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Effective Abdominal Training

The abdominals are one of the most looked at muscle groups, so it is important to know how to perform effective abdominal training. They have the ability to protect the body in many different ways and are used in almost all movements. Keeping the core strong allows the entire body to be strong. If the core is not firing efficiently, the entire body is unstable. Conditioning all starts from the middle and works its way out. Having strong abdominals is clearly an important tool.

Before you can train the abs effectively, understanding the anatomy and the different functions of the muscle group is key. All the abs work in different motions to stabilize the spine. When training, all layers should be targeted.

  1. Transverse Abdominis: This muscle is one of the more, if not most, important muscles in the body. It acts as a seatbelt encasing almost the entire trunk. It is the deepest layer of all four of the abdominals, with the main action being bracing, rotation, flexion, and lateral flexion of the trunk.
  2. Internal Oblique: The next layer out is the internal oblique. The internal oblique is responsible for mainly ipsilateral, or same side, rotation with a little bit of lateral flexion of the trunk.
  3. External Oblique: The external obliques sit on top of the internal obliques and are responsible for contralateral, or opposite side, rotation with a little bit of lateral flexion, similarly to the internal obliques. The external obliques of the left work with the internal obliques of the right to rotate the body to the right and vice versa.
  4. Rectus Abdominis: Lastly is the rectus abdominis, more commonly known as the “six pack”. The rectus abdominis is the most superficial layer of the abdominals. It works to flex the trunk and stabilize the pelvis. It is the smallest of the abdominal muscles and does fewer actions.

Effective Abdominal Training

Many people train the abdominals with endless crunch variations. Unfortunately, these really only target the rectus abdominis, and maybe some fibers of the obliques. These ab workouts with only exercises consisting of spinal flexion are not effective at protecting the core and increasing stability. 

The best way to train the abdominals is working deep to superficial. This means from the inside out, starting with the bigger muscles first. You want to start with the transverse abdominis because it is the largest of the muscles and requires more energy. This ensures that the muscle involved in protecting the entire trunk is trained before the core gets fatigued and you are most fresh. 


First is the transverse abdominis. Exercises that target this muscle are mainly isometric exercises where the core is engaged to maintain a position. The king of all exercises to target the transverse abdominis is the dead bug. To perform the dead bug, a flat spine must be maintained while lying on your back with your legs extended past 90 degrees. Other exercises that target the transverse abdominis is the plank, pallof press, and bird dog.

Next are the internal and external obliques. Crunches target some fibers of the obliques, but rotational exercises are best. Cable rotations, russian twists, plank hip dips, rotational medicine ball passes / throws, there are so many rotational exercises! 

Lastly is the rectus abdominis. As stated earlier, this muscle is responsible for spinal flexion. This means any kind of crunch when the sternum and pelvis come together is going to target this muscle. Leg raises where the trunk is not moving do not target the rectus abdominis and may just be tightening the hip flexors. Exercises where the movement is all in the trunk is best for the rectus abdominis, such as stability or bosu ball crunches, where the spine is going from extension to flexion without a lot of movement in the legs.

Every muscle needs to be addressed to effectively train the abdominals. This ensures that the entire core musculature is strong and can keep the whole body safe and balanced. For more info, talk to our certified personal training now!