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5 Abdominal Questions Answered
by Justin Leonard
Written on December 25, 2006

1. Is there a such thing as lower and upper abs?

The abs, technically called the rectus abdominis, is actually one muscle. However, depending on the type of exercise being done, there is evidence to suggest that there may be muscle fiber recruitment in the upper and lower abs (Kendall, 1993). So depending on which portion of the abs are used more, there could in fact be a difference in the way the muscle fibers are recruited. It is important to note that the entire abdominal region still contracts, regardless of the exercise being done.

2. If a person has strong abs, why do their feet need to be held down during the sit-up exercise?

It is for leverage. This is especially true for men since their upper bodies are generally heavier than their lower bodies. In women, it's the other way around. So essentially, holding the feet down produces a counter-balancing effect. Of course there are exceptions to this rule.

3. What are the indications and contraindications of the sit-up exercise?

The ability to perform a sit-up is an indicator of strong abdominal and hip flexor muscles. The inability to perform a sit-up is usually due to weakness in the ab muscles as opposed to the hip flexors. The reason is because most people have strong hip flexors. These are the muscles that allow you to kick your leg forward as you walk. Additionally, a weak lower back could inhibit the ability to perform sit-ups.

4. Can leg raises and knee-ins help with the lower abs?

Although the abs do contract when the legs are elevated, these exercises mainly target the hip flexor muscles. Additionally, it puts stress on the lower back which can be dangerous for some. A suggestion would be to focus on supine (laying on the back) ab exercises that can be done from a bent knee position. They are safe on the lumbar spine. The abdominal crunch exercise would be ideal.

5. How many muscles make up the midsection?

There are four muscles that make up the midsection: rectus abdominis, internal oblique, external oblique, and transversus abdominis. The purpose of the rectus abdominis is to shorten the distance between the sternum and the pelvis (or flex the spinal column). The oblique muscles are also involved in spinal flexion. However, they are primarily designed to assist in torso rotation movements. The transversus abdominis acts as the body's natural "weightlifting belt." It supports the internal organs and assists with posture. When you "suck in" the abs, the transversus abdominis contracts.


Kendall, F., McCreary, E., Provance, P. (1993). Muscles: Testing and Function. Fourth Edition. Baltimore, Maryland: Williams & Wilkens.

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