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The Hidden Ab that You Shouldn’t Ignore

Posted 8/29/2016 by UHBlog

A strong core and stable back may be more critical to athletes than "six pack" abs. Talk to us about ways to strengthen your abdominal muscles.

The Hidden Ab that Will Get You a Six-Pack

In pursuit of six-pack abs, you may be neglecting other important abdominal muscles during your workout. The washboard appearance on your belly – mainly the result of a well-developed rectus abdominis muscle – may look great on the beach, but the real purpose of strong abdominal muscles is to support your body. That’s why it’s also important to strengthen the less conspicuous transverse abdominis and other abdominal muscles.

“I don’t think that aiming for a six-pack is an appropriate goal,” says sports medicine specialist Amanda Weiss Kelly, MD. “The point of most of your abdominal muscles is to support the core of your body and keep you upright and allow you to bend forward and move from side to side. Weak core muscles can ultimately result in lower back pain and other problems.”

Located behind the ravioli-looking rectus abdominis, the transverse abdominis connects to your pelvis, ribs and back, stabilizing your mid-section. It's used almost anytime you move a limb. A strong transverse abdominis may not be as conspicuous as a well developed rectus abdominis, but it typically results in a narrower waist. In fact, it’s sometimes referred to as a corset because it tightens the torso.

“When you look at swmmers you might notice that muscle that nobody else seems to have,” Dr. Weiss Kelly says. “You’re able to see it on swimmers because they are usually so skinny.”

She says the best way to strengthen the transverse abdominis is to exercise the whole group of abdominal muscles.

“It's hard to isolate any single abdominal muscle,” she says. “Some people try to concentrate on the six-pack because it is so visible. But when you do exercises like planks, you’re engaging a number of muscles, including the transverse abdominis and the rectus abdominis. You want to concentrate on core strengthening exercises like planks, crunches and bridges where you’re not really torquing the lower back. Leg lifts are good because you can keep your back on the ground and it doesn’t put strain on the back. Side planks, where you lay on your side and lift your leg up and down, incorporate the abdominal muscles, and also engage the butt and pelvis muscles as well.”

Sit-ups, she says, may not be the best choice because of the torque they put on the back – especially when they are done too aggressively.

“A balanced approach that exercises the abs and the back is the best goal,” Dr. Weiss Kelly says. “We should aim to have a strong core all the way around. Not just the abs that people can see.”

Amanda Weiss Kelly, MD is the division chief, Pediatric Sports Medicine, at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center and the division chief, Pediatric Sports Medicine at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital. You can request an appointment with Dr. Weiss Kelly or any doctor online.

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