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A lot of online advice on developing the abs starts by correcting the misperception that the abs are separate muscles, instead, they are a single wall.

Now, it's not clear what should I conclude from it. My problem is that my upper abdomen is shaping up pretty nice and flat as I work on it, but the lower part still has a little bulge and its pretty stubborn. Some people advise that since its one wall, you can't target a particular part of it and you have to continue doing overall ab exercises to reduce it. Others say that you can tone the lower part specifically by increasing the number and intensity of lower ab workouts.

So, I would like some advice on which side to believe, either from personal experiences or any studies that might have been done, etc.

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How would this affect your training, even if I would 'prove' they are one muscle? Would that mean you'd change your ab-workouts? –  Ivo Flipse Aug 20 '11 at 14:52
    
I need to know whether i should focus more on lower ab exercises. I am not using any equipment currently and only have a limited amount of time each day set aside for exercise (1 hour). –  M.A Aug 20 '11 at 17:10
    
What would be the reason to focus on your lower abs more? Because instead of trying to falsify claims it's easier to simply ask what the best way is to achieve your goal and why. The answer would probably explain how your abs work as well. –  Ivo Flipse Aug 20 '11 at 18:04
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Wouldn't that bulge be related to fat, and not muscle content? Abs work in concert with the obliques and the back muscles to keep your spine in proper alignment. The truth is the abs are a bunch of related muscles working together. They give the effect of one wall of muscle, but are in fact several. muscle-fitness-tips.net/abdominal-muscles.html –  Berin Loritsch Aug 20 '11 at 18:47
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3 Answers 3

The truth is that anatomically, the abs are a collection of interrelated muscles. The primary function of your abdominal muscles, along with the obliques and back muscles is to keep the spine in an anatomically correct position.

Exercise is specific, in the sense that the stress you apply forces an adaptation only to the muscles that were stressed. When you perform different ab related exercises, you may feel the bulk of the burn on the top, bottom, or sides of the abs. That said, working the abs as one large unit provides the most beneficial effect from the perspective of strength.

When you see a bulge surrounding the lower abs, there are a couple possibilities:

  • Adipose tissue: fat is very stubborn in the abdominal region--particularly for men.
  • Hyperlordosis: an over-curved spine usually as the result of sitting in a chair for hours on end--typically caused by muscle imbalance and/or inflexibility.

Assuming that the problem is not adipose tissue (you would also have deposits on your sides [love handles]), then I would put the blame on hyperlordosis.

The corrective procedures for hyperlordosis is two-fold:

  • Stretching: when the glutes and hamstrings are too tight, they can pull the spine back where the muscles are connected. This is one of the causes of the spinal curvature.
  • Abdominal work: planks (iso-prones), weighted situps, etc. will strengthen the abdominals to pull from the other side.

In short, don't worry about upper/lower/left/right. Just worry about exercising the abs as if they were one muscle.

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Your question is not really about the structure of the abdominal muscle. Your question is about the "lower part [that] still has a little bulge". You seem to be subscribing to the Spot Reduction Myth. Belief in spot reduction means that you think exercising your arms/abs/thighs/butt will specifically reduce the amount of fat on that area of your body. This is a misunderstanding. As exrx.net describes:

Contrary to what the infomercials suggest there is no such thing as spot reduction. Fat is lost throughout the body in a pattern dependent upon genetics, sex (hormones), and age. Overall body fat must be reduced to lose fat in any particular area. Although fat is lost or gained throughout the body it seems the first area to get fat, or the last area to become lean, is the midsection (in men and some women, especially after menopause) and hips and thighs (in women and few men). Sit-ups, crunches, leg-hip raises, leg raises, hip adduction, hip abduction, etc. will only exercise the muscles under the fat.

In other words, you can't "tone" your little bulge. You need to exercise your whole body and eat less or eat better. This will improve your whole body, which will include your little bulge. I don't know your diet, lifestyle, or current workout regimen so I can't advise on how you should specifically proceed.

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The 'abs' as most know them is one single muscle (rectus abdominis), although there are other abdominal muscles that lie beneath these. That shouldn't bother you, though the purpose of the 6-pack (actually 8-pack due to the last portion being near the pubic region) is to move the chest and pelvis towards each other (i.e. bend forward).

Twisting does not exercise the visible abs, but any exercise will help develop at least one of the groups of abdominal muscles, visible or otherwise.

The twisting motion, and many other functions of the spine, is controlled by the back muscles rather than those at the front of the body. However, there is nothing to be lost whatever muscle groups you believe you are exercising: they all need it, and you can only do good.

To develop your '6-pack' abs, some form of bending from chest towards pelvis will work, such as sit-ups with a weight on your chest. That must be done in conjunction with a good diet containing carbohydrates to provide energy, or alternatively proteins if you want to build up your muscles.

Your metabolism will use the carbohydrate portion of the protein for energy (>glucose>ATP energy) and the amino acid portion to generate new protein and muscle tissue where the blood flows most - your abs that you are exercising. A simplistic explanation, but reasonably accurate nevertheless.

Cheers,

Pete

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