Gut Buster

In This Chapter

V Comparing abs versus flab

Understanding the rectus abdominis Losing the midsection myths Joining the washboard world

Here's a bit of abdominal irony to ponder: As a nation we seem to loathe fat people even though we're the most overweight nation in the Western world. A portly belly might have been a sign of prosperity in the Far East, but in our culture a flat stomach is a prized possession, despite the fact that most people refuse to do what it takes to get there.

Socioeconomic implications aside, there are several solid reasons to build a washboard stomach: 1) it looks good; 2) it will make you feel better, especially if you have an ailing back; 3) you'll be stronger in the weight room and on the playing field; 4) you may become a famous underwear model.

Before we give you the lowdown on building up your midsection, let's review our anatomy. The first, and most common mistake, is referring to the abdominals (the "abs") as "the stomach." The abs are the muscles in your midsection; your stomach is the organ that processes the food you consume. Ab exercises have traditionally included sit-ups and leg lifts; stomach exercises include dining in a French restaurant.

Your abdominals consist of four muscles:

>- The rectus abdominis, the largest muscle in the abs, is a wide, flat sheet of muscle that runs from just under the lower part of your chest to just below your belly button. When you do abdominal crunches, the old rectus abdominis muscle is hard at work. (For more on crunches, read on.) It also keeps your spine from slip-sliding around when you're exercising other body parts.

>- The internal obliques and external obliques, which run diagonally along your sides, not only assist the rectus in curling the spine, but also twist and bend your upper body. These muscles are central in any sport involving upper body rotation—golf, baseball, kayaking, and many more—and they are integral in a strengthening program, especially if you have a bad back. Why? These muscles wrap around your waist and, when properly conditioned, provide much-needed support for your lower back. In essence, the obliques are the world's most comfortable, form-fitting girdle.

> The transversus abdominis, which sounds like a phrase from a Latin Mass, is the deepest of all the muscles in your abs. Located directly below the rectus abdominis, it is called into action when you sneeze, cough, or exhale forcefully. There are no specific exercises you can do to target this muscle, but you can strengthen the transversus abdominis by forcefully exhaling during the positive phase of your ab exercises.

Fire Up Your Core

Fire Up Your Core

If you weaken the center of any freestanding structure it becomes unstable. Eventually, everyday wear-and-tear takes its toll, causing the structure to buckle under pressure. This is exactly what happens when the core muscles are weak – it compromises your body’s ability to support the frame properly. In recent years, there has been a lot of buzz about the importance of a strong core – and there is a valid reason for this. The core is where all of the powerful movements in the body originate – so it can essentially be thought of as your “center of power.”

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