5 Tips for Better Abdominals
Want to build awesome abs?
Let’s take this question one step further… what does it take to build great abs that don’t cause pelvic floor woes?
We don’t want to cause an issue while we’re fixing one. What fun would that be? No fun!
So, that’s the bigger question. I see so many women who have increased prolapse symptoms or start leaking well after that postpartum period when they start working hard to get back in shape. Or they “notice” things worsen down south after doing an online diastasis program. So what gives, and how can we have it all work for us at once?
There are several things to keep in mind and preventive steps you can take to both look and feel great!
Warning! Some of the following will be “boring” if you’re not really into learning how the body works. Please do not skip the boring stuff. It’s your foundation!!! The boring stuff is what sets you up for success. To make it less boring, I compare Thor and Michael Phelps— pure torture ladies, pure torture!
Step 1: Don’t hold your abs too tightly!
Overbracing is a real issue for everyone, even Thor. Notice how his shoulders come up with each inhale? When you breathe, your diaphragm should go down, this displaces your organs and makes your ribs move out to the side and your belly come out. Note how Thor holds so much tension in his abs that nothing moves but his shoulders.
This type of breathing pattern increases stress, tension, and pelvic floor tightness. It could end up being a real issue with leaking, pain (including piriformis and deep hip pain) and heaviness.
Michael Phelps, on the other hand...he knows how to breathe deeply. Check out that great rib and ab movement. Proof you can have rock-hard abs yet still have movement with breathing!
So the videos are not the clearest, but they are clearly showing function. Phelps wouldn’t be able to swim like he does with a shallow breathing pattern. He wouldn’t get the oxygen exchange needed for his muscles. And since Thor flies, breathing is really not an issue.
(Yes, when Chris Hemsworth took his shirt off, I was like, "Pause the movie, OMG, look at his shallow breathing. No wonder he's so stressed out here." ? I mean, what were you focused on in that scene? Obviously his breathing, right?! LOL!)
I’ve had plenty of women start working with me for some other issue, and then once we fix breathing they can finally run or do some other cardio sport they thought wasn’t possible for their body. Breathing more efficiently is a beautiful thing!
You can have flat abs with a deep breathing pattern. It’s just going to take a bit of extra work and habit training to stop overbracing and holding too much tension as you get stronger.
Step 2: Find your pelvic floor
Ok, don’t tune me out. Even if you’re a guy reading this you still have a pelvic floor. The pelvic floor coordinates with your abs. So, making sure you can feel what your pelvic floor is doing is really important. Can you tell if your pelvic floor is contracting?
Issues like pelvic floor tightness can decrease your ability to contract your pelvic floor. When this happens, you can get a poochy lower belly as a result. So working on those lower abs often requires working on your pelvic floor.
Now that you can find and contract your pelvic floor and breathe deeply without over-bracing, you’ll want to put all of it together. Can you feel what a great lower ab contraction you get when you exhale and lift your pelvic floor at the same time?
Step 3: Improve your overall posture
Our abdominal muscles help support our spine. Want to work your abs all day? Great! Stand up a bit taller. Now, I’m not talking military tall. Coming up rigid and puffing out your chest will only make those paraspinal muscles that run up and down your back tighter. I’m talking about coming up a little taller from your lower abs and keeping your ribs stacked over your pelvis. This should engage your abs slightly, but also not so much that you overbrace and stop all deep breathing.
Read more about posture [here].
Step 4: Work your abs
Finally, right?!! You have to actually work your abs to have abdominal muscles.
Here are few key takeaways to make sure you get the most out of your abdominal work.
- Make sure you feel it in your abs. If you feel it in your low back or your neck, that’s what’s getting stronger. So make sure you feel it where you want to be working!
- Keep breathing deeply throughout the exercise. Don’t hold your breath or slip into a shallow breathing pattern!
- Make sure you get a 360 expansion of your front, sides and back to maximize oblique and transverse abdominal activation.
360 expansion explanation:
Step 5: Figure out what great abs mean to you
Are they abs that keep your back healthy and your body moving athletically? Or are you looking to add “magazine cover” to the description? If so, you’ll need to lose body fat so you can see your abs.
Instead of going over what it takes to get lean, I’d like to share with you an infographic from Precision Nutrition that sums it up nicely.
Want to try my favorite abdominal routine that walks you step by step through the above descriptions? Check out the Diastasis Fix today. Even if you don’t have a diastasis this program will help you improve how your core contracts, which helps you build those awesome abs that you’re looking for!