Category Archives: abs

Build A Better Body: 4 Weeks To A Stronger Core

By Martin Rooney


Photo Credit Martin Rooney
Photo Credit Martin Rooney

To Crunch or Not to Crunch

The most heated argument in strength and conditioning today is to crunch or not to crunch. It’s bewildering that this seemingly harmless, short ROM exercise could create such a rift between so many smart strength and conditioning professionals, yet the great crunch debate rages on.
At the center is research showing that repeated spinal flexion using cadaveric porcine spines resulted in herniated discs. This in vitro research seems to indicate that lumbar flexion is a potent herniating mechanism, and anti-crunch proponents have extrapolated from the data that humans possess a limited number of flexion cycles throughout their lifetimes.
Accordingly, they’ve gone out on a limb and recommended that spinal flexion exercises such as the crunch be avoided at all costs. While this may seem logical on the surface, there’s more to this topic than meets the eye.
Someone needs to step up and grow some balls and address the 2000-pound gorilla soiling the carpet. We know dozens of respected strength coaches, physical therapists, personal trainers, researchers, and professors that all have serious doubts about the danger of crunches, yet none wish to discuss it out of fear of being chastised.
The line must be drawn here!

Fitness is Religion

Humans have a basic need to fall into camps, rally behind a leader, believe in supernatural phenomena, and rebel against scientific principles. Throughout history scientists have been punished for questioning current dogma. Sadly, it’s no different in the fitness industry.
Many fitness professionals have been seeking a culprit for low back pain and jumped aboard the anti-crunch bandwagon without question. These folks have adopted absurdly rigid views of the lumbar spine, believing that you should go through life moving this region as little as possible to spare insult to the spine, to the point of altering normal biomechanics in daily living.
Taking it a step further, they then intimidate others into jumping on the bandwagon and get downright emotional when confronted on the topic.
This is the antithesis of scientific thinking. We’re just happy that we won’t be house-imprisoned like Galileo for hypothesizing that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe.
After delving into the topic, reviewing the literature, and applying our critical thinking skills, we’ve concluded that like every other exercise, a reasonable dose of spinal flexion exercise is potentially good for you and need not be avoided.
We presented our position in a review paper published in the Strength & Conditioning Journal and while we won’t rehash everything in the article, we do continue to question the recent “anti-crunch” movement and suggest a plausible alternative theory.
In our journal article we addressed the following issues, which will only be succinctly summarized below.
For more detailed explanations and citations, we encourage you to pull up the article and read it in its entirety.

Methodological Issues in Research Against Lumbar Flexion Exercise

Removal of muscle. The experiments used in the studies used to refute lumbar flexion exercise used porcine (pig) cervical spines with muscles removed, which alters spinal biomechanics.
No fluid flow in cadavers. Cadaveric spines don’t function the same as living spines as fluid doesn’t flow back into the discs as it does when tissue is alive.
Range of motion in porcine spine. Porcine cervical spines have smaller flexion and extension ranges of motion than human lumbar spines.
Doesn’t mimic crunch exercise regimen. When most people do crunches, they might do a few sets of 10 to 20 reps or so and then wait a couple of days before repeating. This allows the discs to repair and remodel. In the studies used to bash lumbar flexion, thousands of nonstop cycles were performed, which does not replicate a strength and conditioning regimen. It should also be noted that cadaveric spines do not remodel while living spines do.
Genetics. In the world of intervertebral disc degeneration, the role of genetics is huge. It appears that some individuals are quite prone to disc issues while others are not, suggesting that optimal programming would require knowledge of genetic traits.
Range of motion in the crunch exercise. Many years ago, an NSCA journal article described proper performance of the crunch exercise, which involved 30 degrees of total trunk flexion, most of this motion occurring in the thoracic spine, not the lumbar spine. If the lumbar spine doesn’t approach end range flexion in the crunch exercise, then the studies wouldn’t be applicable to the crunch exercise.
IAP controversy. There’s a chance that models used to estimate compressive forces during the crunch have been overestimated due to failure to take into account the role of intra-abdominal pressure (IAP). If this is the case, then the studies could have used too much compression along with range of motion mentioned earlier, which would render the studies inapplicable to crunching. However, there’s conflicting research in this area and it’s likely that the effect isn’t significant.

Potential Benefits of Lumbar Flexion Exercise

Increased fluid flow and nutrition to posterior disc. Lumbar flexion enhances nutrient delivery to discs by increasing nutrient-carrying fluids to the discs.
Increased remodeling of tissue. Proper doses of spinal flexion likely strengthens the disc tissues, which would therefore increase tolerance to lumbar flexion exercise and prevent future injury.
Sagittal plane mobility. Some studies have linked lack of spinal mobility to low back pain, however the literature is somewhat contradictory. At the very least crunches can prevent losses in spinal mobility, which might be important in low back pain prevention.
Rectus abdominis hypertrophy. When taking into account the entire body of knowledge on hypertrophy research, it’s abundantly clear that dynamic exercise is superior to isometric exercise in increasing muscle mass. Much of this has to do with the increased muscular damage incurred from eccentric activity as well as the increased metabolic stress. Bottom line, if you want to optimize your “six-pack” appearance, spinal flexion exercises will certainly help to achieve this goal.
Performance enhancement. Contrary to what some have claimed, lumbar flexion is prevalent in many sport activities. Thus, concentrically/eccentrically strengthening the abdominals may very well lead to increased athletic performance.

Anecdotes and Other Arguments

Now let’s look at some anecdotal evidence to support our claims.

If we’re indeed “limited” in the number of flexion cycles, where does the number lie?

Several fitness professionals have suggested that humans possess a limited number of flexion cycles and believe that we should save these cycles for everyday living such as tying one’s shoe rather than wasting them on crunches. Realizing that anecdotal evidence doesn’t prove squat, it’s still interesting to ponder and can provide a basis for theoretical rationale.

  • In 2003, Edmar Freitas, a Brazilian fitness instructor, performed 133,986 crunches in 30 hours, thereby setting a world record. This beat his previous record of 111,000 sit-ups in 24 hours set in the prior year.
To Crunch or Not to Crunch

Manny Pacquiao, one of the world’s best boxers, performs 4,000 sit-ups per day.
To Crunch or Not to Crunch

  • Finally, Herschel Walker, football legend, Olympic bobsledder, and current MMA hopeful, has been performing 3,500 sit-ups every day since he was in high school. He started doing sit-ups daily when he was 12 years old. Considering that he’s now 49 years of age, this equates to 47,267,500 sit-ups. That’s almost 50 million flexion cycles performed under compressive loading!

To Crunch or Not to Crunch
Granted, the argument could be made that perhaps all these individuals have screwed up spines and if you were to obtain MRI’s from each you’d see appalling evidence of herniations and degeneration, but we doubt this is the case. Instead we believe that this is clear evidence that the spinal discs can remodel and become stronger over time to resist damage incurred from spinal flexion exercise.
Another argument could be made that these folks are “outliers” and their freakish genetics allow for such incredible flexion cycles. We disagree, and believe there are likely many individuals that have unknowingly met or exceeded this number in their lifetimes. Instead, we believe that this is evidence that muscular balance, abdominal strength, and flexion exercise can protect the spine.

Should We Just Shoot Ourselves?

If we cherry-picked select disc studies to determine which forms of exercise we do, we wouldn’t be allowed to do literally anything.
We found 13 studies to indicate that . (Callaghan and McGill, 2001; Drake et al., 2005; Tampier et al., 2007; Drake and Callaghan, 2009; Marshall and McGill, 2010; Adams and Hutton, 1982; Adams and Hutton, 1983; Adams and Hutton, 1985; Lindblom 1957; Brown et al. 1957; Hardy 1958; Veres et al., 2009; Court et al. 2001).
(Gordon et al. 1991 (Flexion and Rotation); McNally et al. 1993 (Flexion and Anterolateral Bending); Shirazi 1989 (Lateral Bending and Rotation); Kelsey et al. 1984 (Flexion and Rotation); Adams et al. 2000 (Complex); Marshall and McGill, 2010 (Flexion/Extension and Rotation); Drake et al. 2005 (Flexion and Rotation); Veres et al., 2010 (Flexion and Rotation); Schmidt et al. 2007 (Lateral Bending and Rotation, Lateral Bending and Flexion, Lateral Bending and Extension); Schmidt et al. 2007 (Lateral Bending and Flexion, Lateral Bending and Rotation, Flexion and Rotation); Schmidt et al. 2009 (Lateral Bending and Flexion, Lateral Bending and Extension).
We found a couple studies showing (Adams et al., 2000; Shah et al., 1978).
Several studies show that (Krismer et al., 1996; Aultman et al. 2004; Farfan et al. 1970). And you better not be performing these on a vibration platform as that would produce a double whammy to the spine. Vibration has been shown to be bad for the discs (Dupuis and Zerlett 1987).
There’s research to suggest that (Costi et al. 2007; Natarajan et al. 2008). This means no side bending. Similarly, asymmetrical lifting has been shown to lead to negative results as well (Natarajan et al. 2008).
Here’s where things get interesting. (Virgin 1951; Liu et al. 1983; Lai et al. 2008; Lotz et al. 1998; Tsai et al. 1998; Iatridis et al. 1999; Lotz et al. 1998; Kroeber et al. 2002; MacLean et al. 2003; Hsieh and Lotz 2003; MacLean et al. 2004; Ching et al. 2004; Masouka et al. 2007; Veres et al. 2008; Lai and Chow 2010; Nakamura et al. 2009; Wang et al. 2007; Huang and Gu 2008).
since muscular contractions create compressive loading on the spine. We should have known that though, as heavy lifting is bad for the back (Lee and Chiou 1994; Kelsey et al. 1984), as is overactivity (Videman and Battie, 1999).
It goes on and on. We’ve found studies suggesting all sorts of every day activities are bad for the back, even sitting down and bed-rest. Maybe we should all just shoot ourselves before we become completely debilitated?

Do Crunches Screw up Your Posture?

To Crunch or Not to Crunch

The theory goes something like this: Crunches shorten the rectus abdominis. Since the rectus abdominis spans from the sternum/rib cage to the pelvis, continually shortening the muscle will pull down your ribcage, ultimately resulting in kyphosis (i.e. a round-back posture). It’s an interesting theory. It’s also completely unfounded.
As with many theories, the essence of this claim is based on a kernel of truth. Specifically, placing a muscle in a shortened position for a prolonged time causes it to assume a shorter resting length. For example, if you immobilize your arm in a cast at a flexed position for several weeks, your arm will tend to remain flexed once the cast is removed.
This is due to an adaptive response whereby the elbow flexors (i.e. biceps, brachialis, etc.) lose sarcomeres in series while sarcomeres are added to the antagonistic extensor muscles (Toigo & Boutellier, 2006). This has been coined “adaptive shortening.”
Perhaps you can see the flaw in hypothesizing that performing a crunch will shorten the rectus abdominis, namely, crunches aren’t solely a shortening exercise! Rather, the crunch also includes eccentric actions where the rectus abdominis is returned to its resting length.
Thus, any potential negative effects of shortening contractions on sarcomere number would be counterbalanced by the lengthening effect of the eccentric actions. The net effect is no change in resting length.
Some anti-crunch proponents also argue that performing spinal flexion exercises (i.e. crunches) overly strengthens the rectus abdominis so that it overpowers its antagonists, thereby pulling down on the ribcage.
This is a straw man argument. Certainly it’s true that an imbalance between muscles can cause postural disturbances – I’m sure you’re familiar with guys who hit chest and arms every workout and end up so internally rotated that they have trouble scratching the back of their head. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t perform bench presses and arm curls.
The issue here is one of poor program design, not an indictment of specific exercises.
Regarding crunches, the same principle holds true. Sure, if you perform a gazillion crunches every day and don’t train other muscle groups, you’re setting yourself up for a postural disturbance.
But this is a non-issue if you adhere to a balanced routine. Performance of virtually any standing, non-machine based exercise will heavily involve the core musculature, particularly the posterior muscles that antagonize the rectus abdominis (Schoenfeld, 2010, Lehman, 2005). It also should be noted that the average person tends to have weak abdominals (Morris et al. 2006), so they could very well benefit from performing spinal flexion exercises.
To sum up, there is no convincing evidence that performing crunches as part of a total body resistance training routine will have any negative effects on posture.

Do crunches lead to additional dysfunction, such as breathing dysfunction and glute dysfunction?

If crunches did indeed pull down on the ribcage and induce kyphosis, then one could speculate that breathing and glute functioning could be compromised. However, as just mentioned, this likely isn’t the case.
Anecdotally, hundreds of thousands of athletes in the past few decades have achieved terrific success in spite of doing crunches. If crunches did lead to shortening of the abdominals, given that a majority of people including athletes seem to display an anterior pelvic tilt in their daily posture, one could argue that it would be wise to perform crunches to pull up on the pelvis, which could theoretically decrease anterior pelvic tilt and lead to a more neutral lumbo-pelvic posture.

Are crunches a nonfunctional exercise?

Whenever one questions the implication that crunches are as dangerous as wake boarding in a tsunami, anti-crunchers quickly counter with something like, “Who cares if they’re dangerous or not? Crunches aren’t functional! They’re a short range movement performed while lying on your back. They can’t possibly transfer to anything.”
As our mentor Mel Siff aptly stated:

Anti-crunchers will point out that the crunch solely involves bodyweight and therefore isn’t heavy enough to transfer to high-force or high-velocity movement. This is absurd, as it’s very easy to hold a dumbbell at the upper chest to increase the exercise’s intensity. You also can perform a kneeling rope crunch using a cable apparatus to increase training intensity.
What carries over best to functional activity depends on the task. Here’s a chart that should help you determine optimal transfer of training.

