Category Archives: Core Training

Not Your Average B.S. Core Training

 

Not Your Average BS Core Training
Writing articles can be funny sometimes. There are times I’ll address a topic that gets me all jazzed up but fails to get much of a response from readers. Other times I’ll write something that I think is solid and helpful but not necessarily thrilling, and it’ll be a huge hit.
Such was the case with my “hit” article, Not Your Average B.S. Core Training. I thought it was a good article and I shared some fun and innovative core stability exercises, but to be honest, I almost didn’t even write the article because – let’s be real here – core stability isn’t very sexy or exciting.
It’s important no doubt, but it’s boring. Heavy lifting excites me. Brutal workouts excite me. Core stability? Not so much.
As important as it is to include for performance, injury prevention, and aesthetic reasons, I still look for any excuse I can to skip working core, and honestly, I often do.
So at first I was really surprised that my core stability article was such a hit. After I thought about it, though, it made perfect sense. I think a lot of people are in the same boat as me regarding core stability work – they acknowledge its value on some level but find it really boring, and most of the traditional core stability exercises are just too easy except to those who work out three times a week with soup cans.
With that in mind, here are some more challenging (dare I say fun?) core exercises to add to your arsenal.

1. Band-Resisted “Anti” Rollouts

Ab wheel rollouts are a great exercise to train the anterior core – one of my favorites – but they’ll quickly become easy for stronger lifters. Unless you want to bang out sets of 30+ reps, you’ll need to make them harder.
You can do this a number of different ways, each with its own advantages and drawbacks.
One way to go is to progress to standing rollouts starting from the feet rather than the knees. However, standing rollouts are simply too hard for most and I’ve seen several people hurt themselves trying to build up to them, so I’ve since looked elsewhere.
Another way to make standard ab wheel rollouts tougher is to add weight with weighted vests or putting plates on your back. I’ve done this a lot with good success, but I find that it quickly reaches a point of diminishing returns where adding more weight changes your leverages in such a way that makes it difficult to maintain good form and increases the demands on the shoulders more than the core.
So while I’m not against adding a little bit of additional weight, I no longer advocate adding a ton of additional load because it detracts from the intended goal of the exercise, which is to hone in on the core.
For that reason, I really like band-resisted rollouts. They offer a significant additional challenge over just using your bodyweight without changing your leverages or interfering with your ability to move freely.
Plus, they offer accommodating resistance – so they’re easier at the point of full extension where you’re weakest, and they also take stress off the shoulders in their most vulnerable position.
Band-resisted rollouts are usually done facing the band straight-on so the resistance is primarily front-back in the capital plane. While that’s certainly fine and a great exercise in its own right, I’ve found that setting up at a 45-degree angle to the band but still performing them just as you normally would (moving straight back and forth) creates a unique challenge.
You’re still ostensibly moving purely in the sagittal plane, yet you now have to resist getting pulled sideways by the band too, which forces you to stabilize in the frontal and transverse planes to resist rotation and lateral flexion, thereby working the rotary and lateral core along with the anterior core.
I thus call them “anti” rollouts because they train anti-extension, anti-rotation, and anti-lateral flexion all at the same time.
Here’s what they look like in action.

These are a lot harder than they look, trust me. The band will have a tendency to pull you towards the anchor point, especially as you reach the point of full extension, so it’s important that you’re sure to move out and back in a straight line.
If you don’t have a buddy or training partner to keep you honest, it’s helpful to put something straight next to you to serve as a guide so you don’t veer off course. You can easily increase or decrease the difficulty simply by setting up farther away or closer to the anchor point of the band. The farther back or the farther off to the side, the harder it is and vice versa.

2. Single-Leg Slideouts/Rollouts

Another way to make rollout variations harder is to decrease the base of support by doing them one leg at a time.
This is nice because it substantially increases the difficulty for the core without making it harder for the upper body. It also introduces an anti-rotational component to the exercise so you’re challenging the rotary core along with the already great anterior core work that you get from regular rollouts.
You can do these with an ab wheel, a barbell, or sliders as I demonstrate in the video below:

Interestingly, with regular rollouts, I find that the ab wheel is the easiest followed by the sliders and the barbell. However, with single-leg rollouts (or slideouts), the ab wheel is actually harder because it has a tendency to tip on you because the hands are so close together, whereas you can spread them out wider with the sliders and barbell, making for a more stable base.
That’s just something to keep in mind when trying them out.

3. Single-Leg Sliding Pushup Reach

To progress the previous exercise a step further, you can try going to a one leg sliding push-up reach.
Start in push-up position with your hands on a pair of sliders. One arm performs a push-up while you slide the other arm straight out in front of you as far as you can. Whichever arm you reach out, lift up the opposite foot.
Since I’m sure that explanation did nothing but confuse you, I’ll just show you what it looks like:

You can do all the reps on one side before switching sides, or do them in alternating fashion as I’m doing in the video.
In the past I’ve done the sliding push-up reach with both feet on the floor and progressed it by adding a weighted vest, but that seems to challenge the push-up portion of the exercise much more than the core aspect, whereas decreasing the base of support by switching to one leg jacks up the core demand without increasing the upper body demand. So as always, the best exercise choice really depends on your goal.
If doing it from push-up position is too hard, you can also do them from the knees.

4. Walking Push-up Slides

Here’s a core exercise that will also crank up your heart rate, making it a great “finisher” for an upper body workout.
Perform a push-up slide as normal, but rather than return to the starting position on each rep, walk your feet forward until your hands are even and continue in that fashion for as long as you can handle, or as long as the space in your gym will allow.

Just a few sets will have you huffing and puffing and have your core and upper body burning and begging for mercy.
Most finishers and conditioning work crush the lower body: sleds, sprints, bikes, etc. That’s fine, unless you’re trying to give your legs a rest, in which case you’ve got a problem.
Apart from battling ropes and upper body complexes, there aren’t as many good finishers for the core and upper body that don’t tax the legs. This exercise fits that bill nicely.
Since a lot of dudes (myself included) don’t particularly like either core work or conditioning, it’s also a good way to kill two birds with one stone.
I won’t say it’s quick and painless, but at least it’s quick.

5. Half-Kneeling Landmine Lateral Raises

I shared a new lateral raise variation I’ve been doing with the landmine in a recent article. They feel awesome on the shoulders, and I’ve received a lot of good feedback from people that have tried them out and really liked them.
If you do them from the half-kneeling position, you can still blast the shoulders, but it also doubles as a heck of a core exercise, while also giving you a fantastic hip flexor stretch to boot. That’s some serious bang for your buck.

From a core standpoint it’s very similar to the increasingly popular half-kneeling lift exercise, only you get the added benefit of crushing your shoulders at the same time.
Some factions in the fitness community scoff at the notion of doing isolation work like lateral raises because it’s not “functional,” or is somehow deemed to be vain. That’s dumb, but if that’s the case, this exercise would be a good way to get around that problem because you fry your delts to your heart’s content under the guise of a “functional” core and hip stability exercise.
Interestingly, I’ve found I can handle just as much weight in the half-kneeling position than I can handle standing, so you aren’t giving up anything from a shoulder-building perspective.
You can do them from a true half-kneeling position with your back knee on the floor or raise the knee slightly like I’m doing in the video, turning it into more of an iso-lunge and making it harder on the glutes and hip stabilizers. Your choice.

