The abdominal muscles are probably my favourite muscles to talk about when I'm trying to teach people how to better care for their body and become stronger. Although most people talk about the superficial aspects of the abdominal muscles, like how to get your abs to show (I too was guilty of this at one point), I prefer to talk about core strength from a how this is going to improve your well-being perspective.
I can go on for days, but I'll keep it short and sweet: your abdominal muscles aren't just for show. They play a critical role in essentially every movement that you do. If you bend down to pick something up, you're using your abs. When you run, you're using your abs. When you go to the bathroom, you're using your abs! The obliques (internal and external), the rectus abdominis (aka the six-pack), the transversus abdominis (a deep-core muscle), the erector spinae (a group of muscles that run vertically along your vertebrae), and the multifidus (a small muscle that helps stabilise your spine and pelvis) make up the muscles of your core.
It's pretty easy to work your obliques, rectus abdominis, and transversus abdominis, with moves like crunches, planks, and Russian twists, but when it comes to muscles like the erector spinae and multifidus, they often go unworked. The multifidus muscle helps with stability which is essential to being pain-free and having proper movement patterns, so you need to show it some love. The erector spinae muscles are important because they also help with stability and rotation of the spine. In sum, you've got to make sure you're working these muscles, along with the rest of your abdominal muscles, to move efficiently and strengthen your core.
One simple exercise you can start implementing into your workout routine to strengthen these muscles and as a result, strengthen your core is the reverse plank. I've been doing it nonstop (thanks to my physical therapist!) and it's challenging but effective. Here's how to do it.
How to Do a Reverse Plank
- Begin lying on a yoga mat in a supine (facing up) position.
- Bend your elbows, moving them directly underneath your shoulders; avoid angling your elbows out to the sides.
- With control, brace you abs (you should still be able to breathe normally), squeeze your glutes, and lift your body up, off the mat. Be sure to keep your head/neck in a neutral position by looking up at the ceiling. Don't let your hips drop down to the ground at any point.
- Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. This counts as one rep.