The Other Reason You Don’t Have a Six-Pack

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Throw out the weight loss diets and special machines: You have everything you need to transform your abs with just your body. The big trick to getting glossy abs is pretty simple: you need release the restrictions in your abs that keep them from working properly, then activate those muscles, and finally you can strengthen the specific muscles you need.

In order to develop those strong abdominals you need to start with the innermost layer, your transverse abdominis (TA). In theory, this muscle should be working all the time. It should stabilize you before you move and is used when you breathe properly. However, when there are restrictions in your hip flexors and tightness in your abdominals insertions, it is unable to work properly.

Everyone focuses on the rectus abdominis during exercise, the muscle that, when working properly, creates the six pack look. But the other abdominal muscles are the ones that will create true core stability and strength. Consider the key role the TA plays in tennis. Hear those grunts and guttural sounds when the player striking the ball? These serve a key purpose — helping the athlete stabilize their core through forced exhalation to create increased force production and therefore maximizing the velocity of the ball.


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Diaphragmatic breathing is the key to getting your TA to work. Start by lying on your back with your knees bent. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your lower belly. Breathe in through your nose and force your air into your lowest lungs. If you feel your top hand rising, continue to try to guide the breath down to your lower hand. If you can’t then you are probably restricted at the abdominal insertions along your core. You will need to release these areas (see the exercises below).

Getting your TA to work properly is going to set you up for success with all other ab exercises. I’ve often heard people mention that their backs hurt after an ab work out. That should absolutely not happen and indicates that the TA is not helping you stabilize. Getting your TA to work will give you the proper foundation and allow you to build up to targeting your other ab muscles. When it comes to your abs, start with the inner most layers and progress to the internal obliques, external obliques, and then the rectus abdominis. That’s the only way you can get that six-pack you always wanted.

(Caveat: If you are eating pizza with cheese-filled crust everyday, doing the things I offer up below will not give you a six pack. You need to eat well — nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods, you know the drill — to address excess weight.)

Deep Breathing

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat. Keep the back flat and in contact with the surface.
  • Take a deep breath in through your nose ensuring that your lower belly rises and your chest doesn’t move.
  • Focus on sending your breath down to your lower belly, keeping the back flat.
  • Breath with your lips puckered.
  • Imagine you are blowing out candles. As a general rule, 5 seconds for inhaling, 7 seconds for exhaling.

Prone Plank

  • Lie on your stomach with your elbow parallel below your shoulder.
  • Engage your abdominals and lift your hipsto enter a plank position.
  • Tuck your pelvis under and hollow your belly slightly.
  • Squeeze your shoulders down and back, tuck your chin, and squeeze your glutes.
  • Ideally, you will have a straight line from the back of your head to your sacrum.
  • Now focus on the action of blowing out candles or saying “SHHHHHH”. You should feel your deepest abdominals engage.

Side Planks

  • Lay on side, place elbow under shoulder, engage abs,and squeeze glutes together.
  • Push up supporting weight onto forearm and side of the foot, knees together, and heels stacked, make sure back is flat.
  • Shrug shoulders down, tuck your chin,and blow like you are blowing out candles to activate your transverse abdominis.

Twisted Dead Bug

  • Lie on your back with your hands straight in front of you toward the ceiling.Bring your knees and hips up to 90 degrees and make sure your lower back is flat on the ground. Position and squeeze a half foam roller between the right elbow and left knee.In this position, lower and straighten the opposite leg until it is just above the ground. At the same time lower your opposite arm towards the ground above your head. Throughout this movement, maintain tension in your abdominals and keep your low back flat on the ground. Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side. Perform three sets of 10-15 on each side

David Reavy, founder of Chicago-based React Physical Therapy, is the creator of the Reavy Method, a whole body approach to physical therapy and exercise. Reavy works with numerous pro athletes from the NFL, NBA, MLS, and the WNBA.

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