6. Sliding Pushup Reach/Flys (Bottom Position)

These are the same as the regular sliding push-up reach, only you stay in the bottom position of the push-up for the entire set.

Doing them in this fashion increases the demands on the upper body quite a bit, but still challenges the core a lot through anti-extension and anti-rotation.
To increase the rotary stability demands further and also put more stress on the pecs, try reaching the arms straight out to the sides instead of reaching straight out. This is also a great progression to build to sliding chest flys, one of my absolute favorite chest builders.

7. Ring Push-up Reach

All the push-up reach variations I’ve shown thus far have involved sliders. If you don’t have sliders, or don’t have a good surface to use the sliders, you can also use rings.
Here’s an example of the regular push-up reach:

From here, you can progress on to all the same variations that I’ve demonstrated with the sliders.
If you have both options available to you, I much prefer the sliders because they just feel better, but the rings are still a good option and will work similarly.
They’re more or less equal in terms of difficulty, so you shouldn’t have much of a problem switching from one to the other, and you could certainly use both for more variation.

8. Long-Lever Plank Shoulder Taps

Each of the exercises I’ve shared in this article (and the previous article) require the use of an ab wheel, sliders, rings, a landmine, or some other piece of specialized equipment.
What do you do if you don’t have any of those goodies? Or what if you’re on the road traveling and don’t have access to a gym?
Fear not, I’ve still got you covered.
Long-lever plank shoulder taps are a brutal core exercise that requires nothing more than your bodyweight.
Regular shoulder taps are where you get into push-up position and alternate touching each hand to the opposite shoulder while focusing on keeping your torso and hips steady.
That’s a great exercise as it is, but it may not be very challenging for more advanced lifters. To make it substantially harder, try walking your feet back into a longer lever plank before doing the shoulder taps.
The same rules apply for these as for the regular push-up taps – do each rep slowly and deliberately and make sure you aren’t arching your back and/or swiveling your hips and shoulders as you reach across your body.
The farther you walk back, the farther you extend the lever and thus the harder the exercise becomes.

Start with the regular version in standard push-up position and slowly work your way back over time, progressing only to the point you can maintain good control of your core and keep good form.

9. Long Lever Plank Flutters

This one is very similar to the long-lever shoulder taps (albeit a bit harder), only you keep both your hands on the ground and instead alternate picking up your feet one at a time, almost like you’re doing a freestyle swimming kick – hence why I call them ‘flutters’.

Just as with the previous exercise, you want to keep steady and avoid arching your back. To that end, don’t lift your legs up too high, and make sure you’re squeezing your glutes and having them do the work to lift your leg rather than extending from the lumbar spine.
If you’re doing these correctly your glutes should be on fire by the end of the set. If you feel it more in your lower back, you’re not doing it right, or you may need to shorten the lever and make it easier by walking back in a bit.
Again, start in a standard push-up position and work your way back over time as you become more proficient.

Wrap Up

If you’ve been skimping on your core work, try some of these exercises for yourself. I think you’ll quickly start rethinking just how boring and wussy core stability training really is. And who knows? You may actually start to enjoy it.
Just don’t go trying them all at once or else your abs will feel like they’ve been brutalized. You’ve been warned.

Top 10 Exercises to Achieve an Athletic Build



An athletic build is desired by many, it is similar to that of a bodybuilder but they are not the same. While a bodybuilder is built for size and strength an athletes body is built for power, speed, quickness, explosiveness and agility. Typically the body of a bodybuilder is more bulky, sometimes VERY bulky. The body of an an athlete is usually more slight. Then there is a grey area where some athletes look like bodybuilders. If you want an athletic build you need to train like an athlete does. These are the top 10 exercises athletes do to give you an athletic build.

1) Power Cleans

Power cleans and other types of cleans are a mainstay in most athletic programs. Cleans are a total body exercise that use  your quads, calves, hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, deltoids, traps, and forearms, as well as the core muscles that come into play to stabilize your spine throughout the movement. Cleans develop power and explosiveness essential to an athlete. If an athlete could only do one exercise this would probably be it and if you can only do one exercise to achieve an athletic build this should be it as well.
power clean athletic build

2) Squats

Squats are the king of the lower body exercises. Any athlete who needs power in his lower body is doing squats. Don’t be one of those people with a built upper body and chicken legs. Squats  target a number of different muscle groups all over the body: the core muscles including the abdominals and lower back, the glutes, and the thigh muscles. Hit the squats hard and hit them often.
Squats for athletic build

3) Bench Press

If the squats are king of the lower body the bench press is the king of the upper body. Athletes that need upper body power use this as a mainstay of their training. The bench works the chest, shoulders, triceps, and even the abs are used to help generate power and stability. Whether you do it with a barbell or dumbbells the bench press is a must.
Bench press for athletic build

4) Sprints

Sprints are another biggie in an athletes training, athletes not only want power and explosiveness but as the old saying goes “speed kills!”  Speed can be a huge asset to to many athletes, whether it is going deep on a  passing route, a fast break in basketball, or stealing second base in baseball, having speed is essential. Not only does sprinting build speed but doing sprints in interval training will burn fat like crazy which we talked about in this article. If you haven’t noticed pretty much all sprinters have athletic build.
Athletic buildsprinter athletic build

5) Core Training

Athletes need to have a strong core and I am sure you are looking to have a six pack with your athletic build so you will need to do core training. Hanging leg raises, planks (both front and side) and crunches will get your core tight and strong.
Athletic build

6) Chin ups

Chin ups are common exercise for many athletes as part of their training to improve pulling movements, they will also help you get that nice  V-shape we all love.
chin up athletic exercisechin up crossfit athletic

7) Shoulder Press

Strong shoulders are a must in many sports for pushing movements. Shoulder presses not only work the deltoids but the triceps, lats and traps as well,  they are also a must for an athletic build.
Shoulder Press

8) Rows

Rows build strength for pulling movements useful in wrestling, football and other sports. They work primarily the lats and traps as well as the biceps and shoulders. Doing rows add thickness to the back muscles.
athlete barbell row

9) Close Grip Bench Press

The close grip bench is used for athletes to strengthen pushing movements, unlike the bench press the close grip bench press focuses on the triceps as the primary muscle rather than the chest.
Close Grip Bench Athlete Build

10) Lunges

Lunges are widely used to build strength in the quads, glutes and hips. They will also help you get a nice round butt we all like.
walking lunge athletic build

Honorable mention- Plyometrics

Plyometrics are very popular with athletes to build explosiveness, quickness and agility. They involve many different jumps and other movements. The most common type of plyometrics you see a conventional gym is usually box jumps. Use caution when doing these as they can lead to injury if you are not in good shape or do them incorrectly.

