Most exercise enthusiasts, both beginners or experienced alike, want a flat stomach with washboard abs. Through proper diet and training, you can achieve the rock solid belly of your dreams. If you regularly incorporate ab workouts into your exercise regimen, you need to remember to stretch your abdominals. Just like any other muscle group, you have to decrease tension and improve mobility before and after a workout.
What are the Abdominal Muscles?
The abdominal muscles have several functions, from supporting your body during movement to holding organs in place. To put it briefly, your abdominal muscles are strong bands of muscles that line the walls of the abdomen. They are located toward the front of the body between the ribs and pelvis. Read on to learn about the main abdominal muscles.
This pair of muscles run down the middle of the abdomen, from the ribs to the front of the pelvis. These muscles keep the body stable during movement and hold the organs in place. The fabled “six pack” that you see is actually the rectus abdominis, provided the person has a fit abdomen.
The oblique muscles provide rotation and trunk flexion. The external oblique is the thickest and runs from the lower ribs to the iliac crest, while the internal oblique is small and lies under the external muscle. The internal oblique also originates at the iliac crest before reaching the pubic bone.
The transverse abdominals are a pair of muscles that are the deepest of the flat muscles. They exist at the bottom of the stack and work to stabilize the trunk, helping you maintain internal abdominal pressure.
Functions of Abdominal Muscles
Think of your core as a strong column that joins the lower body and upper body together. When you have a solid core, you have a solid foundation for most activities. The torso tends to power most bodily movements, and the abdominals work together with back muscles to support the spine. No matter what you are doing, be it bending over, picking things up, running, or doing pushups, the abdominals work to support you.
Why Do Your Abs Feel So Tight?
If you experience tightness in the abdominal muscles, there may be a few different explanations. Pay close attention to whether or not your stomach feels tight, or if your actual muscles feel tight. A tight stomach may indicate a digestive issue, anxiety, or other health issue. No amount of stretching is going to help your gut. Tight abdominal muscles can result from a hard training session, unbalanced exercise programming (i.e. too many sit-ups or crunches), or poor posture. Sitting for extended hours or poor breathing patterns may also cause tension in your abs.
Benefits Of Stretching Your Abs
Whether your abs are chronically tight or sore after an ab workout, stretching your abs has numerous benefits. Besides reducing muscular tension, ab stretches can help improve your range of motion, which is necessary for exercises and everyday activities. Stretching your abs may also help decrease muscle pain and accelerate your recovery. Lastly, as is true for stretching all muscle groups, improving flexibility can help decrease your risk of injury. You can’t reduce your risk to zero, but you can stretch to lend your body a helping hand.
Best Ab Stretches For Before & After Workouts
Below, you’ll find some of the best ab stretches that are beneficial to do either before or after your workouts. As you perform the stretches, you’ll notice a stretch in other muscles, which is excellent. Just remember that the primary focus is on the abdominal muscles.
14. Ab Side Stretch
You can perform this exercise pretty much anywhere, as long as you have your body and a little space. Although it’s a non-strenuous abdominal stretch, it is still very effective.
- To begin, stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms by your side.
- Raise your right arm above your head and keep your left arm by your side. Slowly lean to the left, sliding your left hand down your leg.
- Don’t lean too far, as you don’t want to strain yourself. You should feel a stretch through your obliques on the right side. Hold this position for about 10 seconds.
- Return to the starting position and then repeat on the other side.
13. Standing Hip Circles
This dynamic movement works to stretch the entire abdominal wall. It is great to do before a workout or any sort of physical activity. Just be mindful that you do your hip circles with control, as too much momentum will cancel out the benefits.
- Stand up straight with your feet hip-distance apart and place your hands on your hips.
- Lean your torso forward and to the right, performing a circle with your torso until you are leaning back slightly.
- After you complete 10 revolutions in one direction, switch to complete 10 more revolutions in the other direction.
12. Supine Stretch
When you finish crunching, V-ing up, and planking, this is the perfect stretch to do. The reason for this is because you get to relax by lying down on a mat. Plus, it doesn’t require any energy to stand up or have resistance.
- In order to be as comfortable as possible, lie flat on your mat, not the hard floor. Keep your arm stretched out above your head in the lying down position.
- Make sure your fingertips are pointing away from your body. Stretch through the spine and reach away from your head.
- The goal of this stretch is to elongate the abdominals, but be careful not to overstretch. Take five deep breaths and then release.
11. Cobra Pose Abdominal Stretch
This prone stretch works to stretch both the upper and lower regions of the abdominal muscles. You will most likely find the deepest stretch in your upper abdominals, which is where the most tension occurs. Remember to keep your hips mobile and your chest open, but remain stable in the shoulders.
- Begin face down in a prone position on your mat. Bend your arms to stretch your triceps and place your hands next to your pectorals.
- Push up and press your hips and tops of your feet into the mat. Puff your chest, drop your shoulders, and hold this position for about 20-30 seconds.
- Return to the starting position and then repeat two to four more times.
10. Cat Cow Stretch
This is a classic yoga pose that works to target the abs during the cow position, and upper back during the cat position. In addition to stretching your abdominal muscles, this pose helps you mobilize the spine.
- Begin in a tabletop position with your hands directly beneath your shoulder and knees underneath your hips.
- Feel your abs and arch your back directing your gaze out and up if you can on an inhale
- Hold this position before exhaling and rounding your back, drawing your abdomen into your spine. Tuck your check and chest as well.
- Continue alternating between these two positions for about 20-30 seconds.