Biomotor Ability Examples Exercise Category Examples
Trunk Rotary Stability, Strength and Power Throwing a football or baseball, throwing a discuss, swinging a bat, throwing a left hook Rotational exercises and anti-rotation exercises Woodchops, landmines, Pallof presses, cable or band chops and lifts
Trunk Lateral Bending Stability, Strength and Power Stiff-arming, posting up, landing a jab Lateral flexion exercises and anti-lateral flexion exercises Side bends, side planks, suitcase carries, cable or band side bends
Trunk Flexion Stability, Strength and Power Sitting up from a bench, bar gymnastics exercises, bracing for a punch to the midsection, resisting being pushed rearward as in sumo wrestling, throwing a soccer ball overhead Flexion exercises and anti-extension exercises Crunches, sit ups, hanging leg raises, planks, ab wheel rollouts, bodysaws
Trunk Extension Stability, Strength and Power Carrying heavy loads, picking up stuff off the ground, staying upright in the clinch Extension exercises and anti-flexion exercises Squats, deadlifts, back extensions, reverse hypers, farmer’s walks, Zercher carries

Basically, stability exercises appear to be better for stabilization tasks as well as tasks that require proper inner-core unit functioning, while strengthening exercises appear to be better for dynamic tasks and hypertrophy.
As you can see, an exercise like a weighted crunch could transfer quite well to a myriad of functional tasks, and therefore shouldn’t be maligned for its applicability to functional or sports performance.

Is There a Healthy Balance and Do Discs Heal and Remodel?

To Crunch or Not to Crunch

It’s been stated by many practitioners that the discs don’t heal. This is misleading. It’s true that they’re poorly vascularized and struggle to receive adequate nutrition, and it’s true that disc tissue doesn’t heal rapidly. Proteoglycan turnover may take 500 days (Urban et al. 1978) and collagen turnover may take longer (Adams and Hutton 1982).
Hence, the discs’ rate of remodeling lags behind that of other skeletal tissues (Maroudas et al. 1975; Skrzypiec et al. 2007).
However, much evidence of disc-healing exists. Common sense would dictate that discs do heal, otherwise anyone that suffered a disc injury would never get better. We’d all just get progressively worse until we could no longer move.
Based on epidemiological studies, it’s clear that there’s an optimal window of spinal loading that is somewhere in between bed-rest and overactivity (Videman et al., 1990).
A healthy balance has been shown to occur with spinal compression (Hutton et al. 1998; Lotz et al. 2002; Walsh and Lotz 2004; Wuertz et al. 2009; MacLean et al. 2005) and spinal rotation (Chan et al. 2011). Positive aspects of spinal bending have been shown to occur in the discs as well (Lotz et al. 2008; Court et al. 2001).
Furthermore, 16 different studies indicate that the spinal discs can repair and remodel themselves. While several papers reviewed the topic (Lotz 2004; Stokes and Iatridis; Adams and Dolan 1997; Porter 1987), others demonstrated that flexion damages can heal (Court et al. 2007), compression damages can heal (Lai et al. 2008; Korecki et al. 2008; MacLean et al. 2008; Hee et al. 2011), prolapses can reverse (Scannell and McGill 2009), herniations can improve (Girard et al. 2004; Wood et al. 1997), the outer annulus can strengthen (Skrzpiec et al. 2007), collagen within the disc can remodel to become stronger (Brickley-Parsons and Glimcher, 1984), and vertebrae, ligaments, and strengthen to resist loading (Porter et al. 1989; Adams and Dolan 1996).
Every time you move your spine you cause micro-damage to the tissues, which triggers both anabolic and catabolic processes. Ideally, you want to limit the amount of damage, as healing from larger scale damage usually leaves the disc biomechanically inferior.
For example, annular damage is repaired by granulation tissue and the scar never regains its normal lamellar architecture (Hampton et al. 1989). End plate injuries heal with cartilaginous tissue (Cinotti et al. 2005; Holm et al. 2004), fibrocartilage replaces nucleus material (Kim et al. 2005), and a healing of harmed tissue is often replaced by a thin-layer of weaker fibrous tissue (Fazzalari et al. 2001).

A Stress – Eustress Solution?

The study of biomechanics is unique because you must not only consider forces and stresses on human tissues, you must also consider adaptive remodeling. The ideal situation in programming doesn’t avoid stress; it keeps the body in eustress while avoiding distress, which ensures that anabolic agents inside of tissues exert more work than catabolic agents inside of tissues to promote full repair, recovery, and strengthening.

To Crunch or Not to Crunch

Conclusion

We hope that we’ve provided you some food for thought and encouraged you to rely on logic rather than emotion in decision-making involving exercise safety and program design. An effective practitioner weighs all available evidence and makes appropriate conclusions in a dispassionate manner, without adhering to rigidly held beliefs.
We believe that future research will help hone in on the safety of the crunch exercise and determine proper dose responses, but this research needs to be conducted on living humans and involve pre and post-MRI results with a training intervention that ensures proper crunch technique.

Wikio

6 Habits to Chisel a Solid 6-Pack

By: Bill Hartman, P.T., C.S.C.S.
If you can’t see your abs, don’t assume it’s because you’re missing out on a magical abdominal exercise or secret supplement. Blame your mindset.

You see, losing belly flab is a boring process. It requires time, hard work, and most important, dedication. Take the right steps every single day, and you’ll ultimately carve out your six-pack. But if you stray from your plan even a few times a week—which most men do—you’ll probably never see your abs.

The solution: six simple habits, which I teach to my clients to help them strip away their lard for good. Think of these habits as daily goals designed to keep you on the fast track to a fit-looking physique. Individually they’re not all that surprising, but together they become a powerful tool.

The effectiveness of this tool is even supported by science. At the University of Iowa, researchers determined that people are more likely to stick with their fat-loss plans when they concentrate on specific actions instead of the desired result. So rather than focusing on abs that show, follow my daily list of nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle strategies for achieving that rippled midsection.

The result: automatic abs.

Need help planning your workout? Men, click here | Women, click here.
Wake Up to Water
Imagine not drinking all day at work—no coffee, no water, no diet soda. At the end of an 8-hour shift, you’d be pretty parched. Which is precisely why you should start rehydrating immediately after a full night’s slumber. From now on, drink at least 16 ounces of chilled H2O as soon as you rise in the morning. German scientists recently found that doing this boosts metabolism by 24 percent for 90 minutes afterward. (A smaller amount of water had no effect.) What’s more, a previous study determined that muscle cells grow faster when they’re well hydrated. A general rule of thumb: Guzzle at least a gallon of water over the course of a day.

Eat Breakfast Every Day
A University of Massachusetts study showed that men who skip their morning meal are 4 1/2 times more likely to have bulging bellies than those who don’t. So within an hour of waking, have a meal or protein shake with at least 250 calories. British researchers found that breakfast size was inversely related to waist size. That is, the larger the morning meal, the leaner the midsection. But keep the meal’s size within reason: A 1,480-calorie smoked-sausage scramble at Denny’s is really two breakfasts, so cap your intake at 500 calories. For a quick way to fuel up first thing, I like this recipe: Prepare a package of instant oatmeal and mix in a scoop of whey protein powder and 1/2 cup of blueberries.

As You Eat, Review Your Goals . . .
Don’t worry, I’m not going all Tony Robbins on you. (I don’t have enough teeth.) But it’s important that you stay aware of your mission. University of Iowa scientists found that people who monitored their diet and exercise goals most frequently were more likely to achieve them than were goal setters who rarely reviewed their objectives.

. . . And Then Pack Your Lunch
My personal Igloo cooler just celebrated its 19th anniversary. I started carrying it with me every day back in college. Of course, it often housed a six-pack of beer—until I decided to compete in the Purdue bodybuilding championship. (Second place, by the way.) Once I knew I’d have to don a banana hammock in public (the world’s best motivator), I began to take the contents of my cooler seriously. And so should you. In fact, this habit should be as much a part of your morning ritual as showering. Here’s what I recommend packing into your cooler.

• An apple (to eat as a morning snack)
• Two slices of cheese (to eat with the apple)
• A 500- to 600-calorie portion of leftovers (for your lunch)
• A premixed protein shake or a pint of milk (for your afternoon snack)

By using this approach, you’ll keep your body well fed and satisfied throughout the day without overeating. You’ll also provide your body with the nutrients it needs for your workout, no matter what time you exercise. Just as important, you’ll be much less likely to be tempted by the office candy bowl. In fact, my personal rule is simple: I don’t eat anything that’s not in the cooler.

Exercise the Right Way
Everyone has abs, even if people can’t always see them because they’re hidden under a layer of flab. That means you don’t need to do endless crunches to carve out a six-pack. Instead, you should spend most of your gym time burning off blubber.

The most effective strategy is a one-two approach of weight-lifting and high-intensity interval training. According to a recent University of Southern Maine study, half an hour of pumping iron burns as many calories as running at a 6-minute-per-mile pace for the same duration. (And it has the added benefit of helping you build muscle.) What’s more, unlike aerobic exercise, lifting has been shown to boost metabolism for as long as 39 hours after the last repetition. Similar findings have been noted for intervals, which are short, all-out sprints interspersed with periods of rest.

For the best results, do a total-body weight-training workout 3 days a week, resting at least a day between sessions. Then do an interval-training session on the days in between. To make it easy on you, I’ve created the ultimate fat-burning plan.

Skip the Late Shows
You need sleep to unveil your six-pack. That’s because lack of shut-eye may disrupt the hormones that control your ability to burn fat. For instance, University of Chicago scientists recently found that just 3 nights of poor sleep may cause your muscle cells to become resistant to the hormone insulin. Over time, this leads to fat storage around your belly.

To achieve a better night’s sleep, review your goals again 15 minutes before bedtime. And while you’re at it, write down your plans for the next day’s work schedule, as well as any personal chores you need to accomplish. This can help prevent you from lying awake worrying about tomorrow (“I have to remember to e-mail Johnson”), which can cut into quality snooze time.

Wikio

7 Ab Exercises That Actually Work



If you’re a regular reader of Testosterone — meaning you actually read the articles every day and don’t just skim down to the Vixen du Jour — you likely know that the whole “core” training concept is pure marketing hype.
Think about it: In the golden days of Muscle Beach and the Venice boardwalk, guys trained their midsections with sit-ups, crunches, and various lifting movements, and they probably had much stronger abs than most people walking around today.
Still, core training is an easy sell: After a few crunches, you can feel the “burn.” Too bad that’s lactic acid you’re feeling, not progress!
Here’s an analogy: suppose you walked into an 8 x 8 foot room filled with a million mosquitoes, armed with only a pair of fly swatters. After 10 minutes, you’d probably have torched a few hundred thousand of the bloodsuckers and built up one heck of a triceps pump. But how effective would such a “workout” be if your goal was to build up your triceps? Well, that’s doing about as much for your arms as nouveau core training is for your abs.
Now it’s definitely important for just about everyone to work his or her midsections. The benefits are overwhelming: improved posture, more stable midsection, better movement, and eliminating lower back pain. However, this can be accomplished in five to ten minutes per workout, with a few simple, non-retarded exercises.
Below are seven such movements. They’re all guaranteed to improve your looks, your lifts, and your lower back health — without leaving you looking like the latest infomercial victim.

1. Standing Cable Crunch

As athletes we perform standing up, so why do so many magazines only recommend exercises performed while lying down? They’ll usually say that this is done in some half-ass attempt to “isolate” the abs. This explanation is a) wrong, and b) retarded.
First, the abs don’t need to be isolated. They function as a stabilizer in most athletic functions. Second, trying to take the hip flexors out of all ab training movements is asking for trouble. Sure, if you’re after only aesthetics, then isolating is a good idea at times — but always isolating can be problematic to long-term health.
The hip flexors and abs were designed to work together, so they should be trained together most of the time!
The Standing Cable Crunch is a perfect exercise to involve the abs in a dynamic fashion while standing.

The Setup

Simply attach a rope or strap to a high pulley station, walk out a step or so, and bend forward in a forceful but controlled manner. Return to the top slowly, flex, and explode down. You can change up the attachments and foot placements to change the exercise.
Do 3 to 5 sets of 5-10 reps. Yes, that’s a far cry from the 500-rep nonsense the core training divas talk about. There’s a reason for this: the abs are muscles — so train them like muscles! Don’t be afraid to put some weight on the stack.

2. Full Contact Twist

I learned about this exercise years back from Pavel Tsatsouline. It’s an excellent movement for the obliques and abs. Forget standing on a Swiss ball; the FCT isfunctional ab training!
I’ve found that this exercise not only strengthens the abs but also helps with the ability to “pop” the hips. Both seasoned MMA fighters and weekend warriors who like to throw the occasional drunken punch at closing time will find this exercise helpful.

The Setup

Load one side of a barbell and stick the unloaded end in a corner or the corner of your rack. Stand to the left of the bar, facing it; the bar is perpendicular to your feet at this point. Grab the bar’s sleeve and tighten your body, pivot and turn the bar until you almost face the corner. Keep your elbows locked throughout.
When you reach the other side, reverse motion.
 Keep your abs tight the entire time and lift slowly and smoothly. Do not jerk or speed through this lift!
 Don’t twist your back while doing the FCT; it should be a smooth motion. Lower under control then flex and rotate back to the other side.
Again, 3 to 5 sets x 5 – 10 reps seems to work best. Add weight slowly; the majority of form problems I’ve seen have resulted from adding too much weight too quickly.

3. Bench-Press Sit-Up

This is a great movement to really overload your abs; don’t be afraid to go heavy on this one. This is the type of movement that’ll pay huge dividends when it comes time to attempt a max squat or deadlift because you’re exposing your abs to way more weight than you ever could with a simple crunch, or even weighted crunches.

The Setup

Simply set up as you would in a floor press or on a bench as in a bench press. Keep the bar locked out at arms’ length and do a crunch. Don’t let the arms drift back or forward. Concentrate on keeping the bar locked-in and flexing the hell out of your abs.
 Use dumbbells or kettlebells to crank up the intensity and place a different stress on the muscles.
 Try using one dumbbell or Kettlebell at a time to further increase intensity.
 Hold the top position for a second before returning to the starting position.
Do 3 sets of 6, but really load up the bar and go heavy!

4. Suitcase Deadlift

Let’s not forget the obliques. The average side bend just doesn’t cut it when it comes to building a truly strong midsection. For anyone who wants to deadlift or squat real weights, the obliques must be strong.
The Suitcase Deadlift is old school and brutal. I’ve seen some very strong people humbled the first time they’ve tried this exercise.

The Setup

This movement is best done off the floor, but if you’re having trouble, you can set the bar at about mid-shin level in the rack.
Stand to the side of the bar. Bend and set yourself in the same position you would to deadlift (back flat, chest up) and pick it up just as you would a suitcase. You can also use a Farmer’s Walk bar if you have access to them.
Keep your abs flexed and your lower back tight throughout the movement. If you start twisting, stop and take some weight off the bar.
Three to 4 sets of 5 reps is sufficient with this toughie!

