If you follow my Instagram (link on homepage), you will be aware that I suffer from lower back pain. I have experienced pain for quite a few years, but because it tends to come and go I have been ignoring it. However recently I have found the pain to be more intense, to the point that I couldn’t lift Odin or even walk down the street. So I recently went to see a myotherapist, who worked wonders, but also informed me that my problem was actually related to my weak abdominals, not my back. I realised that I don’t train abs at all, expect as secondary muscle when training other muscles.
Now the abs are made up of 4 abdominal groups, external oblique, internal oblique, rectus abdominis (the ‘six pack’) and the transversus abdominis. It is important to strengthen all of the groups, otherwise you end up disproportioned.
So let’s look at the importance of having strong abs and not just for the gym, but everyday life…
Lower back pain
As I mentioned, having weak abdominals can be a cause of lower back pain. You can have a very strong back, but if the abdominal muscles are weak it forces the back to do all the work and support the middle section. This overuse can cause pain and discomfort in the lower back. This can be particularly apparent in people who work in an office environment and sit at a desk all day, as we tend to lean forward. The position does not engage the core and puts extra strain on the back.
Unfortunately, many of us suffer from poor posture, often slouching over a desk, because we don’t have the correct muscular support. Strengthening the abdominal muscles provides support to the spine, balancing the body.
Stabilise the core
The core is the starting point for all movements and just about all exercises start with, ‘keep your abs tight.’ It is the centre of the body and essential for creating strength in other areas, as it provides more power to the limbs.
Protects vital organs
Think of abs as the rib cage for the internal organs, they need to help to protect the organs. So it stands to reason, the stronger the better.
Now that we know why strong abs are important, lets looks at some exercises to get you started. (I have put videos of a few abdominal exercises on my Instagram)
Plank – Lie face down with your legs extended and elbows bent, directly under shoulders. Feet should be hip width apart and you should be perched up on your toes. Your body should create a straight line from head to heels. Look slightly forward, brace your abs and hold, aim for 60 seconds.
Side Plank – Start on your side with one elbow on the ground, directly below your shoulder. Keep your feet together and create a straight line from your head to your heels. Hold.
Russian twist – Sit on the floor with bent knees, creating a V shape with your body and thighs. Grab a medicine ball and twist from side to side, keeping you feet on the floor. To make the exercise harder you can raise your feet of the ground slightly.
Hanging knee raises – Hang from a chin up bar, with palms facing out and arms fully extended. Raise your knees to create a 90 degree angle between your upper and lower legs. Lower legs and repeat.
Hanging knee twist – Same position as previous exercise, bring knees up to chest, twist them to the right, then lower back down. Perform the same exercise but to the left.
Cable crunch – Kneel below the high pulley machine. Grasp the rope and pull towards yourself until the rope is next to your ears. Flex at the waist and contract the abs, pulling the rope down so that the elbows go towards the middle of the thigh.
Air bike – Lie on your back, with hands behind your head and legs extended. Raise knee towards your head, whilst pushing the opposite elbow to the knee. Repeat on opposite sides.
Be sure not to over work the abs, like any muscle they need time to rest and recover after a workout. Aim to complete some abdominal exercises 2-3 times a week. I am trying to incorporate 2-3 exercises into my session, 3 times a week. Enjoy!