The Best Exercises for Flat Abs?

Many people looking to get a flat toned tummy invariably try curl ups or sit ups, whether at the gym, studio or home.  These exercises involve lying on the back (with the knees either bent or flat on the ground) and slowly lifting the trunk off the floor.  This strengthens the superficial muscles of the abdomen – the rectus abdominus, but may cause a number of problems if you do not already have a very strong core and well aligned spine and pelvis, such as;

  1. They target the most superficial muscle group in the abdomen – the rectus abdominus. These muscles are used to flex the trunk DO NOT to flatten the tummy, but can lead to a bigger bulge!
  2. It is very easy to use the lower back and neck muscles to assist sitting up, this can cause back pain. Indeed taking the lumbar spine into repeated flexion can lead to disc prolapse.
  3. Because of the pressure that curl ups and sit ups exert at the diaphragm and pelvic floor, problems with hiatus hernia and pelvic floor prolapse can and do occur IF THE CORE IS NOT ALREADY STRONG.
  4. Too much of sit ups and curls can lead to over recruitment of the hip flexor muscles (psoas and rectus femoris) and this in turn can lead to lower back pain, poor gait (walking/running patterns) and dysfunctional posture.

The Alternative

Why not try this simple alternative from the Pilates repertoire of matwork exercises – they are called KNEE FOLDS and are very effective at targeting the muscles that do draw the tummy back, that is the Transversus Abdominus (TVA) and Oblique muscles.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.  Check to make sure you are in neutral spine (a slight gap under the lumbar and neck)
  2. Lift the pelvic floor up and “scoop” the abdomen by drawing the navel back and up. Keep the neck and face relaxed
  3. Alternatively lift one knee to the chest – as this drops, lift the other knee up.
  4. Continue for up to 2 minutes (start with 1 minute)
  5. Ensure that you keep the core engaged, the spine in neutral and the breathing quiet.
  6. IF THE LUMBAR IS VERY UNSTABLE/PAIN IS PRESENT – press the lower back to the floor when executing the moves. You may also wish to only move on an exhalation (outbreath)