Ageless Abs

By Andrea DuCane

While kettlebells and any kind of lifting for that matter can develop strong abs indirectly, we teach direct abdominal exercise.  A strong posterior and anterior chain are fundamentals of “The Ageless Body.”  Having one without the other is like pitching one side of a tent.  The structure is unstable and will lead to problems.

General Truths About a “Six Pack”

First of all, getting a six pack requires more than just abdominal crunches or planks. The most important element to getting a six-pack is diet. Yes, I know, no one wants to hear it. We all want to believe “spot reducing or target training” alone with give us those washboard abs. It just ain’t going to happen without a proper, low carb and calorie restricted diet. So if a six-pack is at the top of your body-comp list, start with a diet overhaul.

Point number one, is to realize is that some people will just never get a six-pack. Call it genetics, or body type, but honestly, some people will never get one. Other people, with work, can achieve great looking abs.

Point number two, just because someone doesn’t model a picture-perfect washboard doesn’t not mean they don’t have very strong core and abdominal strength.

Training Yourself Out of a Six Pack

Doing crunches incorrectly leads to even MORE protruding of the abdominal wall.  So it is vitally important to understand how to train the abs correctly unless you enjoy futility.

In order to train the abs optimally, first let’s look at what the abs are and their different parts.

The Anatomy of the Abs

Let’s take a very brief look at what makes up the abdominal wall. There are 3 basic muscles groups, Rectus Abdominis, Internal/External Obliques and the Transverus Abdominus.

The Rectus Abdominis, are the most superficial of all the Ab muscles. These are the muscles lying just under the skin (or uhumm, fat); they are what we think of when we see a six-pack. You are actually seeing these muscles under the skin, and if they are strong and defined you’ll get the lines of the six-pack. The main purpose of this muscle is to flex us forward, into a crunch for instance.

The next set of muscles, I’ve lumped together, the Internal and External Obliques, these muscles lie underneath the Rectus and they flex side to side and rotate the torso.

The Transverus Abdominus is the deepest of the 3 abdominal muscles. They are the muscles responsible for pulling our belly in, you know when you’re walking along the beach and you see an attractive person you want to impress. Or you are trying to put on your tightest jeans and you have to “suck it all in”. These muscles also stabilize the pelvis and are very important for lower back health.

The Correct Order of Ab Training

Now that we have a basic overview of what makes up our abdominals, let me explain why doing just one type of ab exercise – at the expense of others OR doing them improperly will not lead you to develop “bullet-proof abs of steel” and a six pack!

You do have to do flexion exercises in order to develop and define the outer most Rectus muscles… the “six-packers”. Planks alone will not give you those, but you must do your flexion exercises whether they are crunches or hanging leg raises or tucks correctly.

Flexion

The KEY to getting the most from your crunch is to engage the T.A (transversus abs) BEFORE you engage the outer abs. Otherwise, what you are doing is TRAINING your Rectus to pouch outward. The result is a protruding, shapeless – but possibly strong abdominal core.

Not only will you not get the abs of your dreams, you risk not engaging the pelvic floor muscles, which fire when you use your TA. You also need to engage the T.A. before and while performing your planks.

How to Activate the Tranverse Abdominus – The Source of Ageless Abs

Many people don’t’ know how to engage them and since they are the deepest you have to really focus on them. I’m going to give you an exercise that will teach you how to feel them engage.

Stand 6-8” away from a wall, with your feet hip distance apart. Round your back and press your lower back firmly into the wall. You will be “slouching or rounding forward. Get a balloon and holding it with one hand, hold it to your mouth and exhale keeping your tongue close to the roof of your mouth. Inhale and don’t let any air out and exhale again. Repeat until the balloon is filled with air and then release the air.

While you are exhaling you will tighten the muscle just above your public bone that runs across from hip to hip. You will keep firmly pressing your lower back into the wall. You should feel a tightening of that muscle with each exhale. As you breath in expand your ribcage and DO NOT let your lower belly push out.

Once you have learned how to engage the TA at the wall you are ready to try in the crunch position. Lie on your back with knees bent. You can start with the balloon breathing as that seems to help keep the lower abs in and tight.

When applying this to your crunches your focus should be on pressing your lower back into the floor and tightening your lower abs AS you crunch up… Do not let your abs push up as you lift up.

I guarantee you will have abs of steel. Don’t forget to add other oblique exercises as well as planks, into your mix.

The Big Four and Programming Them

1)  TA Activation: Lie on back, knees bent. Inhale and as you exhale press your lower back firmly into the floor, slightly lifting your tailbone off the floor, but keeping your head down.  Inhale release, do  reps, then add lifting your heels off the floor or feet once you have your lower back pressing down. Hold a second or two and then lower feet/heels and relax.  Try NOT to let your lower abdominals bulge out when you lift your feet. The lower abs that run from hip bone to hip bone (Transverse Abdominus ) must be kept tight and as flat as possible.  They must engage first.
2) Hollow Position, leg lowering: Lie on back, begin as with the previous drill then lift your feet up toward the ceiling, hands by sides. Begin by lowering one leg at a time alternating your legs slowly. Keep the lower back pressed firmly into the floor and again try not to let your TA bulge out. When this is easy, lower both legs at the same time.
3) Hollow Position with KB held overhead:  Floor press two (or one) kettlebells, keep the kettlebells in line with your sternum, not over your face or chest.  Press your lower back into the floor as in previous exercises, keeping your upper abs and chest and lats tight, lower one or both legs as low as possible while keeping your lower back pressed into the floor.
4) Hard Style Plank:  Assume the plank position on forearms and toes, imagine your are pressing your lower back into the floor, to flatten it out, you can also think of doing a slight posterior tilt of the pelvis, at the same time pull your elbows down toward your feet to engage the lats, squeeze your butt cheeks together as if pinching a coin between them, keep your neck neutral by looking at your hands or slightly above them. Squeeze your abs tight, press your hells back and tighten your entire body.
Programming It
This can be done 3-4 times a week. In between drills stretch your abs or “chop” your belly with your hands. You do not have to do them for more that 30 seconds at a time. You can repeat each drill twice or go from one to the other.  Stop when you lose the ability of keeping your lower back pressed into the floor or flat in the plank.

Putting Ab and Kettlebell Training Together

Strong Abs Meet Strong Hips

In addition to learning the fundamentals of ab and kettlebell training, Andrea will also be giving her Pain Free Shoulder and Hip techniques – a host of diagnostic and corrective drills for ditching aches and pains in your hips and shoulders at her two day workshops in New York City and San Diego this October.

Per Andrea’s Request, the group sizes are extremely limited to insure the highest quality training.

Go here for more information and to reserve your spot.

3 thoughts on “Ageless Abs

  1. ” Otherwise, what you are doing is TRAINING your Rectus to pouch outward. The result is a protruding, shapeless – but possibly strong abdominal core.”

    What can one do to correct it if this has already occurred???

    • Geoff if your belly is already pouching out you might want to stop your current style of ab training. Start from the beginning here with Andrea’s tips and training ideas. Sometimes we all need to let go of what we have been doing for something that works correctly. I know I’ve had to put some programs on the back burner while I work to bring myself to a level that I can complete them. Train well no ego starting from the beginning your body and health will thank you.

    • Hi Geoff,

      Focus on the first “subtle” exercise of pulling your abs in tight and pressing your back into the floor. Place your hands just inside your hipbones and feel for the muscle to engage…. stop just before the “pooch”.
      Keep focusing all your ab and even deadlift movements by initiating with pulling and tighting the lower abs just before you engage the bigger muscles.

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