Famously Misunderstood: The Abdominals
In sports performance, having visible abs is like having flames on your car, while it may look cool, it doesn’t make it go faster. Whether you see someone’s abdominals or not simply depends on the person’s percentage of fat. So, having visible abdominals does not mean that they are necessarily strong or efficient.
It is important to know that in order to solicit the abdominal muscles, it is not enough to simply bend your torso through abdominal sit-ups (the 6 pack muscles). Indeed, several other muscles make up our belly, including the transverse abdomen and the external and internal oblique muscles. These muscles are present on different layers of our belly. In addition to helping us when we bend our torso, they also stabilize our movements when walking, maintain good intra-abdominal pressure and help maintain good posture.
Knowing that the abs are only visible depending on the percentage of fat and not the exercises performed, it is important to eliminate the following myth:
“You have to do exercises that target the lower abdominals to eliminate fat from the lower belly.”
There are two important mistakes in this statement. First, it is not possible to isolate the contraction of the lower right abdomen, because this muscle has a single innervation, therefore, the whole muscle contracts in its entirety. Second, the contraction of a muscle does not decrease the specific fat mass in one place. In other words, you cannot really control where the fat will be burned. In short, it is not necessary to perform 500 sit-ups a day to specifically target and reduce the waist.
Speaking of sit-ups, why do crunches at all? With the exception of some specific sports such as kayaking and rock climbing, we do not need to be resistant or strong when it come to our abs and bending our torso. Maintaining an active lifestyle can maintain sufficient muscle health in all the major areas without emphasizing this region in particular. In addition, it is not uncommon to involve the ilio-psoas when doing sit-ups, muscles that have an insertion in the lower back. Often, they become tense, which increases the risk of back injuries.
Should abdominal exercises be performed at each training session? This is a question asked very often in a kinesiologists’ office.
It is important to remember that the abdominals are like all other muscles. Some might tell you that they are mostly composed of slow muscle fibers, so they can better support endurance exercises. However, in my opinion, we simply have to go back to the basics. As mentioned above, the abdominals are extremely solicited just in maintaining good posture. So, as soon as we perform a deadlift, a squat, a weightlifting movement, plyometric jumping movements, or even simple movements like sitting and bending, the muscles of the abdomen will be called upon (if the posture is optimal). The abdominals work much more often than we think. It is, therefore, not necessary to target them specifically during each training session. Like any muscle, they must have time to rest and recover.
Personally, I find it particularly interesting for both casual and top athletes to include lumbar exercises along with their abdominal exercises at the end of a workout. This is intended to establish a muscular balance and to allow a more complete solicitation of the muscles around the spine (especially the lumbar) to reduce the risk of injury. What is the point of having strong and effective abdominals if the opposite muscles (in the back) are weak? Everything is a question of balance.
In order to have abdominal exercises adapted to your health condition and/or your choice of sport, consult a health specialist, a specialist in physical activity or a kinesiologist.
Jonathan Harvey, kinesiologist
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