Your abdominals play a major role in most of the movements and activities you engage in. They help you change positions when lying down, sitting and standing, they help provide stability and power during weightlifting exercises, and they support your spine for good posture throughout the day. Without flexibility in this area, you can strain your muscles and have poor athletic performance.
It's easy to think of your abdominals by the upper, middle and lower portions. There are actually three distinct muscle groups that make up your abdominals. The obliques make up the sides of your stomach and run from your ribs down into your pelvis. The rectus abdominis is the large group that runs vertically along the front of your torso; these are the most visible muscles. The transverse abdominis runs horizontally beneath the rectus abdominis and supports your vital organs.
There are three basic forms of stretching: dynamic, static and ballistic. Dynamic stretches are more involved and use fluid motions to prepare your muscles for specific activities. Static stretching uses specific poses held for 15 to 30 seconds. You should feel slight tension or discomfort but it should never be painful. Ballistic stretching uses jerking, bouncing movements to prepare the body for activity. MayoClinic.com discourages the use of bouncing movements because it can create muscle tears and inhibit flexibility. Regardless of the type of stretch you choose, never stretch a cold muscle.
Dynamic stretching can be coupled with your warm-up to help increase blood flow and transition your body from rest to activity. This should be done for at least five minutes immediately before you start your workout. After you complete your workout, static stretches help to improve flexibility and elongate your muscles. This in turn will help prevent injury, improve your range of motion and enhance your fitness performance.
The Cobra is a static stretch that targets the lower abdominal muscles. Lie on your stomach on the floor with your hands directly beneath your shoulders. Slowly straighten your arms to lift your chest off the floor. Continue lifting your chest until your arms are straight and your chest is facing the wall in front of you or until you feel a slight stretch in your lower torso. Remain in this position for up to 30 seconds and slowly lower back down.
Trunk rotations are dynamic stretches that engage your lower abdominal muscles. Sit on your butt with your legs bents and your heels on the floor. Clasp your hands together in front of your body and hold them directly in front of your chest. Rotate your torso to the right, pause for a second, rotate to the left, pause for a second and continue for up to 15 repetitions. To increase the workload you can lift your heels off the floor or hold onto a weight.
Ashley Farley has been a certified personal trainer since 2008. She is also a writer specializing in healthy living, fitness and nutrition topics. Farley has an Associate of Science in mental health services from the Community College of the Air Force and is pursuing her B.A. in English at Wright State University.