What muscle groups should an abs machine train?

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In order to be able to do a proper abs work out (no matter whether with abs machines or with some other kind of abs program), we first need to have a (at least basic) understanding of the anatomy of the abdominal muscles. So, in this article we will explain the different muscle groups that are the abdominal muscles, and what their primary functions are.

Even though many people think of the abdominal muscles only of the “six pack” of the rectus abdominus, actually the abs also consist of the internal and external oblique abdominal and the transverse abdominis. These Latin names might look a little scary at first sight, but you will soon see that it aint’t that complicated.

The rectus abdominus is the muscle that runs from the pelvis all the way up to the ribs. Three fibrous bands crossing the rectus abdominus give it the washboard look that is so attractive. The function of this muscle is to bend the spine and bring the rib cage closer to the hips (as happens in the abdominal crunches). It also helps stabilize the spine. The rectus abdominus is one long muscle, so even though some people speak of upper and lower abdominals they are just referring to different areas of the same muscle.

The oblique abdominals are muscles situated on the sides of the rectus abdominus. Their function is to help bend and twist the torso and to make angled movements. Their fibers run diagonally – interior and exterior oblique abdominals run in opposite directions, so that a contraction of the interior obliques makes the torso bend to the same side, whereas the exterior obliques make it bend to the opposite side. They work together to make possible all kinds of rotation and tilting movements of the torso and are essential for the stabilization of the vertebral column.

The transverse abdominis is located underneath the obliques and wraps around the abdominal contents. It is a muscle that traditionally has been neglected, even though it’s crucial for the stability of the core and has an important aesthetic impact: it is called the “corset muscle”, as it is responsible for tucking in the organs of the abdomen and thus give us a flat stomach. It is like a natural weight belt, that stabilizes the spine and pelvis when we lift any kind of weights.

All these muscles together wrap around the abdominal area and provide stability and protection. Now that we know what muscles to focus on, we can start thinking about how to train them. So whereas the rectus abdominus can easily be trained with your perfect abs machine, the transverse abdominis is best trained without any kind of equipment, just contracting the muscle in 3 sets of 30 seconds. The over time you can increase the duration and the number of sets.

Sidenote: the serratus anterior which is also colored in the anatomy chart actually does not belong to the abdominal muscles.

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