Written by Jamie Bantleman
Most people will perform a multitude of abdominal exercises believing that ANY of them will sculpt ALL of them. Usually the reality of this is complete obliteration of the upper division of the Rectus Abdominis and really tight hip flexors from performing lots of Sit Up, Crunch and Leg Raising Variations. Even the most amazing, impressive or advanced exercises intended to equalise tension in those lower abs as much as upper will prove ineffective if your not understanding how to really ‘activate’ your lower abs before engaging in said exercises. Hopefully by the end of this article we can get you understanding If you are, Why your not and How to activate your lower abdominals and help you sculpt your Rectus Abdominis.
Some of the reasons as to why you may not have been activating your lower abs could be:
» An Excessive Anterior Pelvic Tilt
» A Significant Lordotic Curve in the Spine
» Diastasis Recti (separation of the stomach muscles)
» Painful Intestinal Inflammation (as pain inhibits sensory motor signals)
How do we resolve the issue …
Well if the issue is separation of the stomach muscles due to pregnancy or a ‘expanded waistband’ then if caught early enough a series of pelvic floor exercises can be undertaken in a bid to draw the muscles back together, however if the separation is 2/3 fingers wide, then surgery may need to be a consideration, as this can lead to a weak spine through lack of frontal core support and also prove unsupportive for internal organs. With painful intestinal inflammation this may be an intolerance issue so diet will need to be addressed in order to eliminate the cause and then most probably a ‘gut rebuild’ would need to be performed using supplements that promote digestive health would be advisable to help build gut bacteria and improve pancreatic enzyme production. However with lordotic curvature and/or anterior pelvic tilt we must first learn how to manually engage our core then we must initiate a posterior pelvic tilt before commencing in any abdominal exercise intended to ‘activate’ those lower abs.
When referring to the lower abs we need to understand that we are not referring to individual muscles but part of a collection of 8 rectangular blocks called the Rectus Abdominis that eventually may form the classic 6 pack or 8 pack if your very lean. Whilst we’re focusing on sculpting your lower abs it doesn’t hurt to give consideration to your external obliques that form the deep muscular V shape at the base of your Rectus Abdominis as these will complete the sculpted lower abdomen your trying to create.
There are 9 innervations in the Rectus Abdominis but when addressing the lower abdominals from the umbilicus and below we simply need to engage two, the iliohypogastric nerve and the ilioinguinal nerve. Usually generic bad posture over time and/or additional contra indications when we train or perform everyday activities close off sensory motor function to our lower abdominals due to more dominant upper abdominal engagement. Therefore rendering them inactive for the most part, however all is not lost with careful training we can regain neurological function once again to this area!
Before we begin to work on the physicality’s of sculpting your lower abs we possibly need to draw attention to how we’re actually going to see these amazing abs after all the hard work you’ve put in. Unfortunately it’s difficult to maintain abs all year long unless your nutrition is on point, abs stand strong when your lean and slightly dehydrated however this is not maintainable for most for long periods of time unless you full time job is working as a physique model! We can only but aim high though as the benefits of increasing strength to the entire of the Rectus Abdominis far outweigh whether you can see them 365 days a year.
Tips for success…
» Hit your water targets as water will help cleanse your liver of toxins that build up as damaged cells and retention will cloud the visibility of your abs.
» Insulin and cortisol regulation through good nutrition, recovery, healthy lifestyle and a low stress environment.
» Gut health needs to be optimal to reduce risk of gut inflammation, sensory motor inhibitors and more unnecessary water retention.
» Get your 8 hours – a minimum of 8 hours is suggested to help balance those pesky hormones ghrelin and leptin responsible for making you feel full or increase sugar cravings.
» Don’t forget your supplements the following MyProtein Supplements can help reduce inflammation, promote gut health and and reduce damaged cell build up. Magnesium Citrate, Omega 3, Pancreatin, L-Glutamine, Vitamin C, Total Nutri Greens, N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine, Glycine.
So let’s get you ‘activating’ your lower abs by following this series of small movements …
» Lie on the floor and place a hand under the small of your back, most will have a neutral curve, some may have a more significant arch. Begin to pull your belly button down as if drawing it towards your spine to engage your core and try to hold the tension you have created.
» Whilst holding this initial movement follow by ‘tucking’ your pelvis into a posterior pelvic tilt, the result should be you have flattened the small of your back into your hand. Again try to hold the tension whilst also holding your core position.
» If you practise abdominal exercises you should know what it feels like to engage an abdominal muscle so after initiating the first two steps work on holding the tension in the lower of your Rectus Abdominis in an isometric hold for 5 seconds at a time and repeat 20 times per set, maybe completing 5 sets. This will need to be performed regularly for a progression of two weeks minimum before commencing with concentrated lower abdominal exercises, if you have a weakness in this area.
However if you feel confident with progressing onto concentrated exercises but you don’t know where to start I have included a few of my favourites to get you going. These can be used as short abs blasts or add ons to your current programme.
|A1||Isometric Pelvic Tilt (activation work)||3||10||1-1-5-0||05s|
|B1||90/90 Hip Lift||3||12||15s<hold||20s|
|C1||Bent Knee Side Plank (alt.)||3||3||30s<hold||20s|
|D1||Dead Bug (return to floor)||3||10||1-1-2-0||30s|
|E1||Plank (from elbows)||3||3||30s<hold||20s|
|A2||Dead Bugs (hold limbs off floor)||3||10||1-1-2-0||30s|
|B1||Reverse Crunches (floor)||3||10||1-1-2-0||5s|
|C1||Cross Body Crunch||3||20 alternating||1-1-1-1||30s|
|C2||Plank (on Swiss ball/stabilisation)||3||45-60s<||1-45-0-20||30s|
|A1||Reverse Crunches (inclined bench)||4||12-15||1-3-3-0||05s|
|A2||Garhammers (inclined bench)||4||12-15||1-2-3-0||20s|
|B2||Hanging Leg Raises||4||12-15||1-1-3-0||20s|
|C1||Single Leg Pulses||3||12-15||1-0-1-0||05s|