The abdominal muscles include:

  • Transverse abdominus (TA)
  • Rectus abdominus aka “the six pack”
  • Internal oblique
  • External oblique

These all work together to stabilize, flex and rotate the lumbar spine. These muscles also act as the main connection from the upper body to the lower body during any type of full body movement.

Abdominal muscle imbalance

The TA works like an abdominal brace to protect the spine, along with the multifidus and pelvic floor muscles (not labeled) seen in the image on the right. The direct attachment of these muscles to the spine is the reason why they are so great at maintaining a stable surface for the other joints to move around. Without the recruitment of these muscles, stability is lost and the larger rectus abdominus will take over. This puts the spine at risk for repetitive stress during movements such as sit-ups, deadlifts or even lifting heavy items off the floor. It is important to do exercises that specifically focus on strengthening the TA because a traditional sit-up does not target this muscle. Once you have the ability to contract your TA (while continuing to breathe!) the goal is to increase the endurance of this muscle so that you can stabilize your spine throughout the entire WOD.

Fun fact: midline stabilization refers to the activation of the TA, multifidus, glutes and pelvic floor muscles. The “core” is also another term used to group these muscles. It takes focus and practice to be able to activate these muscles, but midline stabilization is ESSENTIAL to exercising efficiently and safely.

Everyone, at one point or another in their CrossFit career, asks me when we’re going to do more “core” work. I hope this page provides sufficient evidence that EVERYTHING we do within the box is “core” work – from deadlifting to squatting (we do that enough, right?) to pressing, even to running…it’s all core work! The traditional globo-gym model of doing 100’s of crunches and sit-ups does nothing to prep your spine for maintaining stability under load. I can’t stress enough how important midline stability is! Want to stay healthy and functional for a long time to come, stop moving in crappy a position.

Hopefully this page doesn’t put any doctors out of work…just kidding! Well, sort of…

“Ab” mobility videos courtesy of Kelly Starrett:

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