box jump plyos athletic
There you have the top 10 exercises you need to get you an athletic body. Notice all the exercises on the list are compound movements that use multiple muscles at the same time.  Athletes generally do not do isolated movements like bicep curls or calf raises as part of their every day training, you can feel free to mix in movements like that if you desire however.
Ryan Douglas

Full Contact Core

develop a strong core
Ever meet one of those true strength freaks? One of those guys that can bench 300 for reps, deadlift 500, dunk a basketball, and carry heavy furniture around like it’s plastic lawn chairs?
While this kind of full body strength is impressive – not to mention useful when you need someone to help you move – it’s also a fine example of exceptional core strength.
Now I’ve done it. I said “core,” which immediately conjures up images of 30-second ab infomercial products and skinny men in spandex contorting on Bosu balls.
However, I prefer to use the word core as how the dictionary defines it: “the basic or most important part; the essence.” Extending this definition to training, it means your seemingly strong physique is nowhere near its true potential if your core strength isn’t up to par.
Now there’s no shortage of good core training articles available, and literally dozens of very effective exercises. But one of the problems with even sound core training advice is a lack of relevance to what you want to improve.
Considering you’re reading T Nation, there’s a good chance that you want to improve your squat, bench, and deadlift. So what will ground-based core exercises do for you?
Answer is, very little. You might improve your “isolated” core strength, but your performance in the Big 3 will likely be unaffected.
To get truly strong you need to choose what I call full contact core exercises. By “full contact” I don’t mean getting hoofed in the bread basket for sets of 8-10, but rather specific exercises that address and eliminate what I refer to as energy leaks.
Here’s an example: If your back rounds in the squat and deadlift, that’s an energy leak. And because you didn’t stabilize the trunk sufficiently, your power will fail to transfer from the ground to the bar. The consequence of this is injury, or a failed and ugly lift. So you need to find core exercises to address this.

How to Develop a Full Contact Core

The following four steps will help you develop a full contact core in no time. However, under no circumstances may you skip a step.
Imagine when you were a kid if you tried to skip the walking stage and went straight from crawling to sprinting. Exactly. Swallow your pride, do the steps in order, and derive the full benefits.
I’ll also provide two different exercise examples and progressions. You can use both or choose the one that best suits your routine.

Step # 1: Build Tension

develop a strong core
The first step is all about creating tension. Isometric contractions are an effective way to learn this skill – most are familiar with planks and other foundational shit – but I’ve found moving resistance over short distances with control is better.

Full Contact Twist – Arm Movement Only

Start by holding a plank position with tense glutes, abs, and thighs. Squeeze the bar and push forward with one arm while pulling the bar with the other to create upper body tension. This helps prevent energy leaks in the shoulders and elbows.
Slowly rotate the arms to one side, pause for a second, and then return to the start position before switching sides. The goal is to be able to hold a position with maximum tension while performing a slow arm movement, all without letting any other body segment move significantly.

Band Rotations – Arm Movement Only

I learned this from Nick Tumminello and it’s a great way to teach athletes what a full contact core is all about. Start in what’s known as a “pallof press” position with maximum tension in the glutes and abs, and then rotate the hands between the shoulders.
Note: 

Step 2: Grinding

develop a strong core
The second step is all about grinding. An often-used analogy for grinding versus exploding is the comparison of a tow truck and a sports car. If your car gets stuck in a snow bank on a winter night you want a tow truck to come save your bacon, not a Ferrari.
To lift heavy weights, you have to be able to create considerable tension. While it’s tempting to attack a big-ass weight with maximum speed, it isn’t always effective as the faster you move, the less force is generated.
You can always try moving faster through a sticking point once you start slow, but what happens if you explode into a sticking point and then get stuck?
The key is to learn to grind and control the force with the following grinding moves.

Grinding Full Contact Twist

The full contact twist exercise also includes hip movement. While you worked with a tight trunk in the first exercise, here you’re moving your hips while still remaining tight. This teaches you to transfer force as a single unit and while moving, stopping, decelerating, and accelerating.
Start the rotation to one side while pivoting with the feet. Lower the bar close to the thigh and under control before moving it with tension back up. Make sure to start the movement with the hips. The movement is very similar to what happens while punching and throwing.

Grinding Band Hip Rotations

This exercise is very similar to the full contact twist. From the same starting position as the previous exercise, rotate toward the attachment point with the hips while remembering to stay tight and not leak energy from the trunk.
Next, rotate in the other direction with the same hip action as with the full contact twist.

Step 3: Slow to Fast

After you’ve learned how to generate maximum tension and grind, it’s time to explode!
This step closely resembles the often advocated “controlled eccentric and explosive concentric” lifting mantra. This is an effective lifting cadence for both hypertrophy and maximum strength development but you still need to know how to stay tight! And this is how to do it.

Full Contact Twist – Slow to Fast

This exercise is performed like the previous version in step #2, but now you slowly lower the bar and pause for a full second before exploding up. Make sure you create max tension before exploding. If you can’t, start lighter.

Controlled Band Rotations – Slow to Fast

This is also performed like its previous version in step #2, but again you add the pause for a second before exploding up.

Step # 4: Fast and Furious

Reactive training methods are very important training tools, especially for athletes that have to be able to react when heavy objects (such as a 230-pound fullback) are rushing their way.
To effectively decelerate an object with high velocity you have to get extremely tight, fast – you essentially have to create an immediate  of maximum tension as there’s no time to slowly build it up. In this fourth and final step you’ll work to develop this vital quality.
As stated before, you can’t skip steps. Jump in here at number 4 and you’ll only get injured. You’ve been warned.

Explosive Twists

While the basic movement is similar to what you’ve already done, here you have to “jump” from position to position. This creates less control as each repetition will vary somewhat from the previous one. Because of this you must be able to demonstrate a full contact core despite slight deviations from a pre-planned path.

Explosive Band Rotations

Again, the execution is similar, only with a faster eccentric phase. Even though it’s easier and less dangerous than the explosive twist exercise above, you’ll certainly have to work hard to prevent energy leaks.

Now what?

Now it’s up to you. Are you willing to let sub-optimal core training sabotage your strength and hypertrophy gains? Or are you going to embrace the power of intelligent core training?
It should be an easy decision. By learning to develop total control over a given resistance, you harness the power of energy transfer, thereby maximizing your strength potential.
All by developing a full contact core!

Build A Better Body: 4 Weeks To A Stronger Core

By Martin Rooney


Photo Credit Martin Rooney
Photo Credit Martin Rooney

Freakish Strength With Proper Core Training

Freakish Strength With Proper Core Training
We’ve all heard it from strength coaches, training partners, even the old jacked dude in the corner who squats five plates on an easy day.