9. Lying Rotation Stretch
Similar to the ab side stretch, the lying rotation stretch works to stretch your obliques. Having the stability of the floor allows you to ease into the stretch, opening up to a position in which you feel comfortable.
- Lie on your right side and bend your knees, drawing your knees toward your chest.
- Place your right hand on top of your left thigh to keep it from moving during the stretch.
- In a wheel motion, open your chest and reach your left arm back until you feel a stretch in your obliques, chest, and shoulder.
- Hold this position for a few seconds and then return to the starting position. Repeat a couple more times and then switch sides.
8. Standing Lean Back Stomach Stretch
Just like the other standing ab stretches in this list, this standing lean back stomach stretch moves you through hip and spinal extension. That means that you will feel a deep stretch in the lower regions of the rectus abdominis.
- Stand up straight with your feet hip-distance apart and place your hands just above your glutes on your lower back.
- Lean back and slide your hands down a little the farther you lean. You should feel a stretch in your anterior core.
- Hold this position for 30-60 seconds and repeat if necessary.
7. Snake Stretch
The snake stretch is very similar to Cobra pose, but you don’t extend up as much, i.e. there is not as much arch in the spine. This stretch requires a small amount of flexibility and is great to do post-workout.
- Lie flat on your stomach, bend your arms, and place your hands on either side of your shoulders.
- Make sure that the tops of your feet are on the mat and then press up, engaging your pectoral muscles.
- Raise your trunk until there is about a 45-degree bend in your elbows and you feel a stretch in your abdominal muscles. Tilt your head back and hold the stretch for about 10 seconds.
6. Rotating Stomach Stretch
Similar to the lying rotation stretch, the rotating stomach stretch involves moving the body side to side, which really involves the obliques. Because this is a dynamic stretch, you should ideally perform it as part of your warm-up.
- Begin face down on your mat in a prone position, bending your arms and placing your hands beside your shoulders.
- Engage your pectorals to push up, while simultaneously driving your hips into the floor.
- Straighten your right arm, pushing yourself to the left until you feel a stretch in your obliques. Hold this position for a breath or two before switching to the other side.
- Continue moving side to side with control for about 30 seconds.
5. Chest Opener on Exercise Ball
This is a very relaxing stretch that is great to do as part of your cool down after you finish your workout. It aims to stretch the pectorals, shoulders, and abdominal muscles, and requires very little effort.
- You can use a full exercise ball or half ball that has a flat base, the latter of which can be beneficial if you struggle with balance.
- Lay down on your back on the exercise ball, ensuring that it supports the majority of your back. It’s ok if your head falls back.
- Keep your knees bent and together and plant your feet firmly on the floor.
- Open up your chest by letting your arms fall to the sides. Rest in this position, but make sure that you keep your balance.
4. Locust Pose Abdominal Stretch
The Locust Pose ab stretch is excellent to perform before your ab workout. Not only does it help to elevate your heart rate, but it also prepares you for exercise. You can also decrease or increase the intensity depending on how long you hold the pose.
- Lie flat on your stomach with your arms by your sides.
- Lift your chest and legs off the ground to form a boat shape, so that you have an inward curve along your spine. Make sure to engage your core and glutes to hold this pose.
- Release after five seconds and return to the starting position. Repeat a few more times.
3. Leaning Lifting Crunch
Compared to the other stretches on this list, leaning lifting crunch requires little to no flexibility. You can perform this movement almost anywhere as long as you have a little room.
- Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place your palms in a prayer position and then raise them above your head.
- Lean to your left until you feel a stretch down the right obliques.
- Move your upper body by leaning to the right while simultaneously kicking your right leg out to the side to crunch your right side.
- Continue repeating this motion for 30 seconds on the same side before switching to the other side.
2. Bridge Pose
Bridge pose aims to work your inner and outer abdominal muscles. This works to stimulate your abdominal organs, aiding in better digestion.
- Lie flat on your back, bend your knees, and place your feet directly below them. Ideally, your feet should be about six to 12 inches from your buttocks.
- Engage your glutes and drive your hips up toward the ceiling. At the apex of the pose, only your feet, shoulders, and head should be touching the ground. You can, however, keep your arms flat on the ground for extra support.
- Hold this position for a few deep breaths and then return to the starting position. Repeat a few more times.
1. Oblique Twists
If you have tight obliques, you may notice that you have difficulty twisting or rotating the body. This is where standing oblique twists enter the equation. The only thing to remember while doing these is that you don’t want to over-twist the lumbar spine. The movement should come from your obliques and your hips should face forward as much as possible.
- Stand up straight with your hands on your hips and your feet hip-distance apart.
- Twist as far as you comfortably can to the right side without any assistance from the lower back.
- Return to the starting position and then repeat on the other side. Continue alternating from side to side with controlled movements for 30 seconds.
When to Stretch Your Abs
It is quite common for abdominal muscles to cramp up after an intense ab workout. Stretching them post-workout can help accelerate the recovery process and prevent future injuries. Once you finish a workout, it is a good idea to engage in several of the prone stretches on this list, as they may help prevent muscle soreness the next day. As detailed in this article, though, there are beneficial stretches to engage in before a workout, and we indicated which ones they were. They tend to involve more movement, which helps warm up your abdominals for the workout.
Dynamic vs. Static Ab Stretches
According to exercise experts, dynamic abdominal stretches are highly beneficial to do before workouts like kickboxing. These movements allow your abdominal muscles the opportunity to warm up and prepare for the activity ahead. Dynamic ab stretches may also improve your athletic performance and reduce the risk of injury. Static ab stretches, on the other hand, are great to do once you finish your workout. They don’t involve much movement and force you to relax and sink deeper into the stretches.