5. Pitch Fork Lift

Most of you have probably never done this lift before. The Pitch Fork Lift (sometimes called the Shovel Lift) comes from Steve Justa, author of Rock, Iron, Steel, and is true functional training. It works the obliques as hard as any other movement I’ve ever come across.
If you’ve been having trouble with falling forward in the squat or haven’t been able to properly push out against your belt when squatting or deadlifting, this movement will push your personal records to new heights.

The Setup

This one’s easy to set up and perform. Load one end of an Olympic bar. Now, grab the unloaded end with one hand and place the other hand at about the midpoint of the bar.
Bend the knees and sideways at the hip and lift the loaded end of the bar, just as you would when shoveling dirt. You can make the movement much harder by then turning a bit to the side, as if “dumping” the dirt out of the shovel.
Return to the starting point and repeat. It will help if you lockout your arm farthest from the loaded end and “press” it down, levering the weight up.
Keep the reps under 6, and go for 3 to 5 sets.

6. Dragon Flags

Pavel re-popularized this movement in Bullet Proof Abs, but anyone who loves training movies fell in love with this exercise in Rocky IV.
This is an advanced exercise and you must already have very strong abs and great body control to do these properly.

The Setup

Lie down on a bench and grab it hard at head level (if your grip slips, you fall). Then, roll your body up so that your lats are pointing straight out at almost 90 degrees. Slowly lower yourself to about 45 degrees, then down as far as you can without touching the bench.
Use your abs to pull your legs back up to above 45 degrees. At first, you may need to start dropping to just below the starting position until you feel strong enough to go all the way down.
 Keep your body tight and straight
 Hold on to that bench!

7. The Ab Wheel – Standing

The ab wheel is one of the original darlings of the infomercial scene, which is too bad since it’s also one of the most kick-ass movements you can do.
The trick is, you have to do it properly: Simply rocking back and forth on your knees while holding a wheel will do about as much for your abs as a Thighmaster does for your quads.
Using an ab wheel properly is simple: Kneel down, roll out with the wheel, then pull yourself back up using your abs; don’t jackknife the hips. Your hips should “tuck” a bit (the end position should look like a scared cat).
There’s a big problem with the ab wheel that some of you seasoned  guys can relate to: It’s just too easy for anyone who’s even moderately strong. Sure, you could run the reps way up, but who wants to count that high?
Here’s the solution: use the ab wheel while standing. This variation is much harder and you need to have good body control and a strong back.

The Setup

Perform the exercise just as you would its kneeling variation, but standing up. When you reverse motion, your feet will act as “hooks” and pull you back to the top.
Start with low reps until you feel confident. Sets of 10 would be pretty damn strong, so shoot for that.

Bonus: Rack Pulls

Rack Pulls aren’t your traditional ab exercise — they’re designed to hit the hams and back hard, along with helping improve your deadlift. But, as anyone who’s ever tried them will know, your abdominals will take a beating if you’re using heavy weight. Otherwise, you’ll fall forward and lose the lift.

The Setup

Set up a bar at knee height (or just above or below the knee) in the rack; load it up, and deadlift it. This should be done as a heavy leg exercise with the benefit of hitting the abs, rather than as a direct abdominal movement.
Keep the reps low, 1 to 3 and the sets from 5 to 8.

Putting It All Together

If you compete in any sports or do any kind of powerlifting or Olympic lifting, I suggest training the abs three to five times per week. If you’re training to look good, three times should be enough, but you can never really do too much ab work.
Just add one exercise to the end of your training sessions several times per week and you’ll notice a huge improvement in both performance and looks!
And, if you call in the next 30 minutes, we’ll email you another free article, Tight Taut Tushy in Just Two Minutes a Week! But you must call now, or —
Sorry.

Old-school athletes at Muscle Beach didn't require infomercial gadgets to build their abs.

Old-school athletes at Muscle Beach didn’t require infomercial gadgets to build their abs.

The Dragon Flag: Yelling

The Dragon Flag: Yelling “Drago!” between reps enhances the exercise’s effectiveness.

Thick, lean abs put the finishing touches on a great physique.

Thick, lean abs put the finishing touches on a great physique.

Farmer's Walks- Forgotten ab builder?

Farmer’s Walks- Forgotten ab builder?

Rack pulls will lay a whuppin' on your core that $19.95 infomercial gadget could never match.

Rack pulls will lay a whuppin’ on your core that $19.95 infomercial gadget could never match.

The standing ab wheel rollout: Start

The standing ab wheel rollout: Start

The standing ab wheel rollout: Finish

The standing ab wheel rollout: Finish

 1998 — 2010 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Wikio

6 pack abdominals

Scott Quill
Forget for a moment that the shape of your midsection largely determines how good you’ll look on the beach this summer—and how well you’ll play volleyball. We’ll get back to that in a minute.

The pursuit of abs goes deeper. You strive for a six-pack as if your life depended on it, and now science proves that it does. At a meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, research was presented declaring that waist circumference is more conclusive than either weight or body-mass index (BMI) as a measure of disease risk.

Miami cardiologist Arthur Agatston, M.D., author of The South Beach Diet, puts it this way: “Abdominal fat is different and more dangerous than fat elsewhere. Unlike fat directly under the skin, belly fat, which adheres to organs, is associated with increases in C-reactive protein (CRP) and other markers of inflammation that can lead to heart disease.”

Motivated yet? Good. We trust you’ll lay off the fries and onion rings. Remember, if your body fat is too high, it doesn’t matter how wisely you work your abs—they won’t show. (For most men, anything over 10 percent body fat keeps your abs in hiding.)

For the next month, work your abs according to the following steps and try this eating tip from Nancy Clark, R.D., author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook: “I make two peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches every day; I eat one for lunch at 11 and one for my second lunch at 3,” Clark says. Notice that the 3 o’clock feeding is a “second lunch,” not an “afternoon snack.” Too many men equate snack time with, well, snacks—junk food. You’ll eat smarter (whole grains and muscle-building protein) and not need as big a dinner if you allow for a second lunch. Plus, you’ll have more energy for a better workout in the afternoon or evening.

This, in turn, will keep your insulin levels steady. When insulin is in excess (from too much sugar and not enough exercise), it can turn on you, depositing fat into your gut. Or worse. “When the pancreas burns out after years of producing excess insulin, that’s when buildup begins in arteries; that can cause heart attacks and strokes,” Dr. Agatston says.

But enough scary stuff. Time to hit the gym—and then the beach.

Train with 2 Types of Exercise
Some abs exercises are based on movement. Others focus more on balance, so your abs contract harder to keep your body stable. “Most men have difficulty with either stabilization or mobilization,” says Carter Hays, C.S.C.S., a Houston-based personal trainer and a performance-enhancement specialist for the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Include both types of moves in a workout to challenge your abs.

For instance, try performing a Swiss-ball rollout (mobilization), followed by a Swiss-ball crunch (stabilization). To do the rollout, kneel in front of the ball with your forearms pressed against it. Keeping your knees and feet in place, roll the ball in front of you so your hips, torso, and arms slide forward. Advance as far as you can without arching your back, then pull back to the starting position.

Get More from Your Cardio
Strip away abdominal fat by switching around your cardio routine so you run hard early. In a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, eight men ran for 30 minutes on 2 separate days.

In the first session, the men ran at a relatively high intensity—80 percent of their maximum heart rate—for 15 minutes, then slowed to 60 percent for the final 15 minutes. In the other session, they ran the slower part first.

The men burned 5 to 10 percent more fat when they ran faster at the start of the workout. “And this is only a 30-minute workout,” says Jie Kang, Ph.D., the study’s lead author. “If you extrapolate that to a longer workout three to five times a week, things can add up.”

Here’s why it works: To burn fat, your body first breaks down fat tissue into fat molecules. “Our study found that this works better when your abs exercise is done at a relatively high intensity,” says Kang. Next, molecules go to your cells to be burned, which Kang says can occur at relatively lower intensities.

The best part: You’ll feel as if you’re burning fat easier than ever. Kang measured the participants’ perceived exertion—how hard they felt they were working. Turns out the body feels fatigued late in a workout, regardless of what you do.

Stay Hydrated
This one’s almost too easy, but drinking plenty of water not only helps you burn fat, but also builds more muscle. “All creatine does is force fluid into the muscle,” says Hays. “Your body will do that itself if there’s enough water available.”

Skip the Bonus Abs Routine
Edging closer to sharp abs can tempt you to work them every day. Don’t. Training more can actually make your abs show less. “You don’t need to overwork your abs—they’re no different from any other muscle,” says Hays. “If you’re always in a state of overtraining, you’re going to get more laxity in your muscles.”

In other words, they’ll appear soft. Instead, add resistance to make moves you already do more challenging. For instance, hold a light weight plate during a Russian twist or Swiss-ball crunch. Then give your muscles time to rest.

Do More Total-Body Exercise
Isolation moves like crunches are great for developing your muscles, but they don’t burn much fat. You’re better off training multiple muscle groups at once, says Hays. Total-body exercise burns more calories and also causes a greater release of muscle-building hormones.

Try combination moves, like the reverse lunge to cable chest fly. Stand between a cable station’s weight stacks and grab a pulley handle with each hand. Hold your arms straight in front of you. Then step back with one leg, bend your knees, and let your arms move out to the sides. Pause when your back knee is just off the floor and your upper body looks like a T, then push yourself back up while you pull your arms together. Repeat the move with your other leg in the back position.

Get Off the Floor
Define the lower portion of the rectus abdominis (your six-pack muscle) with a Swiss-ball reverse crunch, but instead of doing the move on the floor, hop on a bench. “It allows for a greater range of motion,” says Gregory Joujon-Roche, C.P.T., president of Holistic Fitness, in Los Angeles.

Lie faceup on the edge of a bench with a Swiss ball pinched between your heels and hamstrings. Keeping your abs drawn in, roll your pelvis off the bench and, maintaining the same knee angle, bring your knees toward your chest. Slowly lower the ball. As soon as your back begins to arch on the way down, that’s the end of your range of motion. Pause at this point for a few seconds before finishing your set. Try five sets of 15 to 20 repetitions.

Go Deep
Abdominal muscles are multilayered, but most men focus only on the outermost layer with exercises like the crunch. So look for moves that work the abdominal muscles closest to the spine, such as the plank. Strengthening these tiny stabilizers will provide a solid foundation to allow your six-pack muscles to grow stronger and bigger. For more exercises, check out The Abs Diet Online. It also provides you with a nutrition plan designed by our experts to target that pesky midsection. Join today.

Wikio

Unconventional Workout – Abs by Nick Tumminello

I’m frequently asked why I’m constantly developing new exercise techniques and don’t just stick to the basics. Often, I answer by repeating this classic quote from my good friend and fellow strength coach Martin Rooney. “If you want what other people don’t have, you have to do what other people don’t do.”
Insightful SOB, isn’t he?
The basics are great and should always be the foundation of your program, but there’s no reason you can’t combine the old with the new. My athletes always seem to get better results than what can normally be achieved with traditional methods, simply because I make a point of using some nontraditional training methods along with the basics.
In this installment of the Unconventional Workout series, I’m going to provide you with a step-by-step instruction guide to the latest and greatest abdominal training protocols that I use with my athletes at Performance U in Baltimore, MD.
Each of the exercises and training ideas featured in this article may be new to you, but they are part of my everyday training arsenal and have been battle-tested effective at keeping my athletes strong, stable, and free from back pain. Use them and I’m sure these techniques will do the same for you.
Regardless of whether you’re a bodybuilder trying to achieve an impressive six pack, an athlete looking to outperform the competition, or an exercise enthusiasts looking for some new ways to spice up your training and stay back injury free, these abdominal workouts will be just what the doctor ordered to get you the results you’re after!

Good Abs vs. Good Looking Abs
Just because you have good looking abs doesn’t mean you have good functioning abs, and accordingly, just because you don’t have good-looking abs, doesn’t mean that you don’t have good functioning abs. All the exercises featured here will help you build a stronger, better functioning set of abs.
As for showing off that six-pack? I’m sure you know by now that lean, ripped abs are built in the kitchen, not the weight room. Step away from your secret junk-food cupboard if you want a midsection that gets noticed.

To Train Abs or Not to Train Abs?
I’ve heard many coaches and weight lifting enthusiasts say, “Just do the big lifts (squat, deadlifts, etc.) and you don’t need to do any specific abdominal work.” Although I agree that there’s a tremendous amount of abdominal activity when performing these lifts, I disagree that’s all you need to do to maximize your abdominal performance or functional ability.
Put simply, the big lifts like squats and deadlifts are single-dimensional, sagital plane-dominant exercises. Your abdominals, like every other muscle in the body, function in all three planes of motion: sagital (linear), frontal (lateral), and transverse (rotary). Just doing the big lifts completely neglects strengthening the other two critical planes of motion.
To effectively strengthen the abdominals in all three planes of motion, some direct strengthening exercises performed at various angles such as the ones displayed in this article are required.

To Flex or Not to Flex the Spine?
Whether or not to use spinal flexion exercises is a common argument these days and one that I’ve been right in the center of. In truth, I’ve never used crunches or traditional sit-ups in any of my programs; I’ve always believed that a good training program uses exercises that reverse the sitting/slouching position. Exercise like crunches and sit-ups encourage it, which is why I don’t use them.
That said, the real issue is not with spinal flexion; it’s with high repetition spinal flexion or prolonged spinal flexion. Respected lower back guru Dr. Stuart McGill and many others have shown that spinal flexion and prolonged flexion to be common causes of disc-related injury.
If you have a healthy back and are under 40 years of age, then lower rep spinal flexion exercises can be performed safely and effectively. That said, after reading some of the new research like this study published in a recent Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, I’ve found myself using less flexion-based exercises, regardless of the age of the athlete or the rep range used.
This particular study used 1467 subjects to evaluate the effect that core stabilization training would have on the traditional sit-up test used by the Armed Forces. Of the 1476-subjects, 761 were placed into a core stabilization program, and 706 were placed into a sit-up program traditionally used to prepare soldiers for their physical fitness test.
The traditional exercise program group performed sit-ups, sit-ups with trunk rotations, and abdominal crunches. Those in the core stabilization exercise program performed a variety of stabilization exercises such as side-bridges, glute bridges, bird-dogs, woodchoppers, and abdominal crunch draw-ins.

