**This is one of the first posts I wrote in my career many, many moons ago. Found it to still have some relevance in the industry today so added a couple of editors notes in for good measure. Things have changed a bit since I wrote this so wanted to add some relevant points without changing too much of the original article. It's open for debate and hope some of you find it useful! Here we go.......
Contrary to popular belief, lying on your back and doing sit-ups or stomach crunches will NOT give you that flat, toned stomach you desire. Let me put this idea into your head, why would you lay on your back to train a muscle group that functions while standing? Is it because of an emotional attachment that you have to an exercise that causes a burning sensation in the targeted area or because you simply don’t know any better?
Well we know that abdominal exercises don’t burn fat especially in the targeted areas of your waist and hips, and that it has a very minimal effect on muscle growth. The repetitions performed are way to high to stimulate any physiological adaptations and that 6 pack will never show until you reduce the layers of fat over the abdominal areas.
So to train this area as best as possible we should first know the purpose of the abs. Their function on the human body is to stabilise the lower back region and pelvis to prevent the lower back from injury during day-to-day and physical activities. With the activation of the abs during movement will incur a co-activation of the internal and external obliques (which will stabilise the pelvis), and the multifidus muscle group (which stabilise the intervertebral joints of the vertebral column). Your deep abdominal muscles are also known as your ‘core’, with the best way to activate them is by abdominal bracing. A simple way to do this is by taking a deep breathe in from the diaphragm and at the peak of your inhalation draw your belly button in and up towards your vertebral column. Then resume to normal breathing WHILE keeping your abs braced. When performing this brace there becomes a co-activation of surrounding muscles, such as your obliques. This is also effective for activating and controlling the pelvic floor muscles. (Editors note: However, as I have grown in my career and understanding of the body and how it functions, I now belive conscious engaging of the core section isn’t a very effective approach to anything movement based.) Once you have learnt how to activate your abs through bracing, this will enable the abdominal muscles to be stimulated whilst performing functional daily activities. To obtain use of more of the muscles (recruitment of more motor unit’s) and greater force output you need to adequately train that targeted area, which is above that of your day-to-day activities.
Some great compound exercises for you to try to get that flat stomach your chasing are; Squats, Dead lifts, Chin ups, Push ups and Dips. When putting the body in these positions there is a need for the pelvis and lower back to be stablised by the abs. The overload on that abdominal area during these exercises is high but also extremely effective and functional. (Editors Note: To train a muscle we first need to load before unloading. That would mean the most effective way to train the core would be through an extension/rotation movement.)
Remember though that until you cut down the layers of fat over the mid section those abs will never show. Now go get moving, unless you want to be the best in the world at staying still. In which case, go do a plank.