The abdominals and obliques are the most overlooked section of the body when fitness is concerned. However, strengthening these muscle groups are important for strengthening the core. Daniel Ortiz is my personal trainer at the Lord’s Gym in Waxahachie, and he explained why focusing on these muscles groups are important.

“The abdominal muscle is a large group of muscles that are in the shape of a six-pack,” Ortiz said. “This is because of the tendons that stretch across the muscle. Abdominal muscles bulge in their relaxed state. The abdominal wall is pulled flat when it contracts. If you improperly train abs, either by training to add significant mass and/or by neglecting other supporting muscles, your abs will protrude.”

Ortiz added the obliques are muscles that run diagonally across the abdominal wall and are attached to bone at your sides. Increasing the size of your obliques can increase the width of your waist, but not necessarily the circumference. These are “muscular love handles.” Some people avoid training obliques for that reason.

“There are many sport-specific applications for working the obliques,” Ortiz said. “Contact sports such as football require the ability to maintain balance while twisting, and strong obliques are critical for this. Because obliques cross over the abdominal wall, having strong obliques means that your abdominal wall will be pulled flat. Therefore, while training, obliques may increase the width of your waist, but also serve to pull your stomach flatter.”

As a way to tone and shape the abdominal muscle group, Ortiz ran through eight simple exercises to shape and tighten those muscles, so my core could be strengthened. The first exercise he broke down was the hanging knee raises.

“Hanging knee raise exercises offer a challenging means of strengthening your abdominal and hip flexor muscles,” he said. “These exercises not only target your abs, but the external and internal obliques. Keeping these muscles strong is important not only for athletics but also for maintaining proper posture and preventing low back pain.”

Following that exercise was the abdominal crunch.

“Crunches are designed to strengthen and tone the abdominal muscles,” he said. “This exercise is very easy to do at home, and people who perform exercises at home often like to integrate crunches into their routines. In addition to the basic abdominal crunch, it is also possible to perform what is known as an oblique sit up, a variation on the crunch which uses slightly different muscles.”

Ortiz continued by saying in an abdominal crunch, the body is slowly curled upwards from a prone position, with the abdominal muscles doing the work. This contributes to the development of a strong core, which promotes good posture and reduces the risk of injury. It also strengthens and tones the stomach muscles. For people who are concerned about the appearance of the stomach, one of the big advantages of abdominal crunches is that they tend to trim down the waistline and stomach area, creating more definition.

In addition to those exercises, he pointed out that the most effective abdominal exercise is the bicycle crunch.

“According to the American Council on Exercise, the most effective way to tone and shape your abs is by doing what we call the bicycle crunch,” Ortiz said. “The ACE performed a study, discovered this exercise is the best for targeting the abs and waist.”

He added that while ab exercises won’t get rid of fat from the belly, a strong core is important for keeping your body healthy and protecting your spine.

The last exercise in the ab routine were the hip raises. He said they are a great exercise for working the abdominals and the lower back muscles. They also target the hamstring and gluteus muscles.

“This exercise is not only good for people who are trying to tone these zones, but also for those who are interested in weight loss,” he said. “Abdominal hip raises are a great exercise that should be included in your workout, regardless of current strength or skill level. This exercise is beneficial not only in the fact it can tone and strengthen the muscles of the lower back as well as the abdominal, glute and hamstring muscles, but it can also help to stabilize this part of the body.”

Ortiz said this makes it helpful for people who suffer from lower back pain. In addition, as with all strength exercises, abdominal hip raises help to increase your metabolic rate, thereby raising calorie burn and helping to achieve weight loss goals.

For more information about how to tone your core, contact Daniel Ortiz at 972-935-0760 or visit daofreestyle.com.

Melissa is a journalist for Waxahachie Newspapers Inc. Follow Melissa on Facebook.com/MelissaCadeWDL. She can be contacted at 469-517-1450 or melissa.cade@wninews.com.