Okay, what does that even mean?
Are they just saying suck in your gut, or is there something special about this core-tightening thing? And if so, why give a rat’s ass if your weightlifting goal is to be comparable to a barbarian who crushes his enemies and hears the lamentation of their women?
The often-missed point of keeping a tight core is to stabilize the spine. If you’re constantly hurting your back, this is for you. I’ve seen lifters hurt their backs from just bench-pressing because they had no understanding of spine stabilization.
Before you tune out and write this off as another pre-hab article, pay attention to this – proper spine (core) stabilization coupled with breathing techniques can actually help you lift more weight and improve performance.
Learning to properly contract the core and use intra-abdominal pressure is what separates the guys who are pretty strong from the ones who are freakishly big and strong.

The Core Defined

Freakish Strength With Proper Core Training
Your core isn’t just the washboard that you see in the mirror, or in most cases, the bag of laundry that hangs from your midsection.
Along with the abs in the front (rectus abdominis), it includes the internal and external obliques, the transverse abdominis, quadratus lumborum, and psoas major, extending down to include the hips/glutes and up to include the pelvic floor and the muscles by the spine called the multifidus and erector spinae.
Some core muscles are more superficial and are classified as global muscles involved in spinal movement. Other muscles are classified as local muscles, which are deep and specifically involved in stabilizing the spine.
For movement to occur anywhere in the body, force has to be transferred through the core.

Stabilizing Techniques

The most common techniques to stabilize the spine for preventing injuries and achieving greater levels of strength and performance are .
Hollowing is derived from drawing in, and is performed by trying to draw your belly button in to your spine.
You’ll hear some say to find a neutral spine first. This technique has been used in rehabilitative settings to teach patients how to activate their transverse abdominus and internal oblique correctly. These are thelocal muscles involved in stabilizing the spine.
Abdominal bracing, on the other hand, involves contracting both your anterior abdominal musculature and your low back muscles at the same time and bracing, like you were about to get hit in the stomach. Some accompany bracing by pushing the abdomen out. This involves the use of the obliques to produce a more stable and powerful contraction.
A study done by Grenier and Dr. Stuart McGill showed that  – and a purely observational study conducted by yours truly found that fitness “professionals” who talk about finding a neutral spine and drawing in while squatting usually never squat above 225 pounds.

Learning from Doing

Freakish Strength With Proper Core Training
Bracing is a technique learned in the gym or on the mat. When a fighter goes to strike, he instinctively immobilizes his trunk to a degree, braces his midsection, and swings his limb.
When an experienced powerlifter or informed gym rat gets ready for a maximal lift, he forcefully pushes his belly out and arches his back hard to keep it tight.
What he’s doing is contracting his anterior abdominal wall and low back muscles simultaneously, creating a perfect brace. It’s a technique acquired from putting your time in.
Looking at this method, it’s important to emphasize that .
Some physical therapists teach to actively force the abdomen out while others don’t. I find it helpful to push out my abdomen when lifting heavy, but I also remember to actively contract the entire abdominal and low back areas as well as the hip musculature.
I’ve found this addition to be the difference between hitting a new PR and bombing out, or finishing those last two reps and failing before my potential was reached.

Learning Pelvic Floor Contraction

This full contraction can also include pelvic floor contraction.
A technique used to teach the full co-contraction of core bracing is to pull your pelvic floor upwards. This is similar to the kegel exercises that women practice while pregnant or that adolescent boys try in hopes it will give them a little more staying power in bed when they get to play with a real live girl.
To practice true pelvic floor contraction, imagine finally getting an opportunity to take a whizz after drinking a big cup of strong coffee along with a gallon of water during your hour-long commute to work. Now imagine you had to stop midstream. That feeling is pelvic floor contraction.
To practice a full brace with pelvic floor contraction, squeeze your glutes like you just sat on a tack, perform the pelvic floor lift, and brace your abdominals, obliques, and low back muscles like you were about to get hit.
Rest a second and repeat.
Obviously when you start throwing plates on the bar you’re not going to be thinking about stopping a piss stream, but the big guys in the gym do it without thinking.

Does Your Core Work for You?

Have you ever seen someone bend his back squatting as if he were trying to kiss his shoelaces? He’s doing so because of poor mobility and a lack of core strength, but working on core strength after restoring mobility is an oversimplification.
Spending too much time without adequate mobility and stability often results in a faulty core stabilization pattern. Adding core strength to a bad pattern won’t necessarily fix the problem.
There are exercises that help fix this patterning, but just like strength training and bodybuilding, they have to be practiced. It’s also best to add them in after you’ve first established adequate hip, ankle, and thoracic spine mobility.
The following exercises teach anterior and posterior core stability in the saggital plane as well as rotary and lateral core stability in the transverse and frontal planes.
The first three basic exercises are the curl-up, the bird dog, and the side plank. These movements have typically been used as an introduction to formal strength training after an injury or long hiatus as they recruit the proper pattern in an unloaded state.
The curl-up pattern helps if you have difficulty stabilizing while bending and teaches you how to resist excess extension of the spine in the anterior plane:

The bird dog helps if you have trouble stabilizing in trunk extension and teaches you to resist lumbar spine flexion in the anterior plane:

The side plank teaches you to resist lateral flexion in the frontal plane:
Freakish Strength With Proper Core Training
These should always be progressed to more dynamic and loaded movements. For example, a progression that trains you to resist lumbar extension in the anterior plane is the rollout:

A progression to teach resisting excessive spinal flexion in the anterior plane includes hip extension movements like the deadlift, while the suitcase carry teaches resisting lateral flexion in the frontal plane dynamically:

Rotary stability, which involves resisting too much spinal rotation, is also an important part of core stability that’s been receiving considerable attention.
Exercises to train this include cable chops and landmines.

Why Even Care About these Exercises?

I’m sure you’ve seen ‘that’ guy, the one who can do front, side, and one-fingered planks on a half-deflated Bosu ball. He can hold this for an hour with perfect alignment, but if you ask him to do a deep squat he literally can’t – despite perfect ankle, hip, and thoracic spine mobility. What’s the problem?
He has no dynamic stabilization. All that core strength in a stationary position doesn’t mean he can stabilize himself during movement.
Bottom line is, it’s wise to spare yourself a similar frustration and learn a couple of techniques that will save you time and energy in the long run.