Results, Please…
In the end, both groups significantly improved their sit-up performance after 12-weeks, yet the sit up performance was not significantly different between the two groups; even though the core stabilization group never performed sit-ups in their training program! Of notable interest is that the core stabilization group demonstrated significant improvements in sit-up pass rate (5.6%) compared to the traditional sit-up training group’s 3.9%. The researchers concluded:
“Incorporating a core stabilization exercise program into Army physical training does not increase the risk of suboptimal performance on the Army’s fitness test and may offer a small benefit for improving sit up performance.”
(Effects of Sit-up Training versus Core Stabilization Exercises on Sit-up Performance by JD CHILDS, et al. – 2009, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise:
November 2009 – Volume 41 – Issue 11 – pp 2072-2083.)
Considering the results of this study, along with my training philosophy of reversing the sitting position/slouchy posture, I’ve focused my abdominal training programs on mostly spinal stabilization movements and use almost zero spinal flexion exercises. I do, however, make an exception for my bodybuilder clients that I’ll cover later in this article.

Unconventional Abdominal Workouts
Now that you have an understanding of my abdominal training philosophy, here’s a list of unconventional abdominal training exercises, Performance U style!
The exercises are divided into three sections: linear exercises, lateral/rotary stability exercises, and dynamic rotary exercises. In the program design portion of this article, I’ll discuss how to use all three types of abdominal exercises to ensure each abdominal workout is fully comprehensive.
Keep in mind this article is intended to provide you with new, unconventional exercises you’ve probably not yet seen before, so don’t complain when you don’t see your favorite high school gym class exercise included in the mix.

Linear Abdominal ExercisesMedicine Ball Rollout – I first displayed this exercise in my Big Lats article. Put simply, it’s the hardest abdominal rollout exercise variation I know of!
Linear (vertical) Pallof Press – This is inspired by the original Pallof Press exercise developed by John Pallof. I love the idea of the Pallof Press and don’t think it should be limited to just one plane of action, so I developed the Linear Pallof press. Think of this exercise as a kind of “standing ab rollout.”
Swiss Ball Pike – The non-stability ball haters may already be familiar with this exercise. If you’re not currently using this exercise, you should be, because it’s a great one.
When performing the Swiss Ball Pike: Initiate the movement from your abs. Keep you back straight, legs straight, and drive your hips to directly above your shoulders.
By the way, I’m sick of folks talking trash about the Swiss ball. It’s not the damn ball’s fault that there are folks out there who don’t know how to choose their exercises wisely. The Swiss ball is just a tool-so stop blaming the tool and start blaming the bigger tools who are using them inappropriately!
The Body Saw – This is one of my favorite abdominal plank progressions. I first learned the Body Saw exercise form the folks with TRX Suspension Training. Although I love using the TRX, I’ve developed my own version of the Body Saw exercise that doesn’t involve using the TRX because not everybody has access to one.

Lateral/ Rotary Stability Abdominal Exercises
The following are stability-oriented exercises, which involve controlling unwanted rotational and/or lateral motion, followed by dynamic rotary exercises.
Side Plank on Medicine Ball – this exercise is just a much tougher progression to the traditional elbow side plank. The added instability of the ball causes the muscles of your shoulder and abdominals to work harder to keep you in position. Be sure to keep your spine straight and your wrist directly underneath your shoulder.
Single-Arm Front Plank on Swiss Ball – This exercise is one of the toughest and most effective “core” exercises you’ll ever try! It’s a favorite among my combat athletes.
Turkish Get-Ups – Okay, most of you likely know that this isn’t what women in Istanbul wear for a night on the town. Regardless, I still don’t see this fantastic exercise used as often as I think it should be.
I’m sorry if I offend any members of the Kettlebell cult when I say you don’t need to be holding a Kettlebell to do Turkish get-ups. Holding a dumbbell is more comfortable and just as effective.
Angled Barbell Rainbows – Many lifters are familiar with the dynamic version of this exercise, but not as familiar with the static version. The static version is what I use most often because it builds the body awareness needed to control the spine when standing. To perform this exercise, you can use the Sorinex Land mine or place a barbell in the corner.
Lateral Pallof Press – Here’s another one of my tweaks of the Pallof Press concept. This one can be performed in a half-kneeling or standing position.

Dynamic Rotary Abdominal Exercises
Rotational exercises are crucial to sports performance because they develop and refine your ability to transfer and express force from one side of your body to the other. These movements are at the heart of true intelligent functional training.
Tight Rotations – the tight rotation exercise is my favorite rotary training movement because it closely mimics the actions of the abdominals when sprinting, punching, throwing, or changing directions at high speed. Your abs have to control the constant torque happening between your shoulders and hips moving in opposite directions while you move.
The tight rotation series enhances your ability to produce, reduce, and control rotary (torque) forces.
I use a three level progression for the tight rotation series. I spend about 2-4 weeks on each level before progressing to the next.
Each of the Rotations has an accompanying video on the right, so I’ll spare you a long, boring written description.
The Gladiator Twist – This is another one of those exercises that’s both fun and effective. The Gladiator Twist is based on the same principles as the Tight Rotation series. If this exercise doesn’t light up your abs, nothing will!
Medicine Ball Rotary Tosses – This is one of the best methods to train rotation apart from hitting and kicking a punching bag. If you have access to a med ball and a wall – along with the necessary space and understanding gym staff – give these three medicine ball rotary toss variations a shot. They’ll most certainly make you a rotary power beast!

Using these Ab Workouts in Your Program
Regardless of the training goal, I try to perform at least one of each of the three types of abdominal training exercises described above in each workout. That means performing at least one linear exercise, one lateral/rotary stability exercise, and one dynamic rotary exercise.
With that in mind, there are generally two ways in which I use these abdominal training methods with my clients, depending on whether the specific training goal is health and/or sports performance related, or more bodybuilding centered.
For General Health and Sports Performance – I find it best to follow Dr. Stuart McGill’s recommendations to train the abdominals more often while using lower loads for longer periods of time to increase muscular endurance of the abdominals.
Dr. McGill’s research has shown this method to be highly beneficial at enhancing sports performance and developing the stability needed to resist back injury and postural change.
When putting this strategy into practice with my athletes and exercise enthusiasts, I have them perform abdominal/core training exercises in-between sets of upper-body or lower-body exercises.  This way, you make your workouts more productive by increasing the density. Here’s an example:
Day A – Upper-Body Push/Pull
1A) Horizontal Push
1B) Horizontal Pull
1C) Linear abs
2A) Vertical Push
2B) Vertical Pull
2C) Lateral/Rotary Stability
3A) Biceps
3B) Triceps
3C) Dynamic Rotary
Day B – Lower-Body Legs/Hips
1A) 2 Leg Hip Dominant
1B)  Linear abs
2A) 1-Leg Knee Dominant
2B) Lateral/Rotary Stability
3A) Calves
3B) Dynamic Rotary
For bodybuilding/physique enhancement goals – When it comes to ab training for my pro and amateur bodybuilders and figure competitors, I take a much different approach than I do with fitness/sports performance clients.
When training physique competitors, I recommend training the abdominals less often using heavier loads for short periods of time. I usually have my bodybuilders perform multiple abdominal exercises at the end of certain workouts or as a stand-alone “abs day” workout, depending on the person’s training split and personal preference.
I also admit that I go against my “no flexion” policy when working with physique athletes. Bodybuilders in particular need a significant amount of abdominal hypertrophy to look impressive on stage. I find using some trunk flexion exercises are needed to achieve this look, and therefore the risks of performing flexion exercises don’t outweigh the benefits to the bodybuilder.
Along with the exercises already described in this article, with bodybuilders I use a number of exercises using the Swiss Ball and (gasp!) the Bosu Ball.
Before you label me as a soy-chai-latte-sipping granola-head, keep in mind that the Bosu Ball, like the Swiss Ball, is just another tool in my toolbox. I have no special affinity for these implements; it’s simply a matter of selecting the right tool for the job. For these abdominal exercises, I find using the Swiss ball and Bosu creates a better, more effective workout due to the increased trunk range of motion.
These are all quite self-explanatory, so I’ll skip the drawn-out descriptions and just ask that you check out the photos on the right.
I also use straight leg sit-ups and reverse crunches as described in my How Strong Are Your Abs Really? article.
A typical abdominal workout for a bodybuilder would look like this:
Swiss Ball Crunch 2-3 x 8-12
Medicine Ball Abs Roll Out 2-3 x 45-60 seconds
Swiss Ball Side Crunch 2-3 x 8-12
Angled Barbell Rainbow 2-3 x 45-60 seconds

Conclusion
The folks at TMUSCLE had asked me to give you one unconventional abs workout and instead I hit you with a monster list of exercises and user-friendly programs that anyone can immediately apply. Delivering the latest and greatest training concepts is my business and business is good!
This article was not just meant to show you new exercises; it was also meant to inspire you to get creative, so don’t be afraid to modify an exercise to fit your needs and/or sporting demands. Remember, “If you want what others don’t have, you must do what others don’t do!”
Put these exercises into practice within your training sessions and tell us about your experience using them on the forum. Also, if you have any other unconventional abs exercise and workouts, share them with us on the comment forum.
Side Plank on Medicine Ball

Side Plank on Medicine Ball

Bosu Plate Crunch

Bosu Plate Crunch

Swiss Ball Side Plate Crunch

Swiss Ball Side Plate Crunch

Swiss Ball Reverse Crunch

Swiss Ball Reverse Crunch
About Nick Tumminello

Unconventional Workout — Triceps

Coach Nick Tumminello is a Baltimore Personal Trainer who trains a select group of athletes, bodybuilders, and exercise enthusiasts. Nick is also the Strength & Conditioning Coach for team Ground Control MMA. You can purchase Nick’s Strength Training for Fat Loss & Conditioning DVD through his Blog website.

Wikio

Best of Abs


Okay, we’re going to say this one last time:
If your diet sucks and your body fat level is high, you aren’t going to have visible abs, no matter how much you train them.
Can’t see your abs? Fix your diet.
But there’s a caveat. Just because you can’t currently see your abs doesn’t mean you shouldn’t train them. After all, you hopefully plan on seeing them one day, right? And skipping any muscle group, especially those that involve the very core of your body, is a recipe for poor performance and future injury.
One more thing before we tell you about some of the best ab exercises and training techniques we’ve tried over the last decade: Yes, big compound exercises like deadlifts, squats, and pull-ups bring the various ab muscles into play. That’s cool, you should definitely be doing those.
But that doesn’t mean you should skip doing effective, direct abdominal exercises. The men and women with the most admirable physiques sure don’t. Neither should you.
With all that out of the way, let’s get to the cool stuff!

Things You Don’t Know About Abs

Bodybuilding expert Christian Thibaudeau has exhaustively researched ab training for physique athletes, and he’s made some very cool discoveries that cut through the bullshit. Here’s a quick and dirty summary:

There’s no reason to worry about your abs getting “too big” by training them heavy with external load. You won’t build a blocky midsection, so stop worrying about it… or stop using that as an excuse to skip ab work.

For example, EMG studies by Willet et al. concluded that the most oblique activation is seen in a reverse crunch, not a twisting movement as you might expect. And while the reverse crunch does produce the greatest muscle activity in the low portion of the rectus abdominis, there’s basically no difference in the muscle activity of the upper ab region between a crunch, reverse crunch, or twisting crunch.

“As a result, the ab muscles can be trained more often than most muscle groups, even if loaded exercises are used. A frequency of 2-3 times per week is optimal in most cases.”

Cool, huh? Now, let’s get to the exercises and training routines!

#1: Accentuated Crunches on the Bench

We learned this one from Charles Poliquin. That’s significant because Coach Poliquin is one of those “just squat and deadlift and the abs will take care of themselves” guys. And even he likes this unique ab exercise.
Accentuated crunches will expose your rectus abdominis to a different type of stimulus, with just the right amount of eccentric loading. Here’s how to do it:

Grab the ends of the rope, position yourself on the bench with your back toward the machine, and start with your hands on your shoulders. Roll your shoulders forward just enough to feel the resistance.

#2: The Staggered Abs Method

Most people dislike ab training. And it’s especially difficult psychologically to get pumped about it when you can’t see your abs yet!
Another issue is where in your workout you place ab training. Most people “toss in” ab work at the end of their planned workout for that day. In other words, they do their ab training when they’re physically and mentally fatigued and ready to get the hell out of the gym!
Staggered training, used by everyone from Arnold in his prime to Coach Thibaudeau today, can solve all these issues. Here’s how Thibs explains it:
“Perform one set of abdominal work after each set of every exercise in your regular weight training workout,” says Thibs. “This allows you to perform anywhere from 9 to 20 sets of abs without even noticing it!”
So for example, if you’re doing three sets of bench press, simply perform an ab exercise between each set. Then, when you move to dumbbell flyes, choose another ab exercise and again perform a set between each round of flyes.
Simple, but brutally effective!

#3: Tate’s Reverse Cable Side Bends

Here’s a unique abs/obliques movement we picked up from Dave Tate.
The movement is performed on a standard cable machine with the use of a single D-handle. Begin by standing with your side to the machine. Grab the D-handle and pull it down to your side so your arm is locked.
From here, perform the same movement as you would with a one-arm dumbbell side bend. The difference with this is the resistance is now opposite what it would be with dumbbells. The tension is now on the downward phase.
Before you begin, remember to tighten your abs and obliques. Bend to the side and make sure to keep a controlled tempo. Flex your obliques very hard when you reach the midpoint and keep your upper body erect. Return to the start position slowly while keeping as much tension on the obliques as you can.

#4: Train the Serratus

The serratus anterior is that cool-looking muscle on the side of the upper abs area, sometimes referred to as the “boxer’s muscle.” It isn’t technically an abdominal muscle, but it completes the look of a muscular, shredded torso.
Problem is, it’s kinda tough to train directly. In fact, many strength coaches say to forget about targeting the serratus and instead just get your body fat very low and do lots of overhead presses and pullovers, which bring the serratus into play.
Not bad advice really, but you can directly target this muscle group. Here’s how:

1) Do the serratus cable crunch.

We can’t remember if we learned this one from a trainer somewhere or if we “invented” it. Regardless, editor Chris Shugart has successfully used this exercise to hypertrophy the hard-to-hit serratus.
Here’s how it works. Stand sideways to a high cable with a D-handle. If your left side is facing the handle, reach up with your left hand and grab it. Place your right hand on the left serratus. This is a form of “touch training” and will help you target the serratus and work it fully.
Bend in the opposite direction to get a full stretch, then “crunch” the serratus down and forward slightly. Hold the crunched position for a few seconds for full effect. After 6 to 12 reps, switch and train the other side.

