Sitting and hunching over at your desk at work or at school can cause your abdominal muscles to feel stiff and compressed. This reduces your ability to extend your back and rotate your torso, which can prevent you from playing your favorite recreations, such as golf, hiking or bowling. Take a break from work and do a couple of exercises that elongate your abdominal muscle fibers. You may find that you'll breathe better and be more energized.
Different Stretches, Different Effects
Although stretching exercises can elongate your abdominal muscles slightly, different types of stretching elicit different responses in your brain and body. Static stretching, which involves holding a muscle stretch for 20 to 30 seconds in one position, decreases neural stimulation which increases relaxation in your abdominal muscles. Dynamic stretching is moving one or more muscle group in their full range of motion repetitively in various directions. This helps to increase neural connection between your nervous system and your muscles in preparation for the upcoming activity or sport. Exercise physiologist Len Kravitz of the University of New Mexico recommends that you perform dynamic stretching before you work out and static stretching after a workout.
Dynamic stretching for your abs can be part of your warm-up to increase muscle elasticity and spine flexibility before you exercise. The dynamic press-up starts with your body in a prone position with your legs extended behind you and your hands below your shoulders like a pushup. Exhale as you push your chest off the floor with your arms and extend your back until you feel a stretch in your abs. While maintaining the stretch, slowly twist your hips side to side to rotate your torso slightly. You should feel a stretch in the middle and sides of your abs. Maintain a steady breathing rate as you move and do not shrug while you do this exercise. Other dynamic stretches include standing torso twists and the quadruped trunk twist.
You can turn almost any dynamic abdominal stretches into static stretches by holding a position. For example, the press-up can be done without movement by holding the spine extension position and abdominal stretch while pushing your hands against the floor as you hold the stretch. Lying on a stability ball on your back stretches the entire abdominal region. Most yoga poses can also be used for static stretching, such as Half Moon Pose, Triangle Pose and Camel Pose. Always perform deep abdominal breathing while holding the stretch.
Inadequate abdominal breathing can restrict your ability to stretch your abs well. Before you start with any abdominal stretching, spend a few minutes practicing diaphragmatic breathing, which involves breathing with your belly rather than your chest. Lie on the floor on your back in a quiet environment and put your hands along the sides of your ribcage. Inhale deeply into your abdominal region, and it should expand like a balloon, pushing against your hands. You may also practice diaphragmatic breathing while you perform abdominal stretches.
It's All in Your Brain
Stretching your abs doesn't always mean that your abdominal muscles are elongated like a rubber band. In a 2010 review published in "Physical Therapy," researchers observed that stretching only elongates muscle fibers for a short period of time. The article implies that the elongated sensation is more likely to be a change of how your brain perceives the length of your abdominal muscles.