Controlling Breathing

Breathing techniques can and should be coupled with bracing to allow for better performance. The bracing techniques discussed above won’t help you lift more weight if there’s no increase in intra-abdominal pressure.
Spinal stability is generated partly by diaphragm activation.When pressure is increased in the abdominal cavity, it helps support the spine and works against the compression forces of axial loading (the kind of loading in a squat or standing shoulder press).
Without intra-abdominal pressure created by breathing in air against a braced abdominal musculature and forcing the diaphragm down, true spinal stability can’t occur.
The classic breathing technique used is the .
The idea behind this is to create intra-abdominal pressure, which is meant to lead to a greater production of force and stability.
Perform the Valsalva maneuver by breathing deep into the lungs (which are down near your abdomen, for those who still think making your chest and shoulders rise is taking a deep breath), then holding it and forcing the air against a closed glottis.
To learn how to breathe into the lungs and create that intra-abdominal pressure, you can practice something called .
Lie on your stomach with your face resting on the back of your hands. Now breathe deeply so that your low back rises instead of your shoulders and upper back. You want to feel your abdomen pushing against the floor and expanding out sideways. Practice a few times and you’ll get the idea.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

There are a few drawbacks to this type of breathing pattern. It can seriously increase blood pressure and restrict blood flow back to the heart. This can be harmful to anyone, let alone someone with a history of heart problems.
Because of this, it’s recommended that the Valsalva not be held more than a few seconds to ensure blood pressure doesn’t increase dramatically.
Why even use this technique?  Furthermore, the Valsalva can improve performance in everything from getting a new PR to aiming a gun.
If this isn’t for you but you’re still looking to create intra-abdominal pressure and brace your core, you can also use forced expiration. Easily explained, this is done by sniffing in air against a braced core and blowing out some air against a braced abdomen on the working phase of the lift.

Conclusion

Freakish Strength With Proper Core Training
Everyone wants to learn the newest program, lifts, and techniques to wow the treadmill bunnies and stand above their friends. It’s wise to first take a step back though and look at the champions in any sport – I guarantee you’ll see that they all share an obsession with practicing the basics that produce results.
Don’t believe me? Just ask that 50 year-old grey beard squatting a Mack truck what’s more important, the newest advanced periodized squat program or knowing how to arch your back and “keep your damn core tight”?

References

Akuthota, V. & Nadler, S.F.Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation – March 2004 (Vol. 85Supplement 1, Pages 86-92, DOI: 10.1053/j.apmr.2003.12.005)
Grenier, S.G. & McGill S.M. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation – January 2007 (Vol. 88, Issue 1, Pages 54-62, DOI: 10.1016/j.apmr.2006.10.014)
McGill, S.M. & Karpowicz, A. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation – January 2009 (Vol. 90, Issue 1, Pages 118-126, DOI: 10.1016/j.apmr.2008.06.026)
Verkhoshansky, Y. V., & Siff, M. C. (2009). Supertraining. (6 ed.). Rome, Italy: Verkhoshansky.
Zatsiorsky, V. M., & Kraemer, W. J. (2008). Science and practice of strength training. (2 ed.). Human Kinetics Publishers.

Freakish Strength With Proper Core Training

Freakish Strength With Proper Core Training

We’ve all heard it from strength coaches, training partners, even the old jacked dude in the corner who squats five plates on an easy day.
Okay, what does that even mean?
Are they just saying suck in your gut, or is there something special about this core-tightening thing? And if so, why give a rat’s ass if your weightlifting goal is to be comparable to a barbarian who crushes his enemies and hears the lamentation of their women?
The often-missed point of keeping a tight core is to stabilize the spine. If you’re constantly hurting your back, this is for you. I’ve seen lifters hurt their backs from just bench-pressing because they had no understanding of spine stabilization.
Before you tune out and write this off as another pre-hab article, pay attention to this – proper spine (core) stabilization coupled with breathing techniques can actually help you lift more weight and improve performance.
Learning to properly contract the core and use intra-abdominal pressure is what separates the guys who are pretty strong from the ones who are freakishly big and strong.

The Core Defined

Freakish Strength With Proper Core Training

Your core isn’t just the washboard that you see in the mirror, or in most cases, the bag of laundry that hangs from your midsection.
Along with the abs in the front (rectus abdominis), it includes the internal and external obliques, the transverse abdominis, quadratus lumborum, and psoas major, extending down to include the hips/glutes and up to include the pelvic floor and the muscles by the spine called the multifidus and erector spinae.
Some core muscles are more superficial and are classified as global muscles involved in spinal movement. Other muscles are classified as local muscles, which are deep and specifically involved in stabilizing the spine.
For movement to occur anywhere in the body, force has to be transferred through the core.

Stabilizing Techniques

The most common techniques to stabilize the spine for preventing injuries and achieving greater levels of strength and performance are .
Hollowing is derived from drawing in, and is performed by trying to draw your belly button in to your spine.
You’ll hear some say to find a neutral spine first. This technique has been used in rehabilitative settings to teach patients how to activate their transverse abdominus and internal oblique correctly. These are thelocal muscles involved in stabilizing the spine.
Abdominal bracing, on the other hand, involves contracting both your anterior abdominal musculature and your low back muscles at the same time and bracing, like you were about to get hit in the stomach. Some accompany bracing by pushing the abdomen out. This involves the use of the obliques to produce a more stable and powerful contraction.
A study done by Grenier and Dr. Stuart McGill showed that – and a purely observational study conducted by yours truly found that fitness “professionals” who talk about finding a neutral spine and drawing in while squatting usually never squat above 225 pounds.

Learning from Doing

Freakish Strength With Proper Core Training

Bracing is a technique learned in the gym or on the mat. When a fighter goes to strike, he instinctively immobilizes his trunk to a degree, braces his midsection, and swings his limb.
When an experienced powerlifter or informed gym rat gets ready for a maximal lift, he forcefully pushes his belly out and arches his back hard to keep it tight.
What he’s doing is contracting his anterior abdominal wall and low back muscles simultaneously, creating a perfect brace. It’s a technique acquired from putting your time in.
Looking at this method, it’s important to emphasize that .
Some physical therapists teach to actively force the abdomen out while others don’t. I find it helpful to push out my abdomen when lifting heavy, but I also remember to actively contract the entire abdominal and low back areas as well as the hip musculature.
I’ve found this addition to be the difference between hitting a new PR and bombing out, or finishing those last two reps and failing before my potential was reached.

Learning Pelvic Floor Contraction

This full contraction can also include pelvic floor contraction.
A technique used to teach the full co-contraction of core bracing is to pull your pelvic floor upwards. This is similar to the kegel exercises that women practice while pregnant or that adolescent boys try in hopes it will give them a little more staying power in bed when they get to play with a real live girl.
To practice true pelvic floor contraction, imagine finally getting an opportunity to take a whizz after drinking a big cup of strong coffee along with a gallon of water during your hour-long commute to work. Now imagine you had to stop midstream. That feeling is pelvic floor contraction.
To practice a full brace with pelvic floor contraction, squeeze your glutes like you just sat on a tack, perform the pelvic floor lift, and brace your abdominals, obliques, and low back muscles like you were about to get hit.
Rest a second and repeat.
Obviously when you start throwing plates on the bar you’re not going to be thinking about stopping a piss stream, but the big guys in the gym do it without thinking.

Does Your Core Work for You?

