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It looks like the rectus abdominis plays a role in posture and contributes a bit towards increasing intra-abdominal pressure (IAP). Also, it is used for trunk/lumbar flexion as well.

However, what benefit is there to having a particularly "strong" rectus abdominis? By strong, I mean significantly beyond whatever may be required for basic mere things like posture and the occasional sit-up (or crunch). I understand IAP can be quite helpful for lifting and handling heavy weights, but it seems it's the transverse abdominis that's much more important for that.

For example, is there any "heavy lifting" or exercise significantly helped by a specifically strong rectus (not transverse!) abdominis? I'm not referring to some contrived "weighted sit-up" or crunch exercise here : )

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  • Global muscles produce movement.
  • Local muscles prevent movement.

For examples of over-developed rectus abdominis you can look towards the sport of super-heavyweight powerlifting/strongman where many have extremely large rectus abdominis to stop their body folding in two

The rectus abdominis generates spinal flexion. A physical barrier like a large stomach may create a physical barrier to stop movement but it doesn't matter if it's fat or a "six pack" that's blocking the movement. There's no relation to muscle function

The reason this was such a good question is that the rectus is considered a global muscle and not consider a part of the innercore.

Failure to stabilize the spine isn't ONLY due to weakness. Altered neuromuscular firing patterns produce the same result.

If you're more powerful global muscles are firing before your deep stabilizers this results in large force being applied to an unstablized spinal column.

This is why the trA is so important. It is activated first before movement in any direction. Unlike your quadratus lumborum which is only active during sagittal plane movements.

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    You only need to post 1 answer. – John Apr 24 '17 at 6:59
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Have a strong core is essential in anything you do while standing up. Your rectus abdominis are a big part of this.

For example, is there any "heavy lifting" or exercise significantly helped by a specifically strong rectus (not transverse!) abdominis?

Yes, your rectus abdominis will help stabilize your body while doing things like deadlifts, squats, bend-over rows, military press, push-ups, if you do these movements will standing (apart from the push-ups). Even if you do bicep curls while standing, your core is working to keep your body erect.

Note: I'm not saying rectus abdominis is the only muscle that is stabilizing your body, your entire core does this. I'm saying rectus abdominis is a part of this and therefore making it stronger will help in anything that requires your core to stabilize your body during heavy lifting or any daily activitie.

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  • Seems like the rectus abdominis is more about generating spinal flexion, rather than intra-abdominal pressure -- which is more in the domain of the transverse abdominis. See Mike-DHSc's answer about global vs local muscles – ManRow May 24 '17 at 5:57
  • @ManRow Yes I am aware of that. Thats why I added the note to my answer. – MJB May 24 '17 at 6:00
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It looks like the rectus abdominis plays a role in posture and contributes a bit towards increasing intra-abdominal pressure (IAP).

Posture is more dynamic and complicated than people give it credit for. Technically every muscle in your body plays some role in posture.

Also, it is used for trunk/lumbar flexion as well.

Of course, it does that but priority of training that is likely low.

I'd say the torso is more for transfer of force from the upper body to lower body and vice versa. Secondary or tertiary function is stability, or anti-rotation (could be considered the same thing). As opposed to lumbar flexion, which is at best a tertiary or quaternary (fourth) consideration.

Frankly few people are that weak at lumbar flexion. And if you can do more than 8 reps of something, you're no longer training strength, you're training muscular endurance. Doing 30-40 crunches becomes a waste of time because the threshold of adaptation is way too low and it takes to long to get a training effect at the expense of spinal flexion cycles.

However, what benefit is there to having a particularly "strong" rectus abdominis? By strong, I mean significantly beyond whatever may be required for basic mere things like posture and the occasional sit-up (or crunch).

  1. Hypertrophy -- If that's what you want, then loaded lumbar flexion (cable crunches, loaded crunches) is somewhat of a requirement in a ~6-12 rep range.
  2. Function -- Especially explosive anti-rotation work like pallofs or chops/lifts or in eccentric anti-flexion like a roll-out. These are all particularly useful benefits for athletes, especially rotational or overhead athletes as it contributes to force generation/transfer.

Yes, none of those examples seem 'specific' to rectus abdominis in terms of isolation, but you can't isolate muscles anyway. This is a myth, you can only favour muscles in a kinetic chain. All muscles work in some kind of kinetic chain. Even in a crunch, your hip flexors, TVA, pelvic floor and your obliques are involved.

The RA is involved heavily in all of those torso exercises.

I understand IAP can be quite helpful for lifting and handling heavy weights, but it seems it's the transverse abdominis that's much more important for that.

I'd argue that internal obliques and your diaphragm are more important than TVA for most people for strong IAP. Breathing and bracing drills improve IPA significantly better than TVA specific drills (vacuum/sucking in). In many ways, TVA specific training is the opposite of creating good IPA. TVA specific work is overrated and based on generally outdated research.

For example, is there any "heavy lifting" or exercise significantly helped by a specifically strong rectus (not transverse!) abdominis? I'm not referring to some contrived "weighted sit-up" or crunch exercise here.

Yes. The chin up immediately comes to mind as you have to control extension. Anyone good at them will typically have considerable RA strength. There is a piece of research or two, that showed chin ups yield significantly more RA activation than any crunch variation (even loaded ones if I recall).

Of course, given that you can't truly isolate one muscle and that all muscles work in some kind of kinetic chain. It's silly to really focus too much attention on any one muscle.

There are also numerous athletic reasons to have a strong RA but not traditionally as you might think of it (i.e. crunch). Explosive rotational power needs a strong RA to slow rotation, so every pitcher, every tennis player, every volleyball player, etc... All need strong RA's (in conjunction with other torso muscles) to prevent injury.

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Seriously -- great question. Really making me think... Love it.

Strange, as so much emphasis is placed on a having a "six-pack" for very little benefit.

I believe it would be incorrect to say that it's insertion, which is essentially directly down to the pubic region, would cause any significant posterior tilt during rest or have any effect on the resting position of the antagonist back musculature.

You're dead right, the TrA is activated before all movement, so that would be the key stabilizer. I would have to say beyond generating force for function movements like sitting up. It seems to be a hybrid muscle both generating global movement and also preventing it -- but nothing of significance.

The only benefit I see is preventing altered length-tension relationship in the opposite case -- the global back musculature being tight causing an anterior tilt and weakened rectus.

What are your thoughts? I can’t see how it would significantly help any type of heavy lifts…

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  • IMO anterior pelvic tilt (APT) is more about weak glutes than weak abs. The quads are also tight, but during exercises such squats, APT can actually help maintain tension in the quads and knees. During deadlifts, it can help keep the tension in the lower back. Quads (especially the parts attached to the pelvis) and glutes tend to have an antagonistic and reciprocally inhibitive relationship with respect to pelvic tilt. When the pelvic is oriented correctly the upper muscles (abs/spinal erectors) will automatically orient themselves as needed. – ManRow Apr 21 '17 at 3:16

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