Strengthening and working your abdominal area into a 6 pack does not mean you are working on your core.
The muscles in the abdominal area are in layers. At the deepest layer, closest to your spine is the Transverse Abdominus (TA) followed by the Internal Obliques, then External Obliques and lastly your Rectus Abdominus (RA).
Your core muscles are those closest to your spine and center of your body.
The trouble with focusing movements and excercise on getting ‘abs’ or a flat tummy is that often there is a lack of support or activation through the deeper muscles. This is evident with a pouchy tummy or swayed back. When we go for big, grunty movements in an attempt to strengthen this area it is not uncommon to feel strain and end up with Rectus Abdominus, breathing apparatus, neck muscles, hamstrings, pelvic floor etc compensating for these less active supporting muscles.
The thing to do is to encourage the deeper layers of muscles to move efficiently first. Movements that are able to do this are often smaller, slower and certainly not grunty. We need to feel ease through the neck, Diaphragm muscle, Pelvic Floor etc if we are to set the foundation to build a flat tummy on top of.
Movements like Navasana or Boat Pose are wonderful when all the global stabilizers are working, breath is easy and the Multifidus, Transverse Abdominus etc works harmoniously with the Obliques and Rectus Abdominus to hold you there. If we don’t have the necessary activation and ease through these deeper layers something less efficient will naturally be recruited to hold us there.
These principles do not only apply to Yoga though. There are many movements prescribed by personal trainers with the goal of a flat tummy. They are all great provided there is an awareness of how congruently the Rectus Abdominus group are working with everything mentioned above. For example, a student with a split Rectus Abdominus (Diastisis) will almost certainly need a small, mindful movement practice first and perhaps ‘Ab’ work is not appropriate for some time.
Plank is a favorite of many friends that are personal trainers and again, if the network that encompasses global stabilizers, TA, Obliques AND Rectus Abdominus etc isn’t functional you may end up with strain and not meet your goal of a flat tummy and toned ‘abs’.
A flat tummy is possible! Often what sabotages our goal is going to far, to fast.