A few days ago, I was walking around and saw several women of all ages who were thin, but had a belly pooch. I couldn't help but think--I wish I could intervene! Just the simple act of learning the right way to activate your deep abs will get things flatter than they used to be.
So, how do you do this? The good news is, it doesn't involve dozens of crunches. Crunches have been found to activate mainly the superficial layer of our abs (the rectus abdominis, which runs vertically, along the axis of the body). However, in order to look flat and narrow in our midsections, we want to target the deep muscle that functions as a girdle. This muscle is called the transversus abdominis. Not only will this improve the way we look, but strengthening this deep muscle creates support for your lower back, potentially alleviating some of the problems you may have there. You'll look good and feel good--what more could you ask for?
While activating the transversus doesn't require Herculean effort, you my have to focus in order to find the proper contraction. A cue that I frequently use, no matter whether you're lying down, sitting, or standing, is to pretend you're zipping up a pair of jeans which is just a little bit too tight. However, for some of us, if you pull in too aggressively and deeply, the obliques (diagonally running muscle fibers) can take over the majority of the work.
So, here's a trick to make sure you're not over-firing the obliques: from a standing position, place your second and third fingers on your hip bones, right on the curve from "horizontal" to "vertical". Move them just inside the bones onto the soft tissue, then slightly down (about a finger-width). With gentle pressure onto your fingertips, contract your deep abdominals (transversus) as you normally would. Your fingertips should be resting on top of your obliques, so if your fingers suddenly and forcefully pop outward, your obliques are probably doing the bulk of the work. If your fingertips only gently move out by a small distance, your obliques and transversus are probably sharing the load. If your obliques are overworking, try to contract your transversus more gently and subtly.
Gentle pelvic floor contraction will also help activate the transversus abdominis. If you've ever done Kegels, this is the type of contraction I'm referring to, but sustained longer and done more gently. If you've never contracted your pelvic floor, these are the muscles that stop the flow of urine. You don't need to clench down on these muscles, but just lightly activate them, and you'll also activate your deep abdominal muscles.
You may find that this deep abdominal/pelvic floor contraction, since it's not an extremely energetic move, is something you can hold for several minutes. Or, you may choose to hold the contraction for 10 seconds or so, until you get used to it, and repeat sets of 10. After a while, your muscles will adapt as with any strength training, you may not have to think much about the contraction, and you will look and feel better!
— Brooke :)