How to have flat abs … without pooching!

Flat Abs
Flat Abdominal Wall

Let’s face it….having flat abs is something most, if not all of us, would love to have. And, if you are working out hard in the gym but still not achieving the chiseled look of a well defined ab wall, there might be something else going on. Before we get into what might be happening, let’s go over a bit of anatomy.

Abdominal Muscle Anatomy

Abdominal Muscles
View of the abdominal muscles
  • Transverse Abdominis: this muscle is the deepest and it has more of a stabilizing rather than a moving function. The transverse abs connect into a layer of fascia at the front of your belly that is below your rectus abdominis muscle.
  • Internal Obliques: this muscle is the layer above the transverse abs. They come from the sides of the belly and run in a diagonal direction. Its functions are to bend the trunk, help with trunk rotation and assist during breathing. Towards the front of your belly, the IO muscle divides and forms fascia both below and on top of the rectus abdominis muscle.
  • External Obliques: this muscle is the next layer up. They flex the trunk and help with rotation. If you picture yourself putting your hands in your front pockets, you are going in the same direction as the external obliques. The EO’s blend in with the fasciae that lays over your rectus abdominis muscle.
  • Rectus Abdominis: this muscle is the most superficial of the abdominal muscles and is known as the 6 pack muscle.

Your transverse abs, internal obliques and external obliques should all work when you lift your head and when they do, your abdominal wall will flatten.

But, these 4 muscles need to be balanced, just like the rest of our bodies. When one muscle group is too strong, other muscles may become a little lazy. Let’s look at a couple of issues that may keep us from achieving that flab ab look!


Diastasis Rectus Abdominis
Diastasis Rectus Abdominis

As you can see in the image, a diastasis looks like a widening across the midsection. This happens during pregnancy but can also happen with:

  • heavy lifting with improper core engagement
  • becoming obese

How do you find a diastasis?

Diastasis Rectus Abdominis
A 3 finger width Diastasis Rectus Abdominis
  • lay on your back
  • place your fingers along your midline, widthwise
  • lift your head

Do you feel a gap along your midline where your fingers are? Can your fingers sink inwards? Less than a 2 finger width across is not considered a diastasis. More than this means there is a diastasis.

Can I still get flat abs if I have a diastasis?

Every woman’s diastasis is different and some will have more difficulty achieving flat abs. But, for many women, yes you can. You need to learn how to activate your core stabilizing muscles well so have a look at this blog for more info about that:

What else might be keeping you from having those flat abs?

How about an overactive rectus abdominis muscle? You’re probably thinking that more abs is better, but not always. Let’s do the test:

  • lay on your back
  • lift your head up
  • if you see those vertical ridges (your rectus abdominis muscle halves) bulge upwards, then these muscles are too active

Oftentimes, people who have overdeveloped rectus abs also have tight hips and lower back pain. This just means that you need to up train other ab muscles, like your transverse abs, so the 6 pack muscles don’t have to work too hard.

Whats the best exercise to achieve those flat abs?

There isn’t one! It is not about WHAT exercise to do, but rather, HOW you are doing the exercise. If you are doing a crunch and letting your belly pooch upwards, then you will never achieve a flat belly.

You get what you train

You need to work your deep abdominal stabilizing muscles well so you can then layer your more superficial, glamor muscles on top.

And don’t forget about your pelvic floor as these muscles are also part of your deep abdominal support core system! You don’t have to have a pelvic floor issue, like leaking, to then start to work on these muscles. They should be included in every exercise. If you want even more info about how to do this, click the button below.

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