A Personal Cheat Sheet for Your Abs

A Personal Cheat Sheet for Your Abs

It’s tempting to start this blog with, “Look 5 pounds thinner instantly!”  Or, “Look younger NOW!”  Or even, “The secret to a great workout!” 

These things could actually be true!  What?  Click bait that is actually true?  (Please excuse a bit of sarcasm here.) 

Truth be told, this isn’t just about abs. (That was a bit of my own click bait.)  Abs refers to the abdominal muscles that run along the front of your torso.  This is really about your core, which plays a key role in just about anything you do.  That’s why they call it your CORE.  As it turns out, getting your core on board actually can help you look thinner, younger, and have better workouts.   

However, many times our core is an afterthought in a workout, coming at the end.  You get to lay down and do some crunches.  Nothing wrong with that, if they are done correctly, of course.  But there’s a lot more to the core than just doing ab crunches.    

Neglecting your core can put you behind the eight ball.  Not only that, you are missing easy and great opportunities to get the upper hand when it comes to keeping in shape.

Just FYI, your core includes muscles of the front and back of your torso, hips, and pelvic floor.  Your core is there to protect your spine and assist your arms and legs.  It is THAT important. 

A Core Example

As an example, your lats, or latissimus dorsi, are big muscles that cover a great deal of the back of your torso .  There are two of them that cover your low back, and part of your sides (swimmers have great lats) in a kind of triangle shape. They are attached to your mid back vertebrae and some lower ribs, as well as the top of your pelvis.  Because of that, they participate in stabilizing your spine, including the infamous low back.  As we know, that area can be a problem for many people.  In addition, they attach to a small area on the inside of your upper arm, near your shoulder joint, which adds a lot to their functionality.   

Your lats help move your arm, can pull you into a chin-up, are the main players on the lat pulldown machine, can stabilize your low back, are involved with breathing, and are directly involved with good posture.  This is just one example of how integrated we are. In other words, when you swim, throw a ball, grab some groceries, walk, or keep your balance, your lats and other core muscles are there for you. 

Cheat Sheet #1 

How much your core is involved is often up to you.  For example, let’s say you are standing in line waiting to check out at the grocery store.  You can shift your weight to one leg or bend your head forward to look at the magazine rack, mindlessly wiling away the minutes and possibly fighting off boredom.  OR, you can take a few seconds to check in with your core.  You can also make a few adjustments.  You can do at least three things:

1. Stand tall, shoulders back, and activate your abs by pressing your belly button back toward your spine.  This is not the same as sucking in your gut, which is more like hollowing your midsection.  (This is a way to work on your posture that makes you look thinner.)

2. Once you are standing tall, put your heels together, and have your toes pointed out at about a 45-degree angle.  You will notice that you need to use your core a bit more in order to maintain your balance. (This will make you look younger, more alert.)

3. Alternatively, you can put your feet slightly apart, toes pointing forward.  Then come up on your toes (otherwise known as a heel raise).  You don’t have to look like a ballerina here, just come up enough so that you feel your lower leg muscle (your calf) doing some work.  Your core will be assisting you with this by helping you balance.  By the way, people will not notice you doing this, or even if they do, they won’t care. (This time, your core will be enhancing your secret little workout.)

Cheat Sheet #2

This is just the beginning.  There are SO MANY says to get your core involved (without doing crunches) a cheat sheet could go on and on.  However, to spare you some inconvenience, here is a list of a few ways to enhance your workouts.    

1. Push-ups.  These can be done against a wall, using a counter top, a workout bench, on your knees, or the full Monty down on the floor.  Push-ups can be done casually, without engaging your core.  However, push-ups are a great opportunity to use your core to make sure you are keeping your spine straight and locked into position (i.e., not sticking your butt up).

2. Bridging.  This is a classic exercise where you start by laying on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor.  Push through your heels and bring your entire midsection off the floor.  You will feel your butt and the back of your thighs (hamstrings) doing most of the work.  Your core will become involved in order to keep your hips and butt working together (not tilting or sagging).

3. Standing on one leg or marching in place.  If you are doing this casually, you will miss the chance to let your core help keep your balance.  Stand tall, shoulders back, and press your naval back before standing on one leg or marching. This may even help you lift your knees higher if you are marching. 

4. Let’s say you are lifting free weights at home or at the gym and you are standing as you do this.  Using the same thoughts as above, you can make sure your posture is good, and your core is engaged.  The goal here is to use your core to stabilize your midsection.  By the way, a strong core helps you lift more weight, and it protects your spine at the same time.   

These are just a few of the ways you can pay attention to your core.  You can use your creativity to help you engage your core in all sorts of situations. It’s not just about looking thinner, younger, and having better workouts.  It’s about moving better, more efficiently, and protecting yourself from injury or mishaps.


© 2024 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.
Photo Credit: SewcreamStudio | iStock

The End of Try Try Again by Kristen Carter MS

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