 percent is generally considered the upper level for the abs to maintain visibility. So if you have around 15 to 20 percent body fat (or more), it will take a lot more than crunches for that six-pack to develop. Keep proper nutrition in mind on your journey towards acquiring the perfect set of abs.
Best Exercises to Target Lower Abs
Keep in mind that when talking about the lower abs, the emphasis is still on working the rectus abdominus. There may be ways to target a certain portion of the muscle with some exercises over others, but most of the time the entire rectus abdominus comes into play during a crunching movement. Because this article is focused on the lower abs, a list is presented for the exercises that are best known to target that area of the rectus abdominus specifically.
Hanging Knee Raises
To do this exercise, you will need a chin-up bar (with arm-straps optional). Hang from the bar and let your body fully stretch out. Take a deep breath and curl your knees up towards your chest and really focus on squeezing your abs during the movement. Perform this movement slowly thus eliminating any help from swinging or rocking your legs up. Release the breath as you slowly lower your legs back down. This is an advanced movement so try to do as many as you can until fatigue sets in.
For this exercise, you will need to start off by lying on a mat on the floor. Have your knees bent and put your hands comfortably under the small space under your lower back for support. Take a deep breath and slowly bring your knees up towards your chest. Once again, focus on squeezing the abs throughout this movement as you feel the crunch. Hold this position for a second and then breathe out while slowly lowering your legs back to the starting position. This move can be difficult for people with bad backs, so make sure that if you are experiencing any pain in the lower back to quit this exercise immediately.
Start this movement by lying on the ground and putting your hands comfortably under the small space beneath your lower back. Keeping your legs straight, bring them slightly up off the floor. You can keep a slight bend at the knees if it helps to take pressure off your back. In a nice slow movement, move each leg up and down alternating between the two. Take normal breaths throughout the movement and try for 25 repetitions on each side. Perform 2 to 3 sets if you are able to do so. You can switch up the movement by moving your legs out away from the body and then bring them back in, crossing over each other at the end of the movement. Repeat. Again, this exercise can be strenuous on the lower back, so be careful not to push yourself beyond your limits.
This exercise should also be performed while lying flat on a mat with your hands underneath the space in your lower back. Bring your legs straight up into the air so that they make a 90 degree angle out of your body. You can keep a slight bend at the knees in order to take pressure off the lower back. Breathe in and then breathe out as you slowly lift your legs and hips up vertically in the air towards the ceiling. Squeeze the lower abs and then breathe back in as you slowly lower your legs and hips back to the starting position. Try to get 5 to 10 of these in a row if you can, and work your way up to 2 to 3 sets of each. Once again, be aware of how your back feels during this movement because it is yet another difficult exercise that can put stress on the lower back.
Alternating Leg Walks
This last exercise also requires that you lie flat on the floor with your hands beneath your lower back for support. With your legs straight out (or with a slight bend) in front of you, breathe in and then breathe out as you slowly bring your right leg up to 90 degrees. Focus on squeezing the lower abs for a few seconds, and then slowly lower the leg back down as you take another deep breath in. Breathe out and raise the left leg, then continue to repeat this movement, about 15 to 20 times for each leg. Remember to take it slow and stop if you feel any pain.
RealWomensFitness.com (2011, January 9). The best lower ab exercises for a more defined lower stomach. Retrieved from https://realwomensfitness.com/midsection-exercises/the-best-lower-abs-exercises-for-a-more-defined-lower-stomach/
AskTheTrainer.com (2011, January 9). Best lower ab workout. Retrieved from https://askthetrainer.com/best-lower-ab-workout.html
Buzzle.com (2011, January 9). Best lower ab workout – lower abdominal exercises. Retrieved from https://www.buzzle.com/articles/best-lower-ab-workout-lower-abdominal-exercises.html