2) Use dumbbells more.

Poliquin notes: “Usually a guy with no serratus, assuming his body fat level is low, hasn’t done enough full range of motion movements with dumbbells, such as dumbbell bench press and dumbbell rows. He’s been using barbells too much (less range of motion).”
So, easy solution: If your serratus sucks and you use mostly barbells, switch to dumbbells.

#5: Forward Roll

We remember seeing those silly-looking “ab wheel” gadgets at K-Mart when we were kids. The box had a photo of a leotard-clad woman in the doggy-style position about to roll out on a device that looked like a lawnmower wheel on a stick. We liked the gal, but we thought the gadget was goofy.
Years passed, we got into training, some guy named Pavel said the ab wheel was actually a pretty cool tool, so we forked over five bucks and tried it.
Ho-ly crap! It was vicious. To use an old-school bodybuilding term, it seemed to “shock” our abs, probably due to contracting them in an extreme stretch position, which many believe is crucial for fast hypertrophy. And the next day? Exquisite soreness, telling us that despite all our previous ab training, the ab wheel was doingsomething new.
Here are a few ways to use the forward roll:

1) Standard Ab Wheel Roll

The objective is simple: Extend your body forward until it’s parallel to the ground. However, to make this drill effective you must:

2) Barbell Forward Roll

Same as above, but use a barbell with some small plates on it instead of a wheel.

3) Swiss Ball Roll

Same as above, but use a Swiss ball instead of a wheel or barbell. This is a good one to use if the standard ab wheel forward roll is too difficult for you. (Weenie.)

4) Hand Walkout from Toes

We learned this variation from Chad Waterbury. Stand up straight and place your hands on the floor in front of you. Now, keeping the weight on the hands and toes, “walk out” until your arms are as far out in front of you as possible, then walk back up.

#6: Reverse Crunch on Swiss ball

A reverse crunch is difficult enough for most people. Add in the instability of a Swiss ball — which causes your abs to fire erratically as you fight to attain balance then maintain it — and you have a very advanced ab training tool.
Place a Swiss ball or stability ball near a power rack or something stable that you can hold onto. Lie back on the ball and grab the power rack. Now raise and lower the legs until you vomit. Fun!

#7: Eccentric-Only Leg Drop

Time to channel your inner gymnast. Jump up and grab a pull-up bar. Bring your legs up and hold them in the air as straight as possible. Once you’re steady, begin to slowly lower the legs.
Try to lower them as slowly as possible. “Cheat” the legs back up and repeat until your legs are dropping quickly because of abdominal fatigue. Then, if you’re a real masochist, finish off with AMRAP (as many reps as possible) of standard bent-knee leg raises.

#8: Decline Dragon Flag

Do we even have to say it? This one is not for newbs.
This exercise is often attributed to Bruce Lee, but we say Chuck Norris invented it… after he invented Bruce Lee. And China.
The video is self-explanatory; just remember to roll all the way back on your upper back/traps. To keep the tension on the core, don’t come quite all the way up.

#9: Incline Russian Twist

“I don’t like regular Russian twists as I don’t feel they’re that effective,” notes Thibaudeau. “However, I find this variation to be extremely effective…and painful!”
Anchor yourself on an incline board or roman chair, then do a half sit-up so that your lower back isn’t in contact with the board. Keep that position during the whole exercise.
The execution is simple: rotate your torso form side to side. The arms are fully stretched out in front of you and they don’t move — only the trunk is mobile. Try for the longest range of motion possible. Perform 8-12 reps per side, or 8-12 full rotations. Hold a weight if you’re a stud.

Final Tip & Wrap-Up

While we like adding resistance to ab training, it’s not for everyone. Beginners and those who have dysfunctional abs — people who use their psoas and rectus femoris because they can’t “feel” their abs working — will want to use unweighted exercises performed slowly as first. Use touch training and place your hand on the muscle you’re trying to train, then contract that muscle maximally.
Give these powerful ab training movements and routines a try. That — and laying off the post-workout doughnuts — will help you find those abs you’ve been searching for!

Models: Tim Smith, Andrew Barker, Liz Mobley
Location: Gold’s Gym, Abilene, Texas

Best of Abs

Accentuated Crunches

Tates Reverse Cable Side Bends

Serratus Cable Crunch

Ab Wheel Forward Roll

Swiss Ball Forward Roll

Hand Walkout From Toes

Reverse Crunch on Swiss Ball

Eccentric-Only Leg Drop

Decline Dragon Flag

Best of Abs

Russian Twist

© 1998 — 2009 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Wikio

Best of Abs

Okay, we’re going to say this one last time:

If your diet sucks and your body fat level is high, you aren’t going to have visible abs, no matter how much you train them.

Can’t see your abs? Fix your diet.

But there’s a caveat. Just because you can’t currently see your abs doesn’t mean you shouldn’t train them. After all, you hopefully plan on seeing them one day, right? And skipping any muscle group, especially those that involve the very core of your body, is a recipe for poor performance and future injury.

One more thing before we tell you about some of the best ab exercises and training techniques we’ve tried over the last decade: Yes, big compound exercises like deadlifts, squats, and pull-ups bring the various ab muscles into play. That’s cool, you should definitely be doing those.

But that doesn’t mean you should skip doing effective, direct abdominal exercises. The men and women with the most admirable physiques sure don’t. Neither should you.

With all that out of the way, let’s get to the cool stuff!

Things You Don’t Know About Abs

Bodybuilding expert Christian Thibaudeau has exhaustively researched ab training for physique athletes, and he’s made some very cool discoveries that cut through the bullshit. Here’s a quick and dirty summary:

There’s no reason to worry about your abs getting “too big” by training them heavy with external load. You won’t build a blocky midsection, so stop worrying about it… or stop using that as an excuse to skip ab work.

For example, EMG studies by Willet et al. concluded that the most oblique activation is seen in a reverse crunch, not a twisting movement as you might expect. And while the reverse crunch does produce the greatest muscle activity in the low portion of the rectus abdominis, there’s basically no difference in the muscle activity of the upper ab region between a crunch, reverse crunch, or twisting crunch.

“As a result, the ab muscles can be trained more often than most muscle groups, even if loaded exercises are used. A frequency of 2-3 times per week is optimal in most cases.”

Cool, huh? Now, let’s get to the exercises and training routines!

#1: Accentuated Crunches on the Bench

We learned this one from Charles Poliquin. That’s significant because Coach Poliquin is one of those “just squat and deadlift and the abs will take care of themselves” guys. And even he likes this unique ab exercise.

Accentuated crunches will expose your rectus abdominis to a different type of stimulus, with just the right amount of eccentric loading. Here’s how to do it:

Grab the ends of the rope, position yourself on the bench with your back toward the machine, and start with your hands on your shoulders. Roll your shoulders forward just enough to feel the resistance.

#2: The Staggered Abs Method

Most people dislike ab training. And it’s especially difficult psychologically to get pumped about it when you can’t see your abs yet!

Another issue is where in your workout you place ab training. Most people “toss in” ab work at the end of their planned workout for that day. In other words, they do their ab training when they’re physically and mentally fatigued and ready to get the hell out of the gym!

Staggered training, used by everyone from Arnold in his prime to Coach Thibaudeau today, can solve all these issues. Here’s how Thibs explains it:

“Perform one set of abdominal work after each set of every exercise in your regular weight training workout,” says Thibs. “This allows you to perform anywhere from 9 to 20 sets of abs without even noticing it!”

So for example, if you’re doing three sets of bench press, simply perform an ab exercise between each set. Then, when you move to dumbbell flyes, choose another ab exercise and again perform a set between each round of flyes.

Simple, but brutally effective!

#3: Tate’s Reverse Cable Side Bends

Here’s a unique abs/obliques movement we picked up from Dave Tate.

The movement is performed on a standard cable machine with the use of a single D-handle. Begin by standing with your side to the machine. Grab the D-handle and pull it down to your side so your arm is locked.

From here, perform the same movement as you would with a one-arm dumbbell side bend. The difference with this is the resistance is now opposite what it would be with dumbbells. The tension is now on the downward phase.

Before you begin, remember to tighten your abs and obliques. Bend to the side and make sure to keep a controlled tempo. Flex your obliques very hard when you reach the midpoint and keep your upper body erect. Return to the start position slowly while keeping as much tension on the obliques as you can.

#4: Train the Serratus

The serratus anterior is that cool-looking muscle on the side of the upper abs area, sometimes referred to as the “boxer’s muscle.” It isn’t technically an abdominal muscle, but it completes the look of a muscular, shredded torso.

Problem is, it’s kinda tough to train directly. In fact, many strength coaches say to forget about targeting the serratus and instead just get your body fat very low and do lots of overhead presses and pullovers, which bring the serratus into play.

Not bad advice really, but you can directly target this muscle group. Here’s how:

1) Do the serratus cable crunch.

We can’t remember if we learned this one from a trainer somewhere or if we “invented” it. Regardless, editor Chris Shugart has successfully used this exercise to hypertrophy the hard-to-hit serratus.

Here’s how it works. Stand sideways to a high cable with a D-handle. If your left side is facing the handle, reach up with your left hand and grab it. Place your right hand on the left serratus. This is a form of “touch training” and will help you target the serratus and work it fully.

Bend in the opposite direction to get a full stretch, then “crunch” the serratus down and forward slightly. Hold the crunched position for a few seconds for full effect. After 6 to 12 reps, switch and train the other side.

2) Use dumbbells more.

Poliquin notes: “Usually a guy with no serratus, assuming his body fat level is low, hasn’t done enough full range of motion movements with dumbbells, such as dumbbell bench press and dumbbell rows. He’s been using barbells too much (less range of motion).”

So, easy solution: If your serratus sucks and you use mostly barbells, switch to dumbbells.

#5: Forward Roll

We remember seeing those silly-looking “ab wheel” gadgets at K-Mart when we were kids. The box had a photo of a leotard-clad woman in the doggy-style position about to roll out on a device that looked like a lawnmower wheel on a stick. We liked the gal, but we thought the gadget was goofy.

Years passed, we got into training, some guy named Pavel said the ab wheel was actually a pretty cool tool, so we forked over five bucks and tried it.

Ho-ly crap! It was vicious. To use an old-school bodybuilding term, it seemed to “shock” our abs, probably due to contracting them in an extreme stretch position, which many believe is crucial for fast hypertrophy. And the next day? Exquisite soreness, telling us that despite all our previous ab training, the ab wheel was doing something new.

Here are a few ways to use the forward roll:

1) Standard Ab Wheel Roll

The objective is simple: Extend your body forward until it’s parallel to the ground. However, to make this drill effective you must:

2) Barbell Forward Roll

Same as above, but use a barbell with some small plates on it instead of a wheel.

3) Swiss Ball Roll

Same as above, but use a Swiss ball instead of a wheel or barbell. This is a good one to use if the standard ab wheel forward roll is too difficult for you. (Weenie.)

4) Hand Walkout from Toes

We learned this variation from Chad Waterbury. Stand up straight and place your hands on the floor in front of you. Now, keeping the weight on the hands and toes, “walk out” until your arms are as far out in front of you as possible, then walk back up.

#6: Reverse Crunch on Swiss ball

A reverse crunch is difficult enough for most people. Add in the instability of a Swiss ball — which causes your abs to fire erratically as you fight to attain balance then maintain it — and you have a very advanced ab training tool.

Place a Swiss ball or stability ball near a power rack or something stable that you can hold onto. Lie back on the ball and grab the power rack. Now raise and lower the legs until you vomit. Fun!

#7: Eccentric-Only Leg Drop

Time to channel your inner gymnast. Jump up and grab a pull-up bar. Bring your legs up and hold them in the air as straight as possible. Once you’re steady, begin to slowly lower the legs.

Try to lower them as slowly as possible. “Cheat” the legs back up and repeat until your legs are dropping quickly because of abdominal fatigue. Then, if you’re a real masochist, finish off with AMRAP (as many reps as possible) of standard bent-knee leg raises.

#8: Decline Dragon Flag

Do we even have to say it? This one is not for newbs.

This exercise is often attributed to Bruce Lee, but we say Chuck Norris invented it… after he invented Bruce Lee. And China.

The video is self-explanatory; just remember to roll all the way back on your upper back/traps. To keep the tension on the core, don’t come quite all the way up.

#9: Incline Russian Twist

“I don’t like regular Russian twists as I don’t feel they’re that effective,” notes Thibaudeau. “However, I find this variation to be extremely effective…and painful!”

Anchor yourself on an incline board or roman chair, then do a half sit-up so that your lower back isn’t in contact with the board. Keep that position during the whole exercise.

The execution is simple: rotate your torso form side to side. The arms are fully stretched out in front of you and they don’t move — only the trunk is mobile. Try for the longest range of motion possible. Perform 8-12 reps per side, or 8-12 full rotations. Hold a weight if you’re a stud.

Final Tip & Wrap-Up

While we like adding resistance to ab training, it’s not for everyone. Beginners and those who have dysfunctional abs — people who use their psoas and rectus femoris because they can’t “feel” their abs working — will want to use unweighted exercises performed slowly as first. Use touch training and place your hand on the muscle you’re trying to train, then contract that muscle maximally.

Give these powerful ab training movements and routines a try. That — and laying off the post-workout doughnuts — will help you find those abs you’ve been searching for!

Models: Tim Smith, Andrew Barker, Liz Mobley
Location: Gold’s Gym, Abilene, Texas

Best of Abs

Decline Dragon Flag

Best of Abs

© 1998 — 2009 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Wikio

>How to Build a Muscular Midsection

>

Serge Nubret has been a bodybuilder for more than 50 years. He was one of the very best at the exact moment when being a great bodybuilder meant more than it ever had before or ever would again. He finished second at the 1975 Mr. Olympia, the one shown in Pumping Iron, which makes it the only bodybuilding contest ever imprinted in American popular culture. Finishing second means he beat out Lou Ferrigno, the guy the filmmakers presented as the only real roadblock in Arnold’s quest for a sixth straight Mr. O.

Nubret had one of the most perfect physiques the world has ever seen. And he built it with one of the craziest workout routines imaginable. He trained six days a week, two hours a day. He did dozens of sets for each muscle group, with double-digit reps and hardly any rest in between.

