One common question we get all the time from clients is "Why Don't I Feel My Abs When I Workout?"
Most people know they should be feeling their abs when they workout, however they usually feel the exercises in the wrong places, or they just don't feel it working at all. You should ideally feel all exercises in the abs, but some people don't even feel "ab exercises" in their abs.
First, let's understand why it's important to feel abs. The abs and hamstrings hold you up against gravity and help you maintain proper posture, or alignment. They are actually designed to resist movement and maintain structure, rather than create it. So we recommend ditching things like sit-ups and leg raises in favor of things like planks and dead bugs.
When most people try do do planks and dead bugs, they make a few critical mistakes that prevent them from feeling it in their abs.
Primarily, most people live in what we call an extended position. Their backs are arched, ribs are flared, and their pelvis is tipped forwards. When this happens, the abs actually lengthen, so they are in a position where they cannot contract optimally. Instead, most people stabilize their spine and hold themselves up with their hip flexors.
So most people try to do their ab exercises in this arched, extended position, which is why they never feel it.
So how do you know if this is you?
There are a few ways. First, lay on your back. Do your ribs poke up in the front a lot, and if there is a large space between your lower back and the ground?
If so, we've found the main reason why you can't feel your abs when you workout.
You can also look in a mirror from the side. Does your nose rest right on top of your hips, which is over your knees?
If your head or hips are forward, like in the picture above, you also live in this anteriorly tilted state, which can make it more difficult to feel your abs.
So How Does This Impact How Your Planks And Other Exercises Will Look?
Let's start with the plank. Most people set up with their hips very low, and their back arched (pictured below). In this position, the back and hip flexors are actually getting worked, and the abs are lengthened. You can hold a long time here, but the abs aren't really in a position to perform.
So now that you know what your planks currently look like, what should they look like?
Your hips and head should be in line. So pull those hips up, and reach towards the ceiling with your forarms. Imagine as if someone has a string on your upper back, pulling you up towards the ceiling. (This helps to put the abs in the right position).
The Final Step
Don't just hold your breath and turn bright red. You need to breathe to feel your abs. Your abs are actually responsible for exhaling, so make sure you are exhaling. (This also helps you to get your ribcage and pelvis in the correct position).
Imagine that you have a balloon to blow up. Take long, forceful exhales that should take 5 seconds.
For planks, aim for 5-8 breaths, and if you can maintain proper position while you do this, I guarantee you will feel your abs next time you workout.
If you still can't feel your abs, you might need some more specific exercises to shut off some undesirable muscle tightness in your quads, hip flexors, or back. We would be able to show you which exercises would be best for you after an initial assessment.