Have you ever seen someone bend his back squatting as if he were trying to kiss his shoelaces? He’s doing so because of poor mobility and a lack of core strength, but working on core strength after restoring mobility is an oversimplification.
Spending too much time without adequate mobility and stability often results in a faulty core stabilization pattern. Adding core strength to a bad pattern won’t necessarily fix the problem.
There are exercises that help fix this patterning, but just like strength training and bodybuilding, they have to be practiced. It’s also best to add them in after you’ve first established adequate hip, ankle, and thoracic spine mobility.
The following exercises teach anterior and posterior core stability in the saggital plane as well as rotary and lateral core stability in the transverse and frontal planes.
The first three basic exercises are the curl-up, the bird dog, and the side plank. These movements have typically been used as an introduction to formal strength training after an injury or long hiatus as they recruit the proper pattern in an unloaded state.
The curl-up pattern helps if you have difficulty stabilizing while bending and teaches you how to resist excess extension of the spine in the anterior plane:
The bird dog helps if you have trouble stabilizing in trunk extension and teaches you to resist lumbar spine flexion in the anterior plane:
The side plank teaches you to resist lateral flexion in the frontal plane:

Freakish Strength With Proper Core Training

These should always be progressed to more dynamic and loaded movements. For example, a progression that trains you to resist lumbar extension in the anterior plane is the rollout:
A progression to teach resisting excessive spinal flexion in the anterior plane includes hip extension movements like the deadlift, while the suitcase carry teaches resisting lateral flexion in the frontal plane dynamically:
Rotary stability, which involves resisting too much spinal rotation, is also an important part of core stability that’s been receiving considerable attention.
Exercises to train this include cable chops and landmines.

Why Even Care About these Exercises?

I’m sure you’ve seen ‘that’ guy, the one who can do front, side, and one-fingered planks on a half-deflated Bosu ball. He can hold this for an hour with perfect alignment, but if you ask him to do a deep squat he literally can’t – despite perfect ankle, hip, and thoracic spine mobility. What’s the problem?
He has no dynamic stabilization. All that core strength in a stationary position doesn’t mean he can stabilize himself during movement.
Bottom line is, it’s wise to spare yourself a similar frustration and learn a couple of techniques that will save you time and energy in the long run.

Controlling Breathing

Breathing techniques can and should be coupled with bracing to allow for better performance. The bracing techniques discussed above won’t help you lift more weight if there’s no increase in intra-abdominal pressure.
Spinal stability is generated partly by diaphragm activation.When pressure is increased in the abdominal cavity, it helps support the spine and works against the compression forces of axial loading (the kind of loading in a squat or standing shoulder press).
Without intra-abdominal pressure created by breathing in air against a braced abdominal musculature and forcing the diaphragm down, true spinal stability can’t occur.
The classic breathing technique used is the .
The idea behind this is to create intra-abdominal pressure, which is meant to lead to a greater production of force and stability.
Perform the Valsalva maneuver by breathing deep into the lungs (which are down near your abdomen, for those who still think making your chest and shoulders rise is taking a deep breath), then holding it and forcing the air against a closed glottis.
To learn how to breathe into the lungs and create that intra-abdominal pressure, you can practice something called .
Lie on your stomach with your face resting on the back of your hands. Now breathe deeply so that your low back rises instead of your shoulders and upper back. You want to feel your abdomen pushing against the floor and expanding out sideways. Practice a few times and you’ll get the idea.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

There are a few drawbacks to this type of breathing pattern. It can seriously increase blood pressure and restrict blood flow back to the heart. This can be harmful to anyone, let alone someone with a history of heart problems.
Because of this, it’s recommended that the Valsalva not be held more than a few seconds to ensure blood pressure doesn’t increase dramatically.
Why even use this technique? Furthermore, the Valsalva can improve performance in everything from getting a new PR to aiming a gun.
If this isn’t for you but you’re still looking to create intra-abdominal pressure and brace your core, you can also use forced expiration. Easily explained, this is done by sniffing in air against a braced core and blowing out some air against a braced abdomen on the working phase of the lift.

Conclusion

Freakish Strength With Proper Core Training

Everyone wants to learn the newest program, lifts, and techniques to wow the treadmill bunnies and stand above their friends. It’s wise to first take a step back though and look at the champions in any sport – I guarantee you’ll see that they all share an obsession with practicing the basics that produce results.
Don’t believe me? Just ask that 50 year-old grey beard squatting a Mack truck what’s more important, the newest advanced periodized squat program or knowing how to arch your back and “keep your damn core tight”?

References

Akuthota, V. & Nadler, S.F.Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation – March 2004 (Vol. 85Supplement 1, Pages 86-92, DOI: 10.1053/j.apmr.2003.12.005)
Grenier, S.G. & McGill S.M. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation – January 2007 (Vol. 88, Issue 1, Pages 54-62, DOI: 10.1016/j.apmr.2006.10.014)
McGill, S.M. & Karpowicz, A. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation – January 2009 (Vol. 90, Issue 1, Pages 118-126, DOI: 10.1016/j.apmr.2008.06.026)
Verkhoshansky, Y. V., & Siff, M. C. (2009). Supertraining. (6 ed.). Rome, Italy: Verkhoshansky.
Zatsiorsky, V. M., & Kraemer, W. J. (2008). Science and practice of strength training. (2 ed.). Human Kinetics Publishers.