Abs? He reportedly did 2,000 daily sit-ups, nonstop, when preparing for a contest. According to a recent interview, he was still training his abs for an hour a day, every day, probably right up until he suffered a stroke earlier this year, at age 70.

As you can imagine, this was a guy who never experienced the perineum-numbing indignity of a stationary bike. His logic was, why waste time on a bike when you can burn calories and develop your abs at the same time?

Try doing that kind of routine today, and the cognoscenti of the fitness industry will stage an intervention, complete with readings from the latest studies by Dr. Stuart McGill. For all I know it might be illegal in some states to train abs with that kind of spine-buckling volume.

But at the same time, we all know the desire to have rocking six-pack abs hasn’t gone away. So I asked some of our resident TMUSCLE training experts to help us find the middle ground: How do you train abs for aesthetics first and foremost, without risking your spinal health with high-volume sit-up routines?

The coaches were unanimous in their belief that the road to a perfect six-pack should still begin with functionally sound training. “I take a view that training for performance will take care of the cosmetic,” says Santa Monica-based personal trainer Chris Bathke. “It’s like how when you train for strength improvements, physique improvements usually will follow.”

Strength coach Tim Henriques agrees. “Even though the ab routines I design may be thought of as ‘functional,’ my clients still want aesthetically pleasing results,” he says. “I think with the right exercises you can accomplish both feats.”

Can you build a hard, ripped midsection without making today’s most forward-thinking trainers choke on their foam rollers? Let’s discuss.

Rethinking the Anterior Core

“Anterior core” is the current phrase we use to avoid saying “abs.” It includes the major midsection muscles, which perform the functions we associate with ab training: trunk flexion, rotation and anti-rotation, lateral flexion, stabilization.

Each is important for aesthetics as well as function. And yet, the function we talk about most is trunk flexion, in which the upper torso is pulled closer to the hips. The controversy starts with the most popular ab exercise in existence, the crunch.

“When does anyone ever do anything in real life that looks like a crunch?” asks veteran strength coach and TMUSCLE author Mike Boyle. “The function of the anterior core is absolutely not flexion. I agree with the functional folks that lying on your back doing abs is not only a waste of time, but probably dangerous.”

The “functional folks” tend to be influenced by the aforementioned Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo in Ontario and a prolific researcher. McGill has shown that repeated spinal flexion damages spinal discs, at least in a lab setting.

The influence of McGill’s research goes beyond performance specialists like Boyle. Scott Abel, who specializes in training competitive physique athletes, agrees with Boyle’s critique of the lowly crunch. “By shortening the range of motion of the traditional sit-up, it takes much of the hip-flexor involvement out of the movement,” he says. “But that’s all you’re doing with the crunch. You aren’t burning many calories, and there’s hardly any functional benefit to working muscles through such a short range.”

So if traditional trunk flexion is potentially dangerous, in the case of the sit-up, or a waste of time, if we’re talking about crunches, what the hell can you do for the anterior core?

Short answer: ab rollouts.

McGill’s research has shown that they force the rectus abdominis — the “six- pack” muscle — to work like a beast. It’s brutally hard for the abdominals to lengthen while providing full support for the lumbar spine.

But therein lies the problem: Rollouts are really hard to do with good form, and this is one of the last exercises you’d want to do with bad form. “Many athletes get exceptionally sore, or are unable to hold a stable lumbar spine,” Boyle says. “I actually told my athletes who had any abdominal issues [such as previous strains] to never do them under any circumstances.”

If you aren’t ready for rollouts, there are plenty of intermediate steps, starting with the plank. As almost every TMUSCLE reader knows, this is a static exercise in which you hold a modified push-up position, with your weight on your toes and forearms and your body forming a straight line from your neck through your ankles. A gym novice should work up to a 60-second hold. Advanced lifters should be able to hold the position for two to three minutes.

For more advanced plank variations, you can raise your feet in the air or wear a weighted vest. To prepare for the rollout, you can start with walkouts from the push-up position, and progress to modified rollouts by resting your forearms on a Swiss ball, and slowly rolling it away from you and then pulling it back in.

Not all our coaches, however, have given up on trunk flexion. Henriques includes high-pulley cable crunches and hanging leg raises for clients who might benefit from abdominal hypertrophy. “Some people argue about the importance of this, but sometimes you need to isolate the muscle and build it up so others can see it,” he says.

But Scott Abel advises caution, citing his years of work with competitive bodybuilders. “Many pro bodybuilders have ruined their waistlines by including too many loaded movements,” he says. “The abs grow out and bigger.” (Yes, Abel acknowledges that “other factors” contribute to the expanded waistlines we see in bodybuilding.)

Let’s Twist Again

For years, the concept of trunk rotation was represented by the twist with a broomstick, perhaps the most useless ab exercise ever invented. A close second would be the abdominal-twist machines you still see in some health clubs. Less useless, but still not recommended, are the many variations on twisting crunches and sit-ups.

Today we have so many good trunk-rotation exercises to choose from — everything from cable lifts and chops to Russian twists with a medicine ball to hitting a tire with a sledgehammer — that you hardly ever see the really dumb ones performed anymore.

Trunk rotation is an important movement for function as well as appearance; it’s hard to imagine playing a sport without using powerful twists at some point. The prime movers for twists are the external obliques, with contributions from the internal obliques and rectus abdominis.

Equally important is anti-rotation — training those same muscles in your middle body to resist forces trying to pull your torso around to the left or right. One increasingly popular example of an anti-rotation exercise is the Pallof press, in which you stand sideways to a cable machine and press the handle straight out from your midsection. With all the resistance coming from one side, your torso muscles have to work hard to keep your body upright.

While everyone seems to agree on the importance of rotation and anti-rotation exercises for ab training, the consensus dissolves when the subject changes to lateral flexion — bending and straightening sideways against resistance. You see it most often in health clubs in the form of side crunches, with or without an Ab Roller, and with dumbbell side bends. If the goal is to target the obliques, those exercises clearly do the trick.

But should you target the obliques in that movement pattern? As with forward trunk flexion, there’s no simple answer. Powerlifters, for example, use heavy side bends to build core strength. But for bodybuilders, lateral flexion carries a perceived risk of thickening the waist in the exact places where they want it to be narrow.

Mike Robertson, a frequent TMUSCLE contributor, thinks those fears are overblown. “I’ve yet to see an athlete whose obliques and lateral flexors dominate the rest of his physique,” he says. “And a well-developed and strong set of obliques can really enhance the development of any athlete.”

Still, the functional anatomy of the obliques suggests that you can develop those muscles perfectly well without lateral flexion. They’re fully engaged in all the exercises and movements we’ve mentioned so far. Just because the obliques are active in side bends doesn’t mean anyone needs to do them.

Strike a Pose

If there’s one aspect of ab training that’s often overlooked, it’s stabilization. Sure, everyone reading TMUSCLE understands that “core stability” is important for function, but it’s also crucial for aesthetics.

“The internal obliques and transverse abdominis, the innermost abdominal layers, help compress the abdomen and provide support to the midsection against the pull of gravity,” says Kevin Weiss, a bodybuilder, trainer, and TMUSCLE contributor. “In simple terms, these endurance-oriented muscles help you stand up straight and keep your gut from sticking out.”

Or, as Bathke says, “It’s hard to show off that six-pack with a swayback.”

Of course, any movement in which you have to stabilize your spine against a load will challenge those muscles. They’re working hard whenever you do squats, front squats, good mornings, or overhead lifts. Some coaches have suggested that a steady diet of these money lifts is all the stabilization work you really need for function as well as aesthetics.

Scott Abel disagrees: “It’s limited, like having a car jack that’s only good for the left front tire.”

Six-Packs, Lost and Found

Now to the fine print. There’s more to a well-developed midsection than smart training.This might be painfully obvious to the average TMUSCLE reader, but it bears repeating: No matter how well-developed your core may be, you’ll never be able to show it off until your body fat dips into the single digits.

Diet plays the biggest role here, and it’s a deal-breaker. “No one can out-train an inconsistent or improper diet,” Abel says. “And if your own metabolic set point is such that having quilted abs is not your genetically natural predisposition, then you’d better have expert help in achieving that look.”

Speaking of genetics, even with a great training program, a great diet, and a knowledgeable advisor, you still have to listen to your body. “You can’t look at someone with an exceptional body or body part and assume you can achieve the same results by mimicking his workouts,” Abel says. “There’s far too much individual variation in the way we respond to the workouts we do.”

Individual response is especially variable when it comes to energy-systems work. Some guys thrive with tons of cardio, and some do fine with none at all.

Abel says to practice caution here. Hours a day of steady-state aerobics can lead to a suppressed metabolism, burned-out adrenals, and even an unexpected weight gain. “As I always say, force the body and it reacts. Coax the body and it responds.”

Abel likes to steal a page from Serge Nubret’s playbook, and design core-training sessions to have huge calorie expenditures. Weiss, his protégé, is a big fan of this system and uses it throughout his contest prep. “I don’t particularly enjoy training abs, and I hate doing cardio,” he says. “So I do my ab training in a circuit fashion, which not only saves time but also creates an oxygen debt, which reduces the amount of cardio I need to do to get into contest shape.”

The Workouts

Although our coaches agree on most of the major principles of ab training, they offer three distinctly ways to put them into practice.

Scott Abel’s workout can be used three or four times a week not only to train your abs, but to create a fat-burning oxygen debt as well.

Chris Bathke’s routine can be used every workout without risk of overtraining the basic movement patterns.

And Tim Henriques’ workout is for guys who want to train their midsections hard and heavy a couple times a week.

Scott Abel’s Gold-Medal Program

Abel makes a living as a bodybuilding guru, but looks to gymnasts as the best role models for ab training.

“Gymnasts’ abs are never large, blocky, or distended,” he says. “And they get that quilted look without special diets or hours of cardio.”

Abel concedes that elite gymnasts are genetically predisposed to be good at what they do. They also train hours a day from a very young age. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn important lessons from their training systems, particularly when we contrast them with the traditional approach to ab exercise.”

Gymnasts perform a lot of exercises in which their core muscles work synergistically not only with each other, but with the rest of their bodies as well. “Trying to isolate muscles of the core is not only fruitless, but damaging,” Abel says. “As I said earlier, you only have to look at the bigger stomachs of pro bodybuilders.”

Abel uses the following categories for ab exercises:

Do the following exercises as a circuit, with no rest between exercises and as much rest as you need between circuits. Keep constant tension on the abs throughout the exercises, and do each movement deliberately, with as little momentum as possible.

Exercise Sets Reps
A1) Swiss-ball alternating step-off 4-6 10-15 (each leg)
A2) Dumbbell pull-in 4-6 10-12* (each side)
A3) Chopper 4-6 10-15
A4) Seated bicycle abs 4-6 15-30 seconds
A5) Rollout 4-6 8-15

* You can use heavier weights for fewer reps, if you choose

Swiss-ball alternating step-off

Start in a locked-out push-up position with your toes on top of a Swiss ball. Slowly take one leg off the ball and, keeping it straight, lower it as far out to the side as you can. Touch the floor with the toe, then slowly raise it back up to the ball and repeat with your other leg.

This exercise forces your lower core muscles and glutes to function as a unit to control, stabilize, and move your body in a challenging position.

Dumbbell pull-in (aka Renegade row)

Grab a pair of relatively heavy dumbbells and get into the push-up position with the weights on the floor. Pull one dumbbell up to the side of your waist, slowly lower it to the floor, and then repeat with the other arm. You’ll feel it in your obliques and glutes.

Chopper

Stand holding a medicine ball or dumbbell with both hands. Spread your feet about shoulder-width apart. Push your hips back, as if you were preparing to jump, and start the movement with the ball or dumbbell between your legs and as far back as you can reach. Now pull it upward as fast as you can until your arms are fully extended overhead and your legs are straight. Immediately lower the weight as you squat down for the next rep.

You can do any number of variations. Change the angles by going from vertical to horizontal or diagonal. With cables or tubing, you can go high to low or low to high.

When you’re doing diagonal chops — low to high or high to low — you can pivot on one foot to extend your range of motion and involve more muscles.

Seated bicycle abs

Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you, and your arms at your sides or overhead. Now pretend you’re riding a bicycle. This one works the rotation/anti-rotation functions of the obliques, with a mild isometric contraction of the rectus abdominis.

Rollout

How you do this exercise depends on your experience and comfort level with it. For the most basic version, kneel with your forearms resting on a Swiss ball. Roll the ball out as far as you can, then pull it back. The standing version, with both feet on the floor, is more difficult.

To do an ab-wheel rollout, start with your knees on the floor and the wheel directly under your shoulders. Roll out as far as you can while keeping your lower back flat. Pull it back to the starting position. This exercise incorporates your lats and triceps along with your abdominal muscles.

The most difficult version is the barbell rollout. The form is the same as the ab-wheel rollout, but you’ll need considerably more core strength to control the bar as you roll it out and pull it back in.

Chris Bathke’s Daily Dose

This routine is for guys who like to hit their abs at the end of each workout. You’ll do a single exercise each day, addressing a different function of core strength while supporting proper postural alignment. If you train three times a week, you’ll do each exercise once a week. If you work out six times a week, you’ll do each one twice.

Day 1: L-sit hold

It’s easy enough to describe this isometric exercise: Grab a chin-up bar or the handles of a dip station, and hold your legs out straight as long as you can while keeping your shoulder blades pulled down. Start by attempting two 30-second holds, keeping your legs straight and torso tight and motionless. Rest 60 seconds between holds.

When you can get beyond 30 seconds on each hold, you’ll know you’ve developed serious core strength and endurance.

Day 2: Pallof press

This exercise, mentioned earlier in the article, trains the anti-rotation function of your abdominal muscles. Stand sideways to a cable machine with the pulley set at chest height, or use a band attached to a firm support at the same height. Hold the handle or band with both hands at the top of your abdomen. Set your feet shoulder-width part. You want to start the exercise with some tension in the cable or band.

Now press it straight out from your chest, hold briefly, return to the starting position, and repeat.

You want to keep your torso upright and your shoulder blades down. If you see one shoulder hiking up, reduce the weight.

Start with two sets of eight reps, and build up to three sets of 12. Rest 60 seconds between sets. You can make it harder by increasing the weight or moving your feet closer together. You can also try alternating between the cable machine and a band. The band, with its variable tension, offers a different kind of challenge to your core muscles.

