Before we start to plan an abdominal training program we must determine the current state of your abdominal muscles. To do this, we use four basic exercises as simple tests. These are designed to show not how good or bad your muscles are in terms of tone or strength, but to give you a point at which to start – your baseline abdominal condition. The first exercise is abdominal hollowing, but with some modifications. Firstly it measures your ability to perform an important muscle isolation, and secondly to hold the position a test of muscle endurance.
Abdominal Hollowing Test
Starting position: Stand with your back flat against a wall and your feet forwards of the wall by 20 cm. You can place your thumbs inside the waistband of your trousers/shorts so that there is a small (1 cm) gap between your abdominal wall and the waistband.
Action: Focus your attention on your lower abdominal region. Breathe in and, as you breathe out, try to draw your abdominal wall away from your waistband. Hold this position for 10 seconds while breathing in and out normally.
Points to note: It is possible to get a false result on this test by drawing your abdominal wall in through simply taking a very big breath and lifting your rib cage. Make sure you breathe normally and keep your rib cage still through the exercise.
Training tip: If you find you are unable to hold the hollow position for 10 seconds, use the test as an exercise. Initially focus on holding for 1-2 seconds and build up the holding time. When you can hold for 10 seconds you have passed the test. The next test measures your ability to use your core stabilizing muscles to maintain the position of your spine as you move another part of your body. This is a vital function of the abdomen – to protect the spine and keep the correct alignment against forces acting on it.
Heel Slide Maintaining Neutral Position
Action: Straighten your right leg, sliding the heel out over the floor. At the same time, use your fingers to monitor pelvic movement. The aim of the test is for you to be able to straighten firstly your right leg and then the left, without the pelvis moving.
Points to note: If you are very unstable in the lumbar spine, the pelvic movement is obvious. Your pelvis will tip forwards and the pelvic bones beneath your fingers will move downwards. As this happens your spine will hollow, increasing the gap between your back and the mat.
Training tip: If you are unable to hold the spine still, the test is failed.
Single straight leg raise monitoring abdominal wall
Note: The third test measures your ability to tighten your abdominal muscles and draw them in flat. The transversus abdominis muscle draws the abdominal wall in while the rectus abdominis and external oblique moves the spine and produce powerful actions.
Starting position: Begin lying on the floor on a mat, with your legs straight. Spread your fingertips and place them about 1 cm above your abdomen.
Action: Raise and lower your right leg and then your left three times, each by 15-20 cm. At the same time pay attention to the contour of your abdominal wall; it should stay flat, so that it remains below your fingertips. If your abdominal wall bulges so that it touches your fingers, you have failed the test.
Points to note: This movement can be very subtle. If you find it difficult to monitor your abdominal wall, work with a partner. They can simply watch your abdomen to see if it bulges (fail) or stays flat (pass) as you lift your legs.
Training tip: If you fail this test, it means you have either weak core stabilizers, or a muscle imbalance where you surface abdominal is stronger than your deep stabilizers, particularly the transversus muscle.
Straight Leg Sit-Up Keeping Legs Down
Note: The fourth test should only be attempted if you have passed tests 1-3, and if you have no history of back injury. It is a measure of both abdominal muscle strength, and your ability to shorten you rectus abdominis muscle enough to bend (flex) your spine to curl up rather than sit up straight.
Starting position: Begin lying on the floor on a mat, with your legs straight and arms by your sides.
Action: Firstly bend your neck (drawing your chin inwards) to look at your feet. Tighten your abdominal muscles and flatten your back onto the mat and then curl (bend) your trunk to sit up. Stop the exercise immediately if your legs begin to lift from the mat; when they lift, you have failed the test.
Points to note: This is a hard test for highly trained athletes who want to improve their abdominal performance. It must be performed slowly and stopped immediately if the legs lift. To continue the movement with the legs lifting or to perform the exercise quickly places an excessive stress on the lumbar spine. Some individuals naturally find this exercise difficult if they are heavy in the upper body and have lighter legs. Their body proportions are such that they cannot easily reduce the leverage action of the trunk sufficiently to perform the exercise correctly.
Training tip: If you are unable to sit up without your legs lifting, your abdominal muscles are usually lengthened.
Once you have the result of these tests you will have an idea of condition of the abdominal muscles and where to begin. Now, you are well aware whether you are fit to start with your abdominal training program. If yes, then read our 20 Amazing Ab Exercises to Build a Strong Core.
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