Learning how to engage the abs is truly a process that takes a lifetime.
For most of us, our lifestyles don't support proper functioning of the abdominals. Whether you spend your days playing golf or sitting at a computer, how you spend your time determines how your fascial system organizes itself to best suit your needs.
Yes, you did indeed hear that correctly. Your fascial system is quite literally continually remodeling itself to meet the demands you're placing upon it.
Sit with me now and take a deep breath.
Take a deep breath.
Notice how your body responds. Did you relax or tense up? Or didn't you notice anything at all? Whatever the response is, don't judge it, just be with it.
Imagine that your lungs function similarly to an umbrella. As you inhale sense that your rib cage is rolling out and up. As you exhale, sense that your ribs are rolling down and in.
Notice how your belly naturally responds to your breath.
Usually, the belly will expand out and relax on the inhale and deflate and gently contract on the exhale. This is natural and good unless you're in the middle of doing an abdominal exercise, and thus taking a big, deep belly breath could equate to straining your back.
Next time you exhale, purse your lips and imagine you're blowing out a bunch of candles on a cake. Notice how your abdominals respond. Can you sense how your waistband gently compresses in? Congratulations! Those are your obliques responding to your exhale! And when you purse your lips, the natural action of the obliques is amplified.
Next time you inhale, continue to imagine your ribs are rolling out and up like an umbrella, and simultaneously maintain a sense of compression around your abs, i.e. as if you have a tight pair of pants on.
Not only will this breathing exercise strengthen your abs, it will actually encourage a stretch throughout your rib cage by way of expanding areas of the rib cage and lungs that don't often receive a big influx of air.
You can practice this anywhere you like! Cue yourself to practice this while washing dishes or even while sitting on the couch watching t.v.
As your body becomes more familiar with this practice, it will be easier to apply it when you do abdominal exercises. Over time, you'll notice a significant shift not only in how you engage your abdominals but how you support your skeleton overall.