Owner's Manual: Listen to Your Abdominals

No complaints about your pooch or trash talk about your belly allowed.

Listen to Your Abs

You have abs under there, and they work tirelessly for you. Pay them back with this advice.

What's What

Internal and External Obliques: Do the twist! These middle abdominal muscles allow you to rotate your trunk.

Rectus Abdominis: The famous "six-pack" muscle forms the top layer of the abs and plays a role in flexing forward at the waist.

Transverse Abdominis: Located deep in your core, this muscle stabilizes the spine.


4: The number of main muscles that make up the abdominals.

36: The minimum number of hours you should take off between abs workouts to allow the muscles to recover.

66: The percentage of women whose abs separate (known as diastasis recti) in the third trimester of pregnancy, per one study. Don't worry, it can be fixed!

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They're Abs-olutely Fabulous!

1. They Help Prevent Falls

Strong abdominal muscles boost balance and stability to help stop you from taking a spill when walking on uneven or unsteady ground — say, when on a boat or a train.

2. They're Like a Bodyguard

If you accidentally get an elbow to the stomach, the abs contract to protect your internal organs, such as the intestines and liver, from both the front and the sides.

3. They Keep You Dry

Strengthening the abs may help lessen the chance of stress incontinence, a condition that can cause you to pee accidentally when you laugh, cough, or sneeze.

Abs Get No Time Off

You rely on them when sitting at your desk, rolling over in bed, scooping up your toddler — even when coughing or sneezing. And although you may take the muscles for granted, these moves can become painful, if not impossible, if your abs are injured or weakened.

Keep them ready for around-the-clock action by being mindful of your posture. Whether you're sitting, walking, or standing still, practice pulling your belly button in toward your back, which will engage and work your core. Stick "Pull in abs!" reminders on your computer, bathroom mirror — wherever you'll see them the most.

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Strengthen Them the Right Way

Overdo it on exercises that work only the abs, and you may end up with back pain. Repetitive crunches, double leg lifts (raising and lowering legs while lying on your back), and other typical "abs" exercises can put pressure on the gel-filled disks that separate and cushion your spine bones. Over time, that pressure could injure the disks — ouch!

While you don't need to swear off sit-ups completely, mix in moves that strengthen all the muscles in your core (like the classic plank pose). This will help support the spine and prevent disk problems.

Ultimate Core Move: Keeping elbows under shoulders and body in a straight line, hold a plank pose for 15 seconds. When that feels easy, work up to 30 seconds, then a minute.

Cardio Beats Crunches

If you're trying to get your tum in shape, ease back on the daily core workouts. You've heard it before, but we'll repeat: Exercise can't spot-reduce fat, so all the bicycle crunches in the world won't unveil a washboard stomach. (One study showed that six weeks of abs exercises resulted in no real loss of abdominal fat.)

What can help you whittle your middle is a combination of aerobic exercise — like jogging, brisk walking, or swimming — and strength training. Researchers even found that overweight women who lifted weights twice a week were able to help ward off the belly fat that creeps up on us as we age.

This story originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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