Day 3: Medicine-ball rollout

This may be the most difficult of all rollout variations, especially if you’ve never tried it before. As with the other exercises Bathke recommends, it forces you to use upper-torso muscles in conjunction with your core muscles, which have to work at full capacity to extend your torso while keeping your spine stable.

Kneel with both hands on a medicine ball, with your arms straight and directly under your shoulders. Now walk the ball out with your hands as far as you can. Hold the fully extended position for a second or two, and then walk the ball back to the starting position.

Start with three sets of five reps, and add one rep per set each week. Rest 60 seconds between sets.

Tim Henriques’ Fully Loaded Ab Routine

Henriques likes to include loaded trunk-flexion exercises in certain situations. If you lack strength and size in your abs, this is the routine for you. You can do each workout once a week, or train your abs three times a week by rotating the two workouts. Just make sure you give your core at least one full day of rest between training sessions.

Day 1

Exercise Sets Reps Rest (sec)
A1) Kneeling cable crunch 2-4 8-25 0-60
A2) Hanging leg raise 2-4 8-25 0-60

Kneeling cable crunch

As shown in the photos at right, attach a rope to the high cable pulley, grab the ends of the rope, and hold them just above your head as you kneel facing the cable weight stack. Crunch down, hold for a second, return to the starting position, and repeat.

You’ll see that there’s a wide rep range — it’s up to you to decide if you need more volume with a lighter weight or if you need to build your abs with a heavier load.

If you go heavy, you might need to rest before you start your set of hanging leg raises. The goal is to work as quickly as possible, going from one exercise to the other with as little rest as you can manage. As your conditioning improves, you should be able to do three or four rounds with no rest between exercises.

Hanging leg raise

If you can’t hang from a chin-up bar and knock out sets of hanging leg raises with perfect form, you need to start with an exercise you can handle, and build up to the more difficult variations.

Here’s the progression, from easiest to hardest:

Day 2

Exercise Sets Reps Rest (sec)
A1) Ab-wheel rollout 2-4 6-20 0-60
A2) Standing ab-band hold 2-4 10-20 0-60
A3) Sword swing 2-4 8-20* 0-60

* Each side.

Again, with this compound set, the goal is to rest as little as possible between exercises and rounds.

Standing ab-band hold

If you just look at the video to your right without reading these instructions, you might think that the guy pulling up on the band — it looks like he’s doing a ballistic external rotation — is getting the workout. But it’s the guy holding the other end of the band who’s training his abs.

To do the version shown on the video, you’ll need a band and a training partner. Hold the band with your arms down by your sides while your partner pulls up on the other end of the band and you resist. Have your training partner increase the resistance every couple of reps.

No training partner? You can do ab pulses with the band attached to something above your head, like a chin-up bar.

No band? Do a straight-arm lat pulldown, and hold the bar in the bottom position for 20 to 60 seconds.

With this exercise, you’re training your abs to resist extension, increasing their strength, stability, and endurance.

Sword swing

You can use anything that’s straight and solid, from a broomstick to a Body Bar, which is a weighted bar you might find in your gym’s aerobics studio; it comes in sizes ranging from 9 to 24 pounds. You also might find unweighted bars in the aerobics room, to which you can add small weight plates at just one end, as shown in the picture to your right. That gives you a feeling of swinging an ax or sledgehammer.

The main rule is you don’t want anything much heavier than 15 pounds, which would slow down the movement and defeat the purpose.

To perform the exercise, which is shown in a video to your right, stand holding the bar with your feet shoulder-width apart or wider and your hands spread, as if you were swinging an ax. Do horizontal swings, stopping when the bar goes past your outside leg. Make sure you drive into the swing, and then forcefully pull the bar back to the starting position. The faster you go, the better it works as a conditioning drill.

Do the same number of reps for each side.

Absolution

All of the TMUSCLE coaches and contributors we interviewed agree on one major point: There’s no disconnect between training abs for aesthetics and training them for function.

As Abel says, when you look at gymnasts, you can conclude that training for function is training for aesthetics. A strong and well-conditioned midsection will look amazing if your body fat is low enough and your overall level of muscularity is high enough.

Just remember these points when training your abs:

None of this, of course, will give you the aesthetic effect you want if your diet and overall conditioning leave you a few cans short of a six-pack. But get those two parts of your program in order, throw in one or more of our coaches’ ab workouts, and that photo-worthy six-pack you’ve always wanted could be yours for the low, low price of some hard work and dietary discipline.

How to Build a Muscular Midsection

Serge Nubret: great abs, crazy-ass program.

How to Build a Muscular Midsection

Desiree Walker, a Fitness competitor and client of Scott Abel, won the USA Jr. Nationals and earned a pro card. She built this body, complete with rockin’ abs, without drugs, extreme dieting, or one minute of steady-state cardio.

Swiss-ball alternating step-off

Dumbbell pull-in (aka Renegade row)

Chopper

Seated bicycle abs

AC_FL_RunContent( ‘codebase’,’http://download.macromedia.com/pub/shockwave/cabs/flash/swflash.cab#version=7,0,0,0′,’width’,’380′,’height’,’215′,’id’,’FLVPlayer3′,’src’,’/FLVPlayer_Progressive’,’flashvars’,’&MM_ComponentVersion=1&skinName=/Clear_Skin_2&streamName=/img/photos/2009/09-123-training/Bicycleabsfromseated2&autoPlay=false&autoRewind=true’,’quality’,’high’,’scale’,’noscale’,’name’,’FLVPlayer’,’salign’,’lt’,’pluginspage’,’http://www.adobe.com/shockwave/download/download.cgi?P1_Prod_Version=ShockwaveFlash’,’movie’,’/FLVPlayer_Progressive’ ); //end AC code http://www.tmuscle.com/FLVPlayer_Progressive.swf

Rollout

Kneeling Cable Crunch

How to Build a Muscular Midsection

How to Build a Muscular Midsection

For the sword swing, you can add a light weight to a bar to create the effect of swinging an ax or sledgehammer. Note the use of multiple clips to hold the weight in place. Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes.

Sword Swing

AC_FL_RunContent( ‘codebase’,’http://download.macromedia.com/pub/shockwave/cabs/flash/swflash.cab#version=7,0,0,0′,’width’,’380′,’height’,’215′,’id’,’FLVPlayer’,’src’,’/FLVPlayer_Progressive’,’flashvars’,’&MM_ComponentVersion=1&skinName=/Clear_Skin_2&streamName=/img/photos/2009/09-123-training/SwordSwing380&autoPlay=false&autoRewind=true’,’quality’,’high’,’scale’,’noscale’,’name’,’FLVPlayer’,’salign’,’lt’,’pluginspage’,’http://www.adobe.com/shockwave/download/download.cgi?P1_Prod_Version=ShockwaveFlash’,’movie’,’/FLVPlayer_Progressive’ ); //end AC code http://www.tmuscle.com/FLVPlayer_Progressive.swf

© 1998 — 2009 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Wikio

How to Build a Muscular Midsection

Serge Nubret has been a bodybuilder for more than 50 years. He was one of the very best at the exact moment when being a great bodybuilder meant more than it ever had before or ever would again. He finished second at the 1975 Mr. Olympia, the one shown in Pumping Iron, which makes it the only bodybuilding contest ever imprinted in American popular culture. Finishing second means he beat out Lou Ferrigno, the guy the filmmakers presented as the only real roadblock in Arnold’s quest for a sixth straight Mr. O.

Nubret had one of the most perfect physiques the world has ever seen. And he built it with one of the craziest workout routines imaginable. He trained six days a week, two hours a day. He did dozens of sets for each muscle group, with double-digit reps and hardly any rest in between.

Abs? He reportedly did 2,000 daily sit-ups, nonstop, when preparing for a contest. According to a recent interview, he was still training his abs for an hour a day, every day, probably right up until he suffered a stroke earlier this year, at age 70.

As you can imagine, this was a guy who never experienced the perineum-numbing indignity of a stationary bike. His logic was, why waste time on a bike when you can burn calories and develop your abs at the same time?

Try doing that kind of routine today, and the cognoscenti of the fitness industry will stage an intervention, complete with readings from the latest studies by Dr. Stuart McGill. For all I know it might be illegal in some states to train abs with that kind of spine-buckling volume.

But at the same time, we all know the desire to have rocking six-pack abs hasn’t gone away. So I asked some of our resident TMUSCLE training experts to help us find the middle ground: How do you train abs for aesthetics first and foremost, without risking your spinal health with high-volume sit-up routines?

The coaches were unanimous in their belief that the road to a perfect six-pack should still begin with functionally sound training. “I take a view that training for performance will take care of the cosmetic,” says Santa Monica-based personal trainer Chris Bathke. “It’s like how when you train for strength improvements, physique improvements usually will follow.”

Strength coach Tim Henriques agrees. “Even though the ab routines I design may be thought of as ‘functional,’ my clients still want aesthetically pleasing results,” he says. “I think with the right exercises you can accomplish both feats.”

Can you build a hard, ripped midsection without making today’s most forward-thinking trainers choke on their foam rollers? Let’s discuss.

Rethinking the Anterior Core

“Anterior core” is the current phrase we use to avoid saying “abs.” It includes the major midsection muscles, which perform the functions we associate with ab training: trunk flexion, rotation and anti-rotation, lateral flexion, stabilization.

Each is important for aesthetics as well as function. And yet, the function we talk about most is trunk flexion, in which the upper torso is pulled closer to the hips. The controversy starts with the most popular ab exercise in existence, the crunch.

“When does anyone ever do anything in real life that looks like a crunch?” asks veteran strength coach and TMUSCLE author Mike Boyle. “The function of the anterior core is absolutely not flexion. I agree with the functional folks that lying on your back doing abs is not only a waste of time, but probably dangerous.”

The “functional folks” tend to be influenced by the aforementioned Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo in Ontario and a prolific researcher. McGill has shown that repeated spinal flexion damages spinal discs, at least in a lab setting.

The influence of McGill’s research goes beyond performance specialists like Boyle. Scott Abel, who specializes in training competitive physique athletes, agrees with Boyle’s critique of the lowly crunch. “By shortening the range of motion of the traditional sit-up, it takes much of the hip-flexor involvement out of the movement,” he says. “But that’s all you’re doing with the crunch. You aren’t burning many calories, and there’s hardly any functional benefit to working muscles through such a short range.”

So if traditional trunk flexion is potentially dangerous, in the case of the sit-up, or a waste of time, if we’re talking about crunches, what the hell can you do for the anterior core?

Short answer: ab rollouts.

McGill’s research has shown that they force the rectus abdominis — the “six- pack” muscle — to work like a beast. It’s brutally hard for the abdominals to lengthen while providing full support for the lumbar spine.

But therein lies the problem: Rollouts are really hard to do with good form, and this is one of the last exercises you’d want to do with bad form. “Many athletes get exceptionally sore, or are unable to hold a stable lumbar spine,” Boyle says. “I actually told my athletes who had any abdominal issues [such as previous strains] to never do them under any circumstances.”

If you aren’t ready for rollouts, there are plenty of intermediate steps, starting with the plank. As almost every TMUSCLE reader knows, this is a static exercise in which you hold a modified push-up position, with your weight on your toes and forearms and your body forming a straight line from your neck through your ankles. A gym novice should work up to a 60-second hold. Advanced lifters should be able to hold the position for two to three minutes.

For more advanced plank variations, you can raise your feet in the air or wear a weighted vest. To prepare for the rollout, you can start with walkouts from the push-up position, and progress to modified rollouts by resting your forearms on a Swiss ball, and slowly rolling it away from you and then pulling it back in.

Not all our coaches, however, have given up on trunk flexion. Henriques includes high-pulley cable crunches and hanging leg raises for clients who might benefit from abdominal hypertrophy. “Some people argue about the importance of this, but sometimes you need to isolate the muscle and build it up so others can see it,” he says.

But Scott Abel advises caution, citing his years of work with competitive bodybuilders. “Many pro bodybuilders have ruined their waistlines by including too many loaded movements,” he says. “The abs grow out and bigger.” (Yes, Abel acknowledges that “other factors” contribute to the expanded waistlines we see in bodybuilding.)

Let’s Twist Again

For years, the concept of trunk rotation was represented by the twist with a broomstick, perhaps the most useless ab exercise ever invented. A close second would be the abdominal-twist machines you still see in some health clubs. Less useless, but still not recommended, are the many variations on twisting crunches and sit-ups.

Today we have so many good trunk-rotation exercises to choose from — everything from cable lifts and chops to Russian twists with a medicine ball to hitting a tire with a sledgehammer — that you hardly ever see the really dumb ones performed anymore.

Trunk rotation is an important movement for function as well as appearance; it’s hard to imagine playing a sport without using powerful twists at some point. The prime movers for twists are the external obliques, with contributions from the internal obliques and rectus abdominis.

Equally important is anti-rotation — training those same muscles in your middle body to resist forces trying to pull your torso around to the left or right. One increasingly popular example of an anti-rotation exercise is the Pallof press, in which you stand sideways to a cable machine and press the handle straight out from your midsection. With all the resistance coming from one side, your torso muscles have to work hard to keep your body upright.

While everyone seems to agree on the importance of rotation and anti-rotation exercises for ab training, the consensus dissolves when the subject changes to lateral flexion — bending and straightening sideways against resistance. You see it most often in health clubs in the form of side crunches, with or without an Ab Roller, and with dumbbell side bends. If the goal is to target the obliques, those exercises clearly do the trick.

But should you target the obliques in that movement pattern? As with forward trunk flexion, there’s no simple answer. Powerlifters, for example, use heavy side bends to build core strength. But for bodybuilders, lateral flexion carries a perceived risk of thickening the waist in the exact places where they want it to be narrow.

Mike Robertson, a frequent TMUSCLE contributor, thinks those fears are overblown. “I’ve yet to see an athlete whose obliques and lateral flexors dominate the rest of his physique,” he says. “And a well-developed and strong set of obliques can really enhance the development of any athlete.”

Still, the functional anatomy of the obliques suggests that you can develop those muscles perfectly well without lateral flexion. They’re fully engaged in all the exercises and movements we’ve mentioned so far. Just because the obliques are active in side bends doesn’t mean anyone needs to do them.

Strike a Pose

If there’s one aspect of ab training that’s often overlooked, it’s stabilization. Sure, everyone reading TMUSCLE understands that “core stability” is important for function, but it’s also crucial for aesthetics.

