We all dream of surfboard bellies & crunch away…till we can do no more! How many of us reflect on how this is affecting our postures?
In crunches we work the Rectus abdominis, a superficial muscle. Working the superficial abdominal muscles will do little to improve posture. Performing an excess of forward bending exercises, such as the crunch may actually exacerbate poor posture. To improve posture through abdominal exercise, it’s important to perform exercises that work the deeper layer of abdominal muscle, otherwise known as the core.
To understand more clearly lets take a look at the muscles comprising the abdomen..
The abdominal muscles are a group of six muscles that wrap around the center of your body from the rib cage to the pelvis. These muscles are important to your body’s health, as they assist with everything from breathing and walking to supporting proper posture and alignment of your spine. Without healthy abdominal muscles supporting your posture, your body cannot function properly.
- Transverse Abdominis- The transverse abdominis is the deepest abdominal layer most connected to posture, and it wraps around the torso like a back support belt. There is a direct correlation between the strength of the transverse muscle and its ability to stabilize the spine and protect the back and pelvis from injury. The lack of strength in this muscle can change the alignment of the pelvis and ultimately change your body’s posture.sic tasks become increasingly more difficult.
- Internal Obliques- Located on each side of the torso, the internal obliques are the second deepest abdominal layer and assist with rotation of the torso in addition to lateral bending of the spine, to one side. The obliques help support and protect the body from injury during these movements.
The abdominal muscles are so closely related to posture, poor abdominal strength can contribute to chronic back pain by forcing the lower back to work harder and compensate for an unstable core. Additionally, weak abdominal muscles can cause the stomach to protrude and affect the alignment of the spine. Demonstrate this for yourself by standing up with your back straight and loosen your stomach muscles until everything droops. Notice how your lower back arches uncomfortably. Pull your ab muscles in tight, and feel how your spine realigns correctly.
In addition to back pain resulting from poor posture, you may experience pain throughout your body due to weak abdominal muscles. A misaligned spine can result in subluxations, where individual vertebrae fall out of place along the spinal cord. These subluxations can interfere with the complex nerve system running the length of the spinal cord and may cause pain or discomfort anywhere in the body.
Abdominal Exercises for Posture: (Click on Exercise Names for Links to view the exercise)
- Core Contractions– This is an essential exercise for improving posture. Kneel on your hands and knees. Make sure that your weight is evenly distributed. Take a deep breath in. As you exhale, draw your belly in, and hold for 10 seconds. There should be absolutely no movement in your spine. Perform about 10 repetitions.
- The Pelvic Tilt– The pelvic tilt is helpful for reducing excessive curvature of the lower back. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Inhale to prepare. As you exhale, engage your core and tilt your lower pelvis from the floor. It should look like you are forming a bowl between your pelvis and navel. Perform 10 repetitions.
- The Cat– This exercise promotes spinal mobility with abdominal support. As your back develops dynamic, or active flexibility, it becomes easier to adjust your posture. Kneel on all fours. Inhale to prepare. As you exhale, perform the drawing in maneuver, tilt your pelvis and round your upper back. Inhale to return. Perform 10 repetitions.
- The Tripod– Many people with postural misalignment have a tendency to favor one side of the body. The tripod helps correct the problem. Kneel on all fours. Inhale to prepare. As you exhale, simultaneously lift your right leg and left arm. Keep your weight centered. Inhale to return, and then repeat on the other side. Perform 16 repetitions, or eight on each side.
- The Plank– Assume a push-up position, but allow your elbows and forearms to rest on the floor. Draw your belly in, and hold the position for as long as possible. Do not allow your back to arch.
- Stability Ball Roll Out– This exercise uses a stability ball. Kneel on floor, with your forearms on the ball. Inhale to prepare. As you exhale, engage your core and roll the ball forwards. Inhale to return. Do not allow your back to arch or round. Without core engagement, this exercise is almost impossible to perform, which is why it is effective for reeducating your muscles to maintain correct posture.
- Dead Bug– The dead bug trains you move your arms and legs without excessive use of your lower back. Lie on your back with your knees bent, your calves parallel to the floor and your shins parallel to the ceiling. Press your lower back into the floor. Inhale to prepare. As you exhale, simultaneously lower your right leg towards the floor, as you raise your left arm over head. Inhale to return. Repeat on the other side. perform 16 repetitions, or eight on each side.
Posture can also affect abdominal strength.
One easy way to improve your posture is to sit less and move around more. When you sit, the muscles that support your body, like the spinal muscles and abdominals, do not work very much. The more you sit, the weaker they become.
If you do sit for long periods of time at work or at home, get up every 15 to 20 minutes to walk around and stretch. If you exercise at the gym, avoid sitting exercises because they will place more stress on your lower
back and they do not help strengthen your abdominals.
Instead, exercise standing up and use total body exercises, like dumbbell squats with shoulder press, pull-ups or medicine ball throws. Pilates, tai chi and most group classes can help strengthen your trunk.
Also see our post on how to have Flat Abs Without Crunches