Effective Ab Training

In last week’s Six Myths About Six Pack Abs, I debunked several myths about ab training, but left lots of questions remaining about what actually constituted “good” ab training.  Today, we fix that.

Functional Anatomy Of The Abs

Abdominal Muscle Anatomy

There are several muscles that make up the abdominal area, but to keep it simple, we’ll discuss them in three groups:

  • Rectus Abdominis – Runs vertically down the center of the abdomen.  Flexes the trunk and resists extension of the trunk.  Makes the visible “six pack.”
  • Internal & External Obliques – Make up the side of the core area (the love handle region).  Perform and resist side flexion and lumbar spinal rotation (side bending and core rotation).
  • Transversus Abdominis – Wraps around the core area.  Maintains intra-abdominal pressure.  Full explanation here.

Important to note here is that while the RA and Obliques are capable of creating motion at the lumbar spine (low back), their ultimate purpose is to stabilize the area, not mobilize it.  The low back needs stability to be healthy – it isn’t designed for much motion, let alone repetitive motion.

Why Train The Abs

While we may have dissed ab training as a sure-fire way to get a six pack, there are still plenty of reasons to include ab training in your programs:

  • Increase strength and performance in many exercises (you can’t squat or deadlift heavy without a strong core) and sports
  • Prevent and reduce low back pain
  • Improve posture (reduce anterior pelvic tilt)

See transversus training for more info

What Not To Do

Crunches.  Side bends.  Sit-ups. Why?  Did you even read the functional anatomy section?

Ab Crunch

The lumbar spine is only meant to move through a very limited range of motion.  The major function of the abdominals is to stabilize the core area – preventing excess motion.  Crunches, side bends, and the like move the spine through potentially unsafe flexion and extension cycles.

Additionally, crunches are a great way to re-enforce the hunched-shoulder, forward-head posture that most of us already struggle with due to sitting at desks all day.  Resist the urge!

bad computer posture

Effective Ab Training

So how should we train the abs to stabilize the lumbar spine?  In several planes:

  • Anti-Extension
  • Anti-Lateral Flexion
  • Anti-Rotation
  • Hip Flexion (with Neutral Spine)

Here are some example exercises:


  • Planks
  • Ab Rollouts

Anti-Lateral Flexion

  • Waiter Carries
  • Suitcase Holds


  • Pallof Press
  • Pallof Press Iso Holds

Hip Flexion (with Neutral Spine)

  • Prone Jackknives on Swiss Ball

Something for everything:

  • Split Stance Cable Lift – involves anti-extension, anti-lateral flexion, and anti-rotation

Get Your Abs On

Start training your abs like this for improved performance, posture, and strength.  For more info on effective ab training, check out these resources:

John Romaniello