Abdominal muscles are in the center of the body, sometimes called the core. They are essential for good posture and preventing lower back problems. A toned, firm core is not only sexy, but also a sign of health. The abdominal area is composed of four muscle groups: the rectus abdominis, obiques, internal obliques and the transverse abdominis. Work the abdominals through the full range of motion with these starter exercises five days a week for 30 minutes. Once you start to see results, you can move up to more challenging exercises.
The rectus abdominis runs vertically up the core from the pubic bone to the chest. These muscles affect the lower back. They pull the hips toward the torso and the torso to the hips. They also tilt the pelvis. These muscles help performance in running, jumping and lifting activities, according to Kurt Brungardt, author of "The Complete Book of Abs."
Exercise ball crunches target the rectus abdominis. Using the ball engages the abs more and uses the legs less. Start with your back on the ball and your legs bent at the knees. Place your hands behind your neck and lift your head toward the ceiling. Tighten and squeeze the abdominals at the top of the movement. Return and repeat for three sets of 15 repetitions.
The obiques run diagonally to the rectus abdominis and are responsible for twisting motions. Bicycle crunches are one of the most effective exercises for toning the obliques, according to a study by Peter Francis, PhD. and Jennifer Davis, M.A., at the San Diego State University Biomechanics Lab.
Lie flat on the floor and press your lower back to the floor. Place your hands at the sides of your head, just behind the ears. The knees should be at a 45-degree angle to the floor with your feet flat. Rotate your body up and touch your left elbow to your right knee. Return and repeat with the other elbow. Continue rotating for 15 repetitions on each elbow. Do three sets.
The internal obliques are under the obliques and run diagonally in an opposed direction. They aid in trunk twisting movements. A good exercise for these is the captain’s chair, which is one of the top three abdominal exercises for strengthening abs, according to the American Council on Exercise.
The captain’s chair is a machine with padded arm holds, padded back and footpads for the feet. The arms support the body while the knees are raised to the chest. Return to the standing position, but do not use the footpads and repeat for three sets of 15 repetitions.
The transverse abdominis runs across the abdominal wall and underneath the external and internal obliques. This is a difficult muscle to isolate. One exercise that targets this area is blowing up balloons. Another is called the vacuum. The vacuum is done by sitting on the floor with the back straight. Exhale and pull the navel into the spine. Hold for 20 seconds, release and repeat for three sets of three repetitions.
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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.