Wikio

Discover the best ways to melt your middle and chisel a rock-hard core

By Adam Campbell, Posted Date: September 8, 2011
The fitness industry is a crazy business, especially when it comes to abs. For example, if you want to reveal your six-pack, you generally have two product choices.
1. The too-easy-to-work method.
You know this better as “5-minute abs!” or some such hype. But if this approach were really effective, even Chris Christie would have a washboard.
2. The so-hard-it-has-to-work method.
Think 60 to 90 minutes of exercise, 6 days a week. Now if you have the time and energy for this kind of regimen, we commend you. But plenty of people are missing one or the other. And that’s just reality, not a cop-out.
So we wondered: Could there be an ab-sculpting program that actually works and is doable for most people? For the answer, we turned to Mike Wunsch, C.S.C.S., and Craig Rasmussen, C.S.C.S., creators of Men’s Health’s newest fat-loss plan, 24-Hour Abs! The answer: “Absolutely,” says Wunsch, who teams up with Rasmussen to design the workout programs at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, California. “That’s exactly how we make our living.”
One important fact about Results Fitness: Even in a recession, this Southern California gym has expanded. Twice. Why? Because its trainers have developed a fat-loss formula tailored specifically for busy people. (Read: mostly everyone.) The requirements are simple: 30 to 40 minutes a day, 3 days a week. So how do these trainers do it when so many others have failed? They threw out the old guidelines. The new ones they’ve created are based on 21st-century science and the methods that work best with their clients. Now you can benefit, too.
Don’t target your abs to lose fat
Back in 2002, we reported that it would take 250,000 crunches to burn a pound of fat, according to estimates from University of Virginia scientists. We’re pretty sure those researchers published that statistic to make a point. But after almost a decade, the point still may not have hit home. “I’m amazed at the number of people who think that simply doing ab exercises will make their belly disappear,” says Rasmussen. “That is probably the least efficient way to reveal a six-pack.”
Do work every single muscle
“Muscle is your body’s primary fat burner,” says Rasmussen. Your muscles require energy to contract, which is why you burn calories when you exercise. But resistance training, unlike running or cycling, also causes a significant amount of damage to your muscle fibers. And that’s a good thing. “Your body has to expend energy to repair and upgrade those fibers after your workout,” says Rasmussen. “And a single total-body weight-training session can boost your metabolism for up to 2 days.”
So you shouldn’t neglect a single inch of your body. That goes double for the legs, a body part that plenty of men either train just once a week or simply ignore. Case in point: Syracuse University researchers determined that people burned more calories the day after a lower-body resistance session than the day after they worked their upper bodies. Why? Because your lower half houses more muscle. The upshot: “A busy guy’s smartest approach is to train his entire body every other day,” says Rasmussen. “That allows you to elevate your metabolism maximally all week long, even though you’re working out only 3 or 4 days a week.”
Don’t start your workout with crunches
“You can do lots of crunches and situps and still have a weak core,” says Wunsch. “We see that all the time.” The reason: Classic ab moves like crunches and situps work the muscles that allow you to flex (that is, round) your lower spine. True core exercises, on the other hand, train the muscles that prevent your spine from rounding. They also allow you to transfer force from your lower body to your upper body (in a golf swing, for example), and vice versa. Core exercises target the same muscles that crunches do, but they also include your hip and lower-back muscles. So what’s a true core exercise? One that trains you to keep your spine stable and in its natural alignment. Besides the plank (more on that in a minute), scores of exercises qualify, including the side plank, mountain climber, and even the pushup.
Do start with core exercises
“We test everything in our gym,” says Wunsch. “And we’ve seen that people achieve far better results when they do core exercises at the beginning of their workout instead of at the end.” The reason: By training your core when your muscles are fresh, you achieve the fastest gains in strength, says Wunsch.
That’s important for the average guy, Wunsch and his colleagues have found, because the core is the limiting factor in almost every exercise. “A weak core is what keeps most men from lifting more weight in the squat and deadlift and just about everything else,” says Wunsch. “If we focus on strengthening their core first, they’ll ultimately be able to lift heavier weights, which allows them to work more muscle and burn more calories. We’re thinking about long-term success.” To find out how your middle measures up, see Is Your Core Weak?
Don’t spend hours on your core
While 5 minutes of exercise a day isn’t enough to reveal your abs, it is about the right amount of time to dedicate to targeted core training. “We’ve found that just 2 to 4 sets of one or two core exercises is quite effective,” Rasmussen says. “Our goal is to make you stronger, not more tired.” A 5-minute core routine prior to weight training has a side benefit, too. “It revs up your core muscles so they fire better as you do other exercises,” Rasmussen says.
Do master the plank
Flip through any issue of Men’s Health and you’ll probably find some version of the plank. This exercise may appear boring and easy—after all, you look like you’re simply holding a pushup position but with your weight supported on your forearms instead of your hands. “The plank is easy only if you’re doing it incorrectly or don’t know how to make it more challenging,” says Wunsch. What’s more, he adds, the plank is key because it teaches you to make your core stiff. “That’s a skill you need for almost every exercise.”
So how do you perfect this exercise? Start by assuming a plank position, and then have a friend place a broomstick along your back (as shown on the previous page). It should touch your head, upper back, and butt; this indicates that your spine is in proper alignment. If the stick doesn’t make contact at all three points, simply adjust your posture until it does. That’s the position you need to hold.
Don’t waste a second on the treadmill
“If you have only 30 to 40 minutes to devote to a workout, then every second has to count,” says Rasmussen. “In those cases, our clients do zero running.” His contention is that you can achieve faster fat loss with resistance training. How so? First, drop the assumption that running burns more calories than lifting does. A University of Southern Maine study found that a single set of a weight-training exercise torches as many calories as running at a 6-minute-mile pace for the same amount of time. So for every second you spend lifting weights, your body is expending high amounts of energy.
There’s also the metabolism boost of weight training. “Resistance training has a much larger metabolic impact than long-distance running does,” says Rasmussen. “Plus, your body is being given a stimulus to gain strength and build new lean tissue.” One last efficiency benefit: Lifting weights through a full range of motion can improve your flexibility as well or even better than static stretching does, according to a University of North Dakota study.
Do keep your body moving
“Our goal is to pack as much physical work as possible into whatever time our clients have,” says Wunsch. To that end, he and Rasmussen frequently implement supersets and circuits—strategies that save time without sacrificing results. To understand why, you’ll need a few quick definitions.
Straight sets: This is a traditional weight-training routine, in which you complete all the sets of a given exercise before moving on to the next.
Alternating sets: These involve alternating between exercises that train your body using two noncompeting movements. For example, you pair an upper-body exercise that works the muscles on your front side—a pushup or bench press, say—with a lower-body exercise that emphasizes the muscles on your back side–the deadlift, for example. The idea is that you work a group of muscles with one exercise, but instead of sitting around for a full 2 or 3 minutes while that muscle group recovers, you perform an exercise that doesn’t heavily engage those same muscles. As a result, you can cut your rest time in half or eliminate it completely.
Circuits: These are similar to alternating sets, except that they involve three or more exercises. You can rest after each exercise in the circuit, or only after the last exercise.
How much time can these techniques save? A 2011 Spanish study found that men who trained with circuits achieved the same gains as those who trained with straight sets—yet their workouts were 42 percent shorter. But that’s not to suggest you should hit the showers early. No, it means circuits and alternating sets can help you squeeze more total sets into the same sweat session. To try it yourself, use the chart below as a guide; combine your exercises diagonally into alternating sets or circuits. Shown here are general movements, but you can use any variation of these exercises.

Wikio

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

>Fix Your Front Squat

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Fix Your Front Squat

Fix Your Front Squat

When most lifters boast online about their Herculean squat numbers, I’d guess that 80 percent or more are referring to back squats.
It’s the most popular squat variation in the world – and I’ll be the first to give it the credit it deserves – but there are times when it might be advantageous to give your traps a break and incorporate front squats.
So why does the front squat so often get thrown under the bus? For one thing, front squats are hard work, something that many commercial gym heroes tend to avoid like egg yolks and body hair. Since moving heavy weight for the cell phone camera is priority number one for your typical egocentric meathead, most stay in their comfort zone and bang out leg presses, leg extensions, and sordid half-rep back squat perversions, complete with more mid-set grunting and groaning than a porn casting.
After all, they reason, what can you get from front squats that you can’t get from back squats? Good question.

Why Should I Be Doing Front Squats?

Front squats will do three things if you do them correctly:
  • Increase depth achieved
  • Improve core strength
  • Activate glutes
When a barbell is loaded on the front of the body, the pelvis gets to tilt backwards somewhat, which makes the hamstrings less taut. This gives them the freedom to allow a greater ROM at the bottom of the lift. This pelvic tilt also allows the lower abs to contribute to the lift more, and takes the hip flexors away from “blocking” the movement.
So, just like a goblet squat, you get a hell of a lot lower then you do in a back squat. The torso also gets to stay more upright, which requires the obliques to provide stability.
Finally, due to the tremendous knee extension involved, the front squat is rightly seen as a major quad developer. Since the thighs drop far below parallel to the floor, it’s safe to say that hip flexion is greatly increased too, forcing the glutes to assist the concentric half of the lift.
With all of these kick-ass benefits, it seems like a no-brainer that front squats should make a regular appearance in a typical program.

