Abs might be made in the kitchen, but that only tells half the story of why so many people perform endless abs exercises and still don’t see the results they want.
Just because you focus time and effort on a particular body part—more planks and crunches
doesn’t mean your body will respond the way you want. While genetics will always play a factor in how you look, your biggest problem is not your DNA; it’s the exercises you select and how you activate your muscles while performing them.
Unlike other exercises where it might be hard to tell if you’re doing an exercise correctly, it’s easy to “feel” most core movements. And, that makes it easy to think that what you’re doing is working.
But, what you don’t realize is that how you perform the exercises you choose — no matter how much they burn —
make a big difference in the results you see.
Consider these the rules of effective
ab workouts. Follow them, and it’ll ensure that the exercises you do will help prevent injuries like lower back pain and bring out the best in your body.
When people think of bracing their abs, usually it just involves the rectus abdominus, AKA your 6-pack muscle, which runs down the front of your body. This is great if you’re getting ready to be punched in the gut, but it usually also involves some level of spinal flexion (think rounding your back) and decreased involvement of other spinal supporting muscles.
Developing the strongest core possible involves using all of your muscles, not just the ones you think of when you look in the mirror.
If you’re standing up holding a lot of weight during a deadlift, you need a lot more than your six-pack to protect your spine and prevent injury.
How to Build Ab Tension
Try this: sit up nice and tall wherever you are and put your hands on your lower back, one hand on either side of the spine and flat to the muscles beside it.
Flex your abs and see what you feel under your hands.
If you felt nothing, you’re likely only flexing your spine and not engaging everything around your spine. Try to flex again, but this time try to bring every muscle around your waist into the mix. Here’s what you want to experience:
- Feel your ribs pull into your center.
- Force your shoulders to pull back slightly.
- Feel contraction under your hands in your lower back, all while feeling incredibly strong and powerful.
This feeling is the one you want to try to replicate with your exercises. Now comes the tricky part. Inhale and exhale without losing that tension. (Also known as bracing.)
It’s tricky because bracing very hard will restrict your breathing, but without breathing you would likely not fare as well in longer duration exercise. Not to mention, passing out in the gym is generally something you want to avoid unless you’re looking to star in the next viral YouTube video.
How to Make Bracing Easier
The Farmer’s walk teaches you how to brace and keep tension while breathing. Grab two dumbbells or kettlebells, stand tall, grip the handles hard, and take them for a walk for as far as your grip will allow. That’s it, but make sure you practice the bracing and breathing.