When you think of your abdominal muscles, many people think in terms of your “six pack abs”. The truth is, there’s more to your abs than just the six pack. Learning about your stomach muscles will help you know where to tighten and tone to get those fab abs.

Many people will use terms like the lower abs and upper abs. This would indicate that there are separate abdominal muscles in the upper and lower stomach area. Although certain exercises focus mainly on the lower section or upper section, the truth is this particular ab muscle is one large muscle. You may have also heard people talk about the side muscles or the obliques and think that there is only one muscle on each side of the stomach. And of course there is the little known and most under worked ab muscle that sits deep down in the stomach.

So you can see that these terms and even names of certain abdominal exercises make it a bit confusing. But if you get to know your abdominal muscles, then you will know exactly where they are and how to tone all of your stomach muscles.

Anatomy of the Abdominal Muscles

There are six different muscles of the anterior abdominal wall. These muscles are the rectus abdominus, better known as your six pack, the oblique muscles (2 external and 2 interior muscles on each side) and the transverse abdominis muscle. Your abdominal muscles extend from different places on the ribs to various places on the pelvis. The primary purpose of your ab muscles is to provide movement and to support your trunk. Here’s a closer look at each abdominal muscle.

The Rectus Abdominis “The Six Pack”

Even though this muscle is more commonly referred to as the “six pack”, the proper name is the rectus abdominis muscle. This particular stomach muscle is one long muscle but is often referred to as the lower abs and upper abs. Many abdominal exercises, especially crunches, will target primarily the lower section of your rectus abdominus or target the upper section. However, when doing these crunches and ab exercises you will be working the entire muscle. You may feel the contraction in the lower area more or the upper area more, but the whole muscle is engaged. This abdominal muscle is located between your ribs and the pubic bone. Its main purpose and function is to provide movement of the body between the rib cage and the pelvis.

The most common abdominal exercises that target this muscle are crunches. The traditional crunch is by far one of the most popular when working the six pack. Although this is the most popular it is not necessarily the most effective on the rectus abdominis muscle. According to one study, the bicycle crunch, also called the bicycle maneuver, was shown to be the most effective for the rectus abdominus muscle.

Oblique Muscles

As explained above, there are four oblique muscles; 1 internal and 1 external on each side of the body. These muscles are situated on each side of the rectus abdominus muscle. The main purpose of the obliques is for twisting the body at your torso. The internal and external oblique muscles work together but in opposite ways. When you twist your body to the left, your right external oblique muscle and the left internal oblique muscles are engaged and contract. If twisting to the right, it would be your left external and right internal obliques that contract for this movement.

Stomach exercises that twist or bend at the side will work these muscles. Keep in mind that your ab exercises don’t always have to involve movement to work your muscles. Isometric exercises are another great way to really strengthen and tone all your ab muscles. Isometric exercises are non-movers where you contract a muscle and hold the position and resistance to tone the muscle. What this means is that isometrics are exercises were you are remaining in the same position with your muscles contracted for a period of time.

Transverse Abdominis Muscle

The deepest stomach muscle is the transverse abdominis muscle and is the most over looked abdominal muscle. This muscle is critical to help build your core strength. By strengthening and toning this muscle you are helping to minimize back injury and pain. You abdominal workout routine should always include a few exercises to work the transverse abdominal muscle.

A great exercise to work this muscle is the plank pose. The plank pose is an example of an isometric exercise and you hold the pose to contract the muscle. You can also do variations of this stomach exercise that would become a mover such as the plank pose twist (which will also work the oblique muscles) or the plank pose leg lift.

Now that you have learned all about the anatomy of the abdominal muscles you are ready to get a great workout and tone your stomach. Choose a variety of exercises to ensure you work all your muscles and keep your routine varied and fun. Here are several abdominal exercises to help you tone your stomach.

Author's Bio: 

Julie Barros is the author and creator of Exercise 4 Weight Loss where you can find lots of tips, tools and more to help you get fit and lose weight.