“The internal obliques and transverse abdominis, the innermost abdominal layers, help compress the abdomen and provide support to the midsection against the pull of gravity,” says Kevin Weiss, a bodybuilder, trainer, and TMUSCLE contributor. “In simple terms, these endurance-oriented muscles help you stand up straight and keep your gut from sticking out.”

Or, as Bathke says, “It’s hard to show off that six-pack with a swayback.”

Of course, any movement in which you have to stabilize your spine against a load will challenge those muscles. They’re working hard whenever you do squats, front squats, good mornings, or overhead lifts. Some coaches have suggested that a steady diet of these money lifts is all the stabilization work you really need for function as well as aesthetics.

Scott Abel disagrees: “It’s limited, like having a car jack that’s only good for the left front tire.”

Six-Packs, Lost and Found

Now to the fine print. There’s more to a well-developed midsection than smart training.This might be painfully obvious to the average TMUSCLE reader, but it bears repeating: No matter how well-developed your core may be, you’ll never be able to show it off until your body fat dips into the single digits.

Diet plays the biggest role here, and it’s a deal-breaker. “No one can out-train an inconsistent or improper diet,” Abel says. “And if your own metabolic set point is such that having quilted abs is not your genetically natural predisposition, then you’d better have expert help in achieving that look.”

Speaking of genetics, even with a great training program, a great diet, and a knowledgeable advisor, you still have to listen to your body. “You can’t look at someone with an exceptional body or body part and assume you can achieve the same results by mimicking his workouts,” Abel says. “There’s far too much individual variation in the way we respond to the workouts we do.”

Individual response is especially variable when it comes to energy-systems work. Some guys thrive with tons of cardio, and some do fine with none at all.

Abel says to practice caution here. Hours a day of steady-state aerobics can lead to a suppressed metabolism, burned-out adrenals, and even an unexpected weight gain. “As I always say, force the body and it reacts. Coax the body and it responds.”

Abel likes to steal a page from Serge Nubret’s playbook, and design core-training sessions to have huge calorie expenditures. Weiss, his protégé, is a big fan of this system and uses it throughout his contest prep. “I don’t particularly enjoy training abs, and I hate doing cardio,” he says. “So I do my ab training in a circuit fashion, which not only saves time but also creates an oxygen debt, which reduces the amount of cardio I need to do to get into contest shape.”

The Workouts

Although our coaches agree on most of the major principles of ab training, they offer three distinctly ways to put them into practice.

Scott Abel’s workout can be used three or four times a week not only to train your abs, but to create a fat-burning oxygen debt as well.

Chris Bathke’s routine can be used every workout without risk of overtraining the basic movement patterns.

And Tim Henriques’ workout is for guys who want to train their midsections hard and heavy a couple times a week.

Scott Abel’s Gold-Medal Program

Abel makes a living as a bodybuilding guru, but looks to gymnasts as the best role models for ab training.

“Gymnasts’ abs are never large, blocky, or distended,” he says. “And they get that quilted look without special diets or hours of cardio.”

Abel concedes that elite gymnasts are genetically predisposed to be good at what they do. They also train hours a day from a very young age. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn important lessons from their training systems, particularly when we contrast them with the traditional approach to ab exercise.”

Gymnasts perform a lot of exercises in which their core muscles work synergistically not only with each other, but with the rest of their bodies as well. “Trying to isolate muscles of the core is not only fruitless, but damaging,” Abel says. “As I said earlier, you only have to look at the bigger stomachs of pro bodybuilders.”

Abel uses the following categories for ab exercises:

Do the following exercises as a circuit, with no rest between exercises and as much rest as you need between circuits. Keep constant tension on the abs throughout the exercises, and do each movement deliberately, with as little momentum as possible.

Exercise Sets Reps
A1) Swiss-ball alternating step-off 4-6 10-15 (each leg)
A2) Dumbbell pull-in 4-6 10-12* (each side)
A3) Chopper 4-6 10-15
A4) Seated bicycle abs 4-6 15-30 seconds
A5) Rollout 4-6 8-15

* You can use heavier weights for fewer reps, if you choose

Swiss-ball alternating step-off

Start in a locked-out push-up position with your toes on top of a Swiss ball. Slowly take one leg off the ball and, keeping it straight, lower it as far out to the side as you can. Touch the floor with the toe, then slowly raise it back up to the ball and repeat with your other leg.

This exercise forces your lower core muscles and glutes to function as a unit to control, stabilize, and move your body in a challenging position.

Dumbbell pull-in (aka Renegade row)

Grab a pair of relatively heavy dumbbells and get into the push-up position with the weights on the floor. Pull one dumbbell up to the side of your waist, slowly lower it to the floor, and then repeat with the other arm. You’ll feel it in your obliques and glutes.

Chopper

Stand holding a medicine ball or dumbbell with both hands. Spread your feet about shoulder-width apart. Push your hips back, as if you were preparing to jump, and start the movement with the ball or dumbbell between your legs and as far back as you can reach. Now pull it upward as fast as you can until your arms are fully extended overhead and your legs are straight. Immediately lower the weight as you squat down for the next rep.

You can do any number of variations. Change the angles by going from vertical to horizontal or diagonal. With cables or tubing, you can go high to low or low to high.

When you’re doing diagonal chops — low to high or high to low — you can pivot on one foot to extend your range of motion and involve more muscles.

Seated bicycle abs

Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you, and your arms at your sides or overhead. Now pretend you’re riding a bicycle. This one works the rotation/anti-rotation functions of the obliques, with a mild isometric contraction of the rectus abdominis.

Rollout

How you do this exercise depends on your experience and comfort level with it. For the most basic version, kneel with your forearms resting on a Swiss ball. Roll the ball out as far as you can, then pull it back. The standing version, with both feet on the floor, is more difficult.

To do an ab-wheel rollout, start with your knees on the floor and the wheel directly under your shoulders. Roll out as far as you can while keeping your lower back flat. Pull it back to the starting position. This exercise incorporates your lats and triceps along with your abdominal muscles.

The most difficult version is the barbell rollout. The form is the same as the ab-wheel rollout, but you’ll need considerably more core strength to control the bar as you roll it out and pull it back in.

Chris Bathke’s Daily Dose

This routine is for guys who like to hit their abs at the end of each workout. You’ll do a single exercise each day, addressing a different function of core strength while supporting proper postural alignment. If you train three times a week, you’ll do each exercise once a week. If you work out six times a week, you’ll do each one twice.

Day 1: L-sit hold

It’s easy enough to describe this isometric exercise: Grab a chin-up bar or the handles of a dip station, and hold your legs out straight as long as you can while keeping your shoulder blades pulled down. Start by attempting two 30-second holds, keeping your legs straight and torso tight and motionless. Rest 60 seconds between holds.

When you can get beyond 30 seconds on each hold, you’ll know you’ve developed serious core strength and endurance.

Day 2: Pallof press

This exercise, mentioned earlier in the article, trains the anti-rotation function of your abdominal muscles. Stand sideways to a cable machine with the pulley set at chest height, or use a band attached to a firm support at the same height. Hold the handle or band with both hands at the top of your abdomen. Set your feet shoulder-width part. You want to start the exercise with some tension in the cable or band.

Now press it straight out from your chest, hold briefly, return to the starting position, and repeat.

You want to keep your torso upright and your shoulder blades down. If you see one shoulder hiking up, reduce the weight.

Start with two sets of eight reps, and build up to three sets of 12. Rest 60 seconds between sets. You can make it harder by increasing the weight or moving your feet closer together. You can also try alternating between the cable machine and a band. The band, with its variable tension, offers a different kind of challenge to your core muscles.

Day 3: Medicine-ball rollout

This may be the most difficult of all rollout variations, especially if you’ve never tried it before. As with the other exercises Bathke recommends, it forces you to use upper-torso muscles in conjunction with your core muscles, which have to work at full capacity to extend your torso while keeping your spine stable.

Kneel with both hands on a medicine ball, with your arms straight and directly under your shoulders. Now walk the ball out with your hands as far as you can. Hold the fully extended position for a second or two, and then walk the ball back to the starting position.

Start with three sets of five reps, and add one rep per set each week. Rest 60 seconds between sets.

Tim Henriques’ Fully Loaded Ab Routine

Henriques likes to include loaded trunk-flexion exercises in certain situations. If you lack strength and size in your abs, this is the routine for you. You can do each workout once a week, or train your abs three times a week by rotating the two workouts. Just make sure you give your core at least one full day of rest between training sessions.

Day 1

Exercise Sets Reps Rest (sec)
A1) Kneeling cable crunch 2-4 8-25 0-60
A2) Hanging leg raise 2-4 8-25 0-60

Kneeling cable crunch

As shown in the photos at right, attach a rope to the high cable pulley, grab the ends of the rope, and hold them just above your head as you kneel facing the cable weight stack. Crunch down, hold for a second, return to the starting position, and repeat.

You’ll see that there’s a wide rep range — it’s up to you to decide if you need more volume with a lighter weight or if you need to build your abs with a heavier load.

If you go heavy, you might need to rest before you start your set of hanging leg raises. The goal is to work as quickly as possible, going from one exercise to the other with as little rest as you can manage. As your conditioning improves, you should be able to do three or four rounds with no rest between exercises.

Hanging leg raise

If you can’t hang from a chin-up bar and knock out sets of hanging leg raises with perfect form, you need to start with an exercise you can handle, and build up to the more difficult variations.

Here’s the progression, from easiest to hardest:

Day 2

Exercise Sets Reps Rest (sec)
A1) Ab-wheel rollout 2-4 6-20 0-60
A2) Standing ab-band hold 2-4 10-20 0-60
A3) Sword swing 2-4 8-20* 0-60

* Each side.

Again, with this compound set, the goal is to rest as little as possible between exercises and rounds.

Standing ab-band hold

If you just look at the video to your right without reading these instructions, you might think that the guy pulling up on the band — it looks like he’s doing a ballistic external rotation — is getting the workout. But it’s the guy holding the other end of the band who’s training his abs.

To do the version shown on the video, you’ll need a band and a training partner. Hold the band with your arms down by your sides while your partner pulls up on the other end of the band and you resist. Have your training partner increase the resistance every couple of reps.

No training partner? You can do ab pulses with the band attached to something above your head, like a chin-up bar.

No band? Do a straight-arm lat pulldown, and hold the bar in the bottom position for 20 to 60 seconds.

With this exercise, you’re training your abs to resist extension, increasing their strength, stability, and endurance.

Sword swing

You can use anything that’s straight and solid, from a broomstick to a Body Bar, which is a weighted bar you might find in your gym’s aerobics studio; it comes in sizes ranging from 9 to 24 pounds. You also might find unweighted bars in the aerobics room, to which you can add small weight plates at just one end, as shown in the picture to your right. That gives you a feeling of swinging an ax or sledgehammer.

The main rule is you don’t want anything much heavier than 15 pounds, which would slow down the movement and defeat the purpose.

To perform the exercise, which is shown in a video to your right, stand holding the bar with your feet shoulder-width apart or wider and your hands spread, as if you were swinging an ax. Do horizontal swings, stopping when the bar goes past your outside leg. Make sure you drive into the swing, and then forcefully pull the bar back to the starting position. The faster you go, the better it works as a conditioning drill.

Do the same number of reps for each side.

Absolution

All of the TMUSCLE coaches and contributors we interviewed agree on one major point: There’s no disconnect between training abs for aesthetics and training them for function.

As Abel says, when you look at gymnasts, you can conclude that training for function is training for aesthetics. A strong and well-conditioned midsection will look amazing if your body fat is low enough and your overall level of muscularity is high enough.

Just remember these points when training your abs:

None of this, of course, will give you the aesthetic effect you want if your diet and overall conditioning leave you a few cans short of a six-pack. But get those two parts of your program in order, throw in one or more of our coaches’ ab workouts, and that photo-worthy six-pack you’ve always wanted could be yours for the low, low price of some hard work and dietary discipline.

How to Build a Muscular Midsection

Serge Nubret: great abs, crazy-ass program.

How to Build a Muscular Midsection

Desiree Walker, a Fitness competitor and client of Scott Abel, won the USA Jr. Nationals and earned a pro card. She built this body, complete with rockin’ abs, without drugs, extreme dieting, or one minute of steady-state cardio.

Swiss-ball alternating step-off

Dumbbell pull-in (aka Renegade row)

Chopper

Seated bicycle abs

AC_FL_RunContent( ‘codebase’,’http://download.macromedia.com/pub/shockwave/cabs/flash/swflash.cab#version=7,0,0,0′,’width’,’380′,’height’,’215′,’id’,’FLVPlayer3′,’src’,’/FLVPlayer_Progressive’,’flashvars’,’&MM_ComponentVersion=1&skinName=/Clear_Skin_2&streamName=/img/photos/2009/09-123-training/Bicycleabsfromseated2&autoPlay=false&autoRewind=true’,’quality’,’high’,’scale’,’noscale’,’name’,’FLVPlayer’,’salign’,’lt’,’pluginspage’,’http://www.adobe.com/shockwave/download/download.cgi?P1_Prod_Version=ShockwaveFlash’,’movie’,’/FLVPlayer_Progressive’ ); //end AC code

Rollout

Kneeling Cable Crunch

How to Build a Muscular Midsection

How to Build a Muscular Midsection

For the sword swing, you can add a light weight to a bar to create the effect of swinging an ax or sledgehammer. Note the use of multiple clips to hold the weight in place. Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes.

Sword Swing

AC_FL_RunContent( ‘codebase’,’http://download.macromedia.com/pub/shockwave/cabs/flash/swflash.cab#version=7,0,0,0′,’width’,’380′,’height’,’215′,’id’,’FLVPlayer’,’src’,’/FLVPlayer_Progressive’,’flashvars’,’&MM_ComponentVersion=1&skinName=/Clear_Skin_2&streamName=/img/photos/2009/09-123-training/SwordSwing380&autoPlay=false&autoRewind=true’,’quality’,’high’,’scale’,’noscale’,’name’,’FLVPlayer’,’salign’,’lt’,’pluginspage’,’http://www.adobe.com/shockwave/download/download.cgi?P1_Prod_Version=ShockwaveFlash’,’movie’,’/FLVPlayer_Progressive’ ); //end AC code

© 1998 — 2009 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Wikio

%d bloggers like this: