Regardless of your background (surgeries, pregnancies, age, etc.) you CAN obtain flatter, stronger abs. It’s NOT about your six-pack, and it IS all about connecting to a certain core muscle that is often overlooked or ignored by most fitness professionals. When I graduated from Oregon State with a degree in Exercise and Sport Science, I was pretty dang sure that I had been taught everything there was to know about how to get anyone into great shape. Perhaps I knew a lot at the time, but that was back in 2001, and the thing about working in the fitness and wellness industry is that THINGS CHANGE! Real professionals will keep reading and keep researching, and I’m thankful I did just that.
To be perfectly candid, I was misled and mistaught to believe that bigger is always better, and that if you want a strong core and a thinner belly, you need to build up the six-pack (rectus abdominus) and the obliques with things like crunches, situps & planks. The more, the better, right? WRONG! The pages in my certifying manual for AFAA are now dog-eared where the information on abdominals is clearly misstated, and my college notes have been highlighted with notations leading to research that totally contradicts what I was taught.
Since college, and since subjecting my core to pregnancy and birth, I have learned the secret to a flat stomach and a rock-solid core – a core that lets you jump on the trampoline without peeing your pants, a core that pulls back in after having a baby, a core that is there for you when you need to lift something heavy like a four year old kid, a core that heals completely after abdominal surgery. And that secret is so simple, and it resides in your God-given girdle: your transverse abdominus (TVA).
No, your abs do not cross-dress (small joke!) Transverse means this abdominal muscle crosses all the way around your whole middle. It wraps around you and hugs you together! When people think of ”abs” they usually think of the rippling, bulging six-pack, but that is only one part of a set of three muscles that make up your abdominal wall… and do you really want a BULGING six-pack? Because I have news for you: A bulging belly (outside of pregnancy) is the sign of a weak core, not a strong core! There’s some anatomy for you. Your six-pack is actually the “rectus” and we think of it as being on the outside, and most fit pros would have you believe that it’s job is to pull your ribs toward your pubic bone in that crunching motion. But when in life do you ever have cause to do a repetitive crunching motion? Now, notice how our obliques which run criss-cross applesauce, literally surround the Rectus Abdominus, letting you twist and turn and wiggle your hips! Then, below those other two more commonly known abs, you’ll find your transverse abdominus which is like a corset, circling your entire middle from your spine all the way around to your navel.
Okay, when am I going to tell you how to have a flat stomach? Not until I tell you why you DON’T have a flat stomach! There are two main reasons hinging on hundreds of personal history factors why your stomach doesn’t get flatter no matter how much core work and dieting you’ve done. First, you have likely suffered and subjected yourself to far too much intra-abdominal pressure. Second, your abs are unlike any other muscle in the body because they don’t entirely connect just bone to bone; your abs are joined together by a thick band of connective tissue called the “linea alba” that runs down your middle. Many personal trainers and well educated fitness professionals have been taught how to ISOLATE each muscle in the body in order to focus upon and build up every weak area, but the ABS ARE NOT ISOLATED. The Abs are CONNECTED, conjoined triplets if you will. They are anatomically and physiologically JOINED by the linea alba.
HERE IT IS: You do not have a flat stomach because your linea alba has been stretched out and thinned and injured by too much intra-abdominal pressure. During pregnancy, a baby causes intra-abdominal pressure (hello, the precious wee one grows in there and pushes out on your abdominal wall!) and that separation is normal and expected, but it’s not supposed to stay that way! Internal organ fat causes internal pressure that pushes out…Bending over a lot and letting the weight of your organs fall against your abdominal wall without pulling in your navel…Sitting at a desk job for hours a day and just “letting it all hang out”…Playing sports or dancing or gymnastics where the ribs flare and the spine extends a lot and stretches the abs out…Surgery where the abs have been sliced through so “the flex” doesn’t even work right anymore….
The Solution: You can get a flat stomach by healing your linea alba via the strengthening of your transverse abdominus. Huh? Layman’s terms please! Go back and look at that anatomy picture and visualize those two red rectus sections pulling apart when the linea alba separates during overstretching and overworking during sports or pregnancy or just the daily grind of a job that has you bent forward a lot so you belly hangs down. Imagine how the core connection gets totally sliced during surgery! The nerves are cut! And when people see that they have a pooch, they’ve been programmed and brainwashed to believe that crunches are the thing to do to get rid of that pooch.
Don’t believe me on the brainwashing thing? Look at the main picture on most abdominal articles: It’s usually a crunch or sit-up! I’m sure you’ve heard someone say to a pouting child, “Be careful, if you make that face too much, it will stick that way.” That is how your abs are. If you carry a baby for 9 months, or your belly is pressured outward by always leaning forward, or your muscles have been surgically sliced so you couldn’t pull your belly in if someone paid you, then you are stuck with it that way: Your transverse is weak and deflated. Your linea alba is stretched and thinned. And all the crunches in the world won’t make it better, because crunches INCREASE abdominal pressure!!! Get on the floor and do a crunch! What does you gut do? Do you want it to stay that way? Every thoroughly trained personal trainerknows that “Form follows function.” Do you want the form of your stomach to follow the function of crunches?
So what can you do if you think your core is messed up? First, figure out if you have a diastasis (die-ass-tuh-sees) which is what this injury is called. If you have a huge split in your abs, you’ll need to heal it because living with a fat-looking gut and weak abs when you’ve tried your hardest to get rid of it and only made it worse isn’t healthy. Plus, the transverse is tied to your pelvic health, too, and abdominal rehab could very well improve your sex life and bladder issues!!!
Having a flat stomach is not about a pill or a diet, or a weird vibrating mechanism. It’s about a devotion to your core health and strengthening one of the biggest muscles in your entire body: The Transversalis (another name for it). If you want a bulging belly, keep doing 300 crunches a day. If you want a flat stomach that will truly hold you together and make you “fit to be” climbing mountains and playing with your kids and chasing dreams, then pull your belly-button to your spine through all that you do. If you can’t, go do ab rehab. It’s that simple. This site offers crunch-free workouts that cater to those who suspect or know they have a diastasis.
Sign up for our email newsletter (right) and try our 10-minute “Totally Transverse” workout today!
Why build a whole site around this “notion” if it’s so rare, though? Because it’s NOT rare! Open your eyes to all the moms who aren’t pregnant who still look pregnant! Open your eyes to the super-buff people who have mysterious pot-guts. Open your eyes to the men who look really fit in their legs, arms, back, necks, but NOT their bellies. You call it a beer belly. I call it diastasis recti. Read about the public service campaign to CHECK YOUR BELLY BEFORE YOU WRECK YOUR BELLY!