I have a great tip for you today that I’ve always known but just recently rediscovered based on a great article I read by Pilates guru Alycea Ungaro. Since my wife Lisa’s Pilates studio is connected to my chiropractic office, I constantly hear the instructors implying their clients to lift their abdominals in and up as they contract them. But because I hear it all the time, I tuned it out, and forgot how important this verbal / mental cue is to really feeling your abs working completely with full stimulation.
Most people who exercise know the feeling of “crunching” the abs as done in the popular ab crunch exercise. A bodybuilder will do the same thing when flexing the abs in an abdominal pose or when you bear down on your abs when resisting a punch to the gut! This activates your six pack muscles, the rectus abdominis, as you flex slightly forward in this ab contraction.
What we want to activate to really feel our abs is the transverse abdominis (TA) muscles, your bodies deepest abdominal muscles that are your natural “weight lifting belt”. I love that some even call them your inborn “Spanx” muscles.
Here’s the anatomy…
Notice how the TA wraps around your waist fully like a girdle and fills the waist space from ribs to pelvis. When you learn to contract your TA muscles properly, you start to build tone in those muscles which creates a hollower waist for you, much like a strong cinching girdle.
So let’s review the cue you’ll tell yourself to help you feel these muscles contracting. That cue is pull your navel (center) IN AND UP! That’s right, you’ll feel your abdominal wall flatten and lift up into your ribcage. Much like Arnold in the featured image. Or, like this classic pose by Mr. Olympia, Frank Zane…
You can try this ab vacuum maneuver standing, seated or lying supine. As you pull your center in and up, breathe out, and try not to use your chest and shoulders to pull up. You will immediately improve your posture with this move and stand a little bit taller. After a few reps, you should feel a nice burn at the sides of your waist and ribs.
One of my favorite places to complete a few reps is sitting in my car at stoplights on my morning drive around town. I get a good workout and the red lights seem to turn faster! I suggest you do sets of five repetitions holding for a ten count on contraction. As you breathe in, let your abs and waist relax as much as possible to get a full range of motion.
Even give this a try when you are doing any regular workout exercises as this awareness will help you brace yourself with proper form on many a variety of exercises. Let me know if you have any questions or need help finding these special muscles. I hope your waist size reduces as a result!