The abdominals are a body part that are often focused on but mainly for the wrong reasons. The appearance of a six pack is thought of as signifying a strong healthy core but this represents only one muscle in a group of many.

The abdominal muscles consist of four layers of different muscles. The most inner level, the transverse abdominus, is responsible for maintaining an upright posture. The inner and outer obliques are responsible for rotating, twisting and sideways movements of the body. Finally, the rectus abdominus, the six pack, is responsible for forward movement of the upper body. It is important to note that the beloved six pack is only one muscle in the abdominal group and by no means the most important. For a strong, healthy looking core all four of these muscle groups should be focused on.

Abdominal muscles should be worked from deepest to most superficial.
The transverse muscles are the deepest abdominal muscle and the hardest to target. As a result these should be worked first. To work the transverse muscles exercises such as the hover, fitball hover or fitball roll should be used.

Next the inner and outer obliques should be targeted. These can be worked with twisting movements such as oblique sit ups, standing side bends, floor side bends or a side leg raise.

Finally the rectus abdominus, or the six pack, is ready to be worked.
The age old crunches, leg raises and reverse curls are still the most effective exercises. Fitballs are a good tool to use when training abs as they force you to tighten your core muscles for the entire duration of the exercise. A rope pulldown is also a good exercise to throw in once a week for an added ab blast.

Important notes to remember when training abdominals;
- Always train your core at the end of your workout. A strong fresh core is needed for support while you train the rest of your body to help you maintain true form.
- Always draw the navel in towards the spine. This will activate the deeper muscles and ensure that you are working all the abdominal muscles at once.
- When performing crunches there is no need to lift the upper body higher than 45 degrees from the position started. When going past 45 degrees the hip flexors take over as the prime muscle group doing the work, giving the abdominals a rest.
- Slow down - keep the movement slow in crunch work - 3 seconds up and 3 seconds down is a good pace. By not letting momentum take over you will be working your abdominals harder without doing any extra work.
- There is no need to perform huge amounts of repetitions while training the abdominals. The abdominals respond in the same way as other muscles in the body - to get an increase in size you must increase the amount of weight you lift. You would not perform 100 repetitions of a bicep curl to get a better looking bicep. 2 or 3 sets of 20 repetitions is plenty. If 20 repetitions are easy to perform a weight such as a medicine ball or a plate should be held behind the head. The weight should be heavy enough to make 20 repetitions hard but still achievable.
- There is no such thing as upper or lower abs. The rectus abdominus starts at the pelvis and inserts into the ribs and sternum. For the muscle to contract it must contract along the whole length of the muscle, from the sternum to the pelvis. It is not possible for the muscle to contract in only the upper or lower portion.
- Always balance abdominal work with lower back exercises. The abs and lower back work together to form a strong core for the body. If one is stronger than the other the body will try to overcompensate and injuries will occur.

Shaun Brodison
Secrets to Effective Weight Loss

About Author / Additional Info:
Author Shaun Brodison is a qualified exercise physiologist through the Australian Association of Exercise and Sports Science (AAESS). Born in South Africa, he has lived in Australia since he was young. He now resides in Bunbury, Western Australia. He has personally trained over 1,000 individuals and takes great joy in helping people work through the things holding them back to help them meet their goals.