If you look at a skeleton you’ll notice something odd; there is an area of the body where there are no supportive or protective bones. I’m speaking, of course, about the abdominal region. While the spinal vertebrae provide support along the back of this area the front is completely exposed; no ribs, no sternum. So, how do our bodies manage to stay upright, day after day? The answer is: muscles! We use our abdominal muscles and our back muscles to stand up straight as well as to protect our many delicate internal organs situated within the abdominal cavity.
Of course, this odd structure gives us the ability to bend, lean, stretch, and fold at the waist and means, in the end, that we need these muscles to be strong, limber, and balanced. It is the imbalance, in particular, of front vs. back muscles that can cause many of the painful spinal conditions that interfere with most people’s way of life, including low back pain and sciatica. It is therefore incredibly important to strengthen and condition our abdominal muscles, as well as our back muscles.
In this article we will be outlining the different muscles that make up the front of the abdomen as well as their functions. The second and third parts will be exercises designed to build muscle strength as well as stretches for muscle elasticity.
Rectus Abdominus: This is more popularly known as the 6-pack muscle. It runs down from your ribcage to the front of your pelvic bone. This muscle’s function is to allow your body to crunch forward at the waist.
External Obliques: These muscles start at the rib cage and end both at the pelvis and the linea alba (a line of cartilage that runs down the middle of the abdomen). These muscles allow for the body to crunch forward at an angle or while twisting.
Internal Obliques: These muscles also start at the rib cage and end both at the pelvis and the linea alba. These muscles also allow the body to crunch forward at an angle or twist. The internal obliques are set up perpendicularly to the external obliques and work in conjunction with them; When the left internal oblique contracts it does so with the right external oblique, as is the opposite.
Transverse Abdominus: These muscles start along the ribs and the sides of the body and end at the pelvis and along the linea alba. These muscles serve to hold in your internal organs and also act as a natural stabilizer for the spinal cord and pelvis.
As you can see, all four of these muscle groups are important in the movement and stabilization of the torso, as well as the vitally important task of assisting breathing. Now that we have outlined how important all of these muscles are, the next step in this process is to find out how to strengthen them. For now, take the time to experiment: see if you can recognize which muscles you are using in every day life to move your torso side to side, to crunch forward, to crunch to the side. This way,when you see the exercises available to strengthen these muscles you may already have a better knowledge of how they work.