About a month ago, Halle Berry, the only African American female Academy Award winner so far, posted a photo of her well-shaped abs on Instagram. Compared to a picture taken a month before the “Ripped Abs” post, it was a big difference.
In her Instagram story, Halle also shared various workouts she did together with her fitness trainer under #FitnessFriday.
While these workouts seem fun, some of them can be challenging too, especially for beginners. Plus, without proper gauging, planning and sticking to the routine, a goal can hardly be achieved.
As you may or may not already know, core muscles play a crucial part in almost all body movements. Major core muscles include pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae (sacrospinalis) especially the longissimus thoracis, and the diaphragm. The rectus abdominis is often referred to as the “six pack”, which is also the “ripped abs” Halle meant. Having a strong core is more than having “six pack” or “ripped abs”, more importantly, it helps you to be more stable and powerful during workout. On the other hand, engaging your core in your body movements and doing core strength workout will help to strengthen and tone your abdominal muscles.
Therefore, according to my personal experience, here are some tweaks and tricks to use in order to get “ripped abs” safely and efficiently.
1. Anterior Pelvic Tilt
Anterior pelvic tilt is when your pelvis is rotated forward, which forces your spine to curve. A study has shown that 85% of males and 75% of females within a normal asymptomatic population have anterior pelvic tilt. People with anterior pelvic tilt may have over stretched and weak abdominal muscles, as well as over arched and tight lower back muscles. This can be due to sedentary, as a modern way of lifestyle for human beings nowadays. Although a slightly anterior pelvic tilt is normal, it can still affect your posture, for example, belly bulge caused by over arch spine and belly fat storage because of weak abdominal muscles. In some cases, it can also affect your back posture and your height. Anterior pelvic tilt can be worsened and cause pain or even injuries if no precaution is taken.
Anterior Pelvic Tilt Caused by Sedentary
Source: EasePain Blog
Anterior pelvic tilt can cause lower back muscle compensation, which can in turn cause lower back pain. One example would be lower back pain after some weightlifting, especially deadlift and squat. In this example, if the abdominal muscles are not strong enough to hold the spine in a neutral position, and if the glutes are not strong enough either, the lower back muscles will compensate and therefore the Pelvis will tilt forward. This can then cause lower back pain.
Another common example would be low back pain associated with high-heel wearers. A study shows that there is a moderate effect for an increased transversal pelvic rotation due to high heel shoed walking, and altered pelvic parameters may be interpreted as compensatory adaptions to high-heeled footwear in experienced wearers.
Now you may wonder, why do I need to read through all this stuff while all I want is to have good looking abs? Because we want to train our abs safely and efficiently, which means no pain or injury, little or no compensation.
So how can one tell if she/he has anterior pelvic tilt?
The easiest way is to lay down on any flat surface, extend your legs, relaxed and measure the widest gap between your lower back and the floor. If the gap is wider than three fingers, then it is likely that you have anterior pelvic tilt.
Then how to fix anterior pelvic tilt? One way is to also lay down on a flat surface, bend your knee to about 90 degrees, then rotate your pelvis until your lower back can lay flat and touch the flat surface. Now you will feel that your abdominal muscles start to engage in the movement while your lower back starts to release a bit. If you have done crunches before, you will be familiar with this position and know if you did it correctly or not. Keep practicing and remember this feeling whenever you are exercising, sitting, standing or walking. You will slowly see the effect and benefit.
2. Diaphragmatic Breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing, or deep breathing, is breathing that is done by contracting the diaphragm, a muscle located horizontally between the thoracic cavity and abdominal cavity. As mentioned in the beginning, diaphragm is one of the major core muscles. In diaphragmatic breathing, your belly expands when you inhale, and more importantly, it sinks in when you exhale, pushing the air out and contract the core muscles. In fact, if you do diaphragmatic breathing in front of a mirror right now, you can already see that your belly button gets pushed in and your abs get flatter instantly.
Incorporating diaphragmatic breathing into your ab workout is a crucial way to train ab muscles properly without causing the muscles to protrude. ( Check out this article to see how to incorporate diaphragmatic breathing into different types of exercise. ) In addition, for strength training in general, breathing out on the concentric phase of the lift (similar to the main abdominal movement during crunches), is the most commonly recommended technique. Because when you exhale and squeeze the air out, you increase core engagement, and a tight core equals more power and more stability.
3. Incorporate Point 1 & 2 into Your Ab Workouts
If you just begin to explore ab workouts and you find it difficult to get a grip of how it should feel like, try to use a yoga mat or exercise mat for support. Do it slowly and pay attention to how it feels like when you pull your upper body up and exhale. If you do it correctly, you will feel that your abdominal muscles contract when you pull up.
4. Ab Workouts
There are a variety of ab workouts that you can find online. But if you are just a beginner and want to start with some classic easy ab workouts, here are some effective ones I would recommend:
Abdominal crunches – 12 reps 2 sets
Russian twists – 12 reps 2 sets
Planks – 30 secs 2 sets
Tabletop Crawl – 30 secs
Weighted Bird Dog – 12 reps each side
Having a “six pack” or “ripped abs” is more than just doing ab workouts, it also requires proper cardio and food intake. What is more important is training your abs and core muscles helps you to perform other training more safely and efficiently. In fact, with correct posture and breathing method, you will be able to see toned abs as long as you stick to your fitness routine.
You may want to check out:
 Lee Herrington, "Assessment of the degree of pelvic tilt within a normal asymptomatic population", Man Ther. 2011 Dec;16(6):646-8. doi: 10.1016/j.math.2011.04.006. Epub 2011 Jun 11.
 Jan Schroeder, Karsten Hollander, "Effects of high-heeled footwear on static and dynamic pelvis position and lumbar lordosis in experienced younger and middle-aged women", Gait Posture. 2018 Jan;59:53-57. doi: 10.1016/j.gaitpost.2017.09.034. Epub 2017 Sep 28.
 Jenny McCoy, "Here’s Why the Way You Breathe During a Workout Matters", SELF.com. 2018 Sep 22.