Your Best Abs - Here's What You Need to Know About Your Abs

Ab anatomy
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Working Your Abs

There's no doubt the abs tend to be the highlighted body part whenever we talk about exercise and weight loss.


Because this is the area we all tend to store excess fat and, as a result, we spend a lot of time doing ab exercises in the hopes of getting flat abs.

Unfortunately, that doesn't really work, but let's back up a little and learn more about your abs.  They contain some of the most important muscles in your body - Muscles that keep your spine safe and your body strong, so it's worth knowing what you're working and why.

Your Abs

The abdominals are made up of different muscles on the front, side and middle of the abdominal area. When we think of the abs, most of us are focused on the flat muscle that travels down the front of the belly, from just below the chest to the pelvic area. This muscle, called the rectus abdominis, is often called the "six-pack," because there are three tendinous creases there that separate the muscle, giving it that washboard look.

The rectus abdominis is responsible for spine flexion, which involves bringing the shoulders toward the hips, as in a crunch, and is involved in most abdominal exercises like crunches. Which, frankly, are my least favorite exercise for the abs.  What I like?  More functional, standing ab exercises.

There are other muscles beside the six-pack, though. 

The internal and external obliques are located on either side of the body, attaching on to the ribs, and are responsible for spine flexion and rotation.

Whenever you turn or rotate the torso, the obliques are involved. The external obliques run diagonally (in the same direction as if you were putting your hand in a pocket), and the internal obliques lie under and almost at a right angle to the external obliques.

The transverse abdominis is actually an internal muscle forming the innermost layer of the abdominal wall.

This muscle wraps around the spine and is involved in abdomen compression, rather than movements of the torso.

Why Should You Work Your Abs?

While many people think ab exercises will lead to a flatter belly, the idea of spot reducing fat from the abs is a myth. In reality, you have to lose overall body fat to reduce fat over the abs.

That doesn't mean that you shouldn't strengthen the abs. Your abs are responsible for a variety of important duties, including rotation and stabilization of the spine. Strong abs will help protect you from injury, improve your posture and make daily activities easier.

How Often Should You Train Your Abs?

Many people think you have to work the abs every day, but you should treat them like any other muscle group, working them 2 to 3 times a week, with at least one rest day in between. It isn't necessary to do hundreds of reps in order to work your abs efficiently. The ab muscles are just like the other muscles in your body, so high-volume training isn't going to give you better results.

Choose exercises challenging enough that you can't do more than 15 or 20 reps.

What Exercises Should You Do?

Some of the most common ab exercises include crunches, bicycles and planks, but there are a variety of exercises that will challenge every part of your abs. Check out the Best Ab Exercises for targeting all the muscles of your core.


American Council on Exercise. (2003). ACE Personal Trainer Manual, 3rd Edition. San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise.

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