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.

Can you do this without your gut bulging? Can you do it and hold your navel down to the floor. If not, don’t do it!

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 and what is STILL being taught (such as this terrible article with loads of misinformation on Mercola about how crunches are still the best sit up… what?)

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).

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.

The Pilates move “Criss Cross” is very hard on the linea alba fascia of the abs, forcing the obliques to pull on it from both sides and keeping diastasis recti open longer than normal.

HERE IT IS: You do not have a flat stomach because of pressure. Something in your life – be it your diet, alignment, choice of exercise, abdominal trauma – has created a permanent outward push that has disrupted your core’s ability to hold itself where it belongs. Often this causes a diastasis recti where your linea alba has been stretched out and thinned and injured by too much intra-abdominal pressure. Planks increase that pressure. Pregnancy increases that pressure. Crunches increase that pressure. Poor posture increases that pressure. Situps definitely increase that pressure!

Doing a plank with poor form where your belly sags to the floor just gives you a bigger belly! 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 thought of as “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….

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.

The Solution: You can get a flat stomach by changing your alignment, strengthening your transverse abdominus, removing movements that make your belly bulge (because it very well might get stuck that way) and – of course – eating foods that don’t make you bloat. Crunches take you out of alignment. Planks are very hard to do with good alignment. If you aren’t in the right alignment, your transverse abs simply cannot do their job correctly, and your belly will pooch out rather than stay in. It’s not that I want you to walk around “sucking it in.” Nooooo! God forbid! That really messes up your internal pressures! The type of core activation I teach in our videos will fire up your whole core safely and effectively while also working the whole body.

  Click for a FREE video that tests your TRUE core strength! 

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 your abs have become stuck: Your transverse is weak and deflated and has trouble responding and going the right way when you do a belly breath. Your linea alba (that line of fascia that holds the two sides of your abs together) is stretched and thinned. And all the crunches in the world won’t make it better, because crunches INCREASE abdominal pressure!!!

Hold on? You don’t believe me that crunches and planks really aren’t the best thing since squats? That’s prolly because you’ve been brainwashed. I mean, I was. Just think for a second about the main picture on most abdominal articles: It’s usually a crunch or sit-up, right? But see for yourself: Get on the floor and do a crunch! What does you gut do: stay in or stick out? Do you want it to stay that way? Every thoroughly trained personal trainer knows (but has perhaps forgetten) that “Form Follows Function.” Do you want the form of your stomach to follow the function of crunches?

P.S. You really need to take a break from reading right now and watch this very graphic {and I mean full on crotch-shot video…click!} of what crunches do to your pelvic floor. If anyone in your family isn’t suited to seeing vaginas, please find a private space where you can watch and be informed. I found that video via Pelvienne Wellness, a reputable resource for pelvic health in Canada that I follow on Facebook. She’s a fitness doula who wrote this article for Fit2B a while back.

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!!!

  Click for a video showing you how to check for Diastasis 

Yoga poses can increase abdominal pressure but most of them do not directly stress the linea alba, so it is just very important to belly breathe, pulling your abs to your spine with each exhale.

Having a flat stomach is not about a pill or a diet, or a weird vibrating mechanism that you strap around your middle to make it flex all by itself. 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 learn how to engage your true core {click here for that free video}. If you can’t, go do ab rehab. It’s that simple. This site offers crunch-free workouts. We work you back to planks when you’re ready. We focus on alignment, breathing, technique, and we focus on loving your body, not beating yourself up!

Sign up for our email newsletter (right) and try our 10-minute “Totally Transverse” workout today!

 


34 comments:

  1. Avatar of MelindaTodd
    Mel

    July 28, 2011 at 12:42 am

    I wonder if this is why I always had a very flat stomach when I was thin? I used to suck my stomach in all the time because I hate doing crunches etc. Now I will be doing this again :)

    Reply
  2. June Stoyer

    July 30, 2011 at 10:09 am

    Excellent explanation, Bethany! I think when people workout their abs, they think the old way that the more crunches the better. It is about control just as you stated. You can really do more damage than good if the movements are not controlled and concise. It can also waste all of your valuable effort and promote back injury.

    Reply
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  9. Katy Waldrop

    June 14, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    Well this nearly made me cry! I was a ballet dancer growing up and try as I did, I always had a pooch! At one point I was doing 600 crunches a day- besides all the other crazy dance moves I did. Now four children and 1 C-section later I need some tummy help! So glad to have found this! Thank you!

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    Vivienne Caudle

    August 30, 2013 at 11:16 am

    How can I share this great article on Facebook?

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  34. bonnie

    September 19, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    so what if you don’t have a gap, but still can never get rid of a belly? I’m thin, small in size, short waisted, and no matter what I havea rounded tummy, no matter how thin and toned I am. My waist is almost as big as my hips. I always have that slightly pregnant look. Three kids and almost 40, I’d just love to have a waistline that is proportioned to the rest of me.

    Reply

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