Why You Suck At Front Squats

Other than the obvious (you aren’t doing them enough), there are a few things that limit lifters from achieving a decent front squat.

Your Abs Aren’t Strong Enough

Front squats require considerable core involvement. You’d do well to incorporate some exercises for anti – extension (to prevent overarch) and oblique work so they function well as stabilizers.

Ab wheel rollouts OR Blast Strap fallouts

Fix Your Front Squat

Suitcase deadlift OR Paloff press

Fix Your Front Squat
These are a few of what I consider to be staple movements to improve the function of the abdominals and wake them up for the real stuff.

Your Elbows Won’t Stay High Enough

The goal should be to keep the elbows pointing as far upwards as possible to promote parallel lines between the upper arm and the floor at all times.
If you’ve noticed that every time you front squat your elbows start pointing towards the floor after only two reps, causing you to rack the weight prematurely, there’s a reason for that.
In this case, the first thing to do would be to activate your rotator cuff. If these small muscles aren’t playing their part in externally rotating the upper arm, your elbows will drop faster than Tiger Woods’ “Just Do It” promo.
Luckily, there are a couple of things you can do to remedy that problem.

Face pulls


Seated dumbbell external rotation

You Can’t Stand Tall

Proper thoracic extension is very important for front squats, as the Turtleback syndrome affects many when they have to bear a front load.
Take a barbell and perform a set of five front squats. Do you notice your mid-back rolling like the Andes? Have someone watch you if you have any doubts.
Either way, there are a few simple fixes.
  • PNF intercostal stretch
  • Foam roller extensions
  • Trap – 3 raises
(See this article for examples of all three)
Something to keep in mind though – studies have shown that after the sixth rep of a typical set of front squats or front loaded work, the rhomboids begin fatiguing and can no longer hold a constant isometric. For this reason, try to keep sets of front squats towards the lower end of the repetition continuum.

Getting a Grip

Many lifters will use the “California” style or cross-armed grip on the bar to allow it to rest on the shoulders when performing a front squat. Big mistake. Since one elbow stays higher than the other on a cross-armed grip, under substantial load, it can act against proper structural alignment of the shoulders, and has the potential to refer imbalances right through to the hips and knees.
For this reason, I highly recommend using a clean grip, which also has better carryover to proper techniques involved with any Olympic lifts as well as overhead pressing. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but remember to keep a proud chest and get those elbows up!
It’s okay to remove a finger or two from under the bar (I like to remove my thumb and pinky finger as it helps take stress off the wrists and allows for the elbows to stay up). Otherwise, make sure the lats, triceps, and forearms get a good stretch before beginning. (See picture below.)

Fix Your Front Squat

The Cues

Here are some basic tips to look out for when doing front squats.
  • Keep the toes pointed slightly outwards, and make sure knees track in the direction the toes point
  • Keep the chest up proud
  • Elbows high at all times
  • Hinge from the hips, and let the glutes fire to come back up
  • Press through the full foot, keeping the heel on the ground
  • Breathe deep on the eccentric, and hold full of air at the bottom to increase intra-abdominal pressure
  • Don’t panic – the legs have loads of fight – or – flight in them. You’ll get out of the hole!

Lifters Who Should Be All Over Front Squats

Tall Lifters. It’s asking a lot of someone who’s over six feet to get far below parallel during a back squat. Front loading allows the center of gravity to shift backwards slightly, and unloads the low back and hips enough for them to achieve this depth. Your chicken legs may be due to lack of back squatting depth.
Lifters With Tight Hamstrings. As noted, a front load will make the hamstrings less taut, and therefore promote more range of motion during the negative phase of the squat.

Getting Out of The “Embarrassing” Category

If these pointers alone don’t substantially improve your front squat, I’ve put together a cool quasi-workout that serves as a good tool to bring up your fronts.
Think of this as a “front squat conditioning” workout. The goal is to get the abs firing correctly, get the upper back tight, and start practicing the movement properly and under decent load.
Begin by foam rolling and static stretching hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, and lats.

Front squat workout

Exercise Reps % 1RM
A Front squat 6 70%
B Ab wheel rollout 12
Foam roller extensions *
C Front squat 5 80%
D Stomach-up pull-ups 6-8
E Front squat 4 80%
F Trap-3 raises 12 per arm
PNF intercostal stretch
G Front squat 4 80%
H DB external rotations 12 per arm
I Front squat 4 80%
This mini-workout will take 20 minutes to get through. You’ll notice reps are kept low, as are intensities. The reason for this is the abdominals and upper back muscles are being hit with direct exercises to mildly fatigue them between each set of front squats. Loading aggressively could be inviting injury. An elevated heart rate – thanks to the 90-second rest interval – will allow practicing keeping the elbows high and chest up while slightly fatigued.
There’s nothing fancy-shmancy about this workout, and it doesn’t even need to replace a real leg workout. Chances are you won’t be too sore the next day, either. This workout can find its home on a supplementary day for a few weeks.

Squatting to Oblivion!

Adding load to the body effectively trains muscle, of course. Contrary to popular belief, though, the answer isn’t always throwing on heavier and heavier weight. You’d be surprised how added ROM, improved technique, or a bit of both can be game-changers for tapping into sleepy motor units or just plain increasing difficulty.
Moreover, they just may be the missing link to make you the guy whose chicken legs flew the coop.

Wikio

>Train Like A Man, Part II

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Train Like a Man!

In my last article, Train Like A Man, I spoke from the gut about how men today are training like they’re auditioning for the Vienna Boys Choir.
In this follow-up, I’ll provide a few routines that will help you battle back against the ever-mounting wave of “What Not To Do” training.
Ready to hit the gym with a little more purpose and direction? Then read on.

Spitting in Church

If you and I are cut from the same cloth, then I know what you’re thinking: “Man, every where I turn I see this castration stuff.”
The guy at work complaining about his “raging migraine.” The depression your friend went into when he heard Oprah was retiring. The creepy smile Joe Montana sports during his Shape Ups “butt toning” shoe commercials.
The stuff is virtually everywhere, but for me, when it started showing up in the gym was the last straw. That’s like spitting on the church floor.
It’s high time to bring good old tension and natural human movement back into the mainstream.

Rooney’s T-Solution

Here’s the Big T gym rules for getting back your manhood. These shouldn’t be too hard to implement; that is, unless the only time you squat is to pee.
  • Train with increased intensity using big compound lifts.
  • Lose the fat. Less fat, less estrogen. ‘Nuff said.
  • Get ample rest in between training. Overtraining will also lower your Testosterone, so get more quality sleep.
  • Eat more protein and don’t forget the fish oil. That stuff is almost as popular today as a rowing one-footed plank on a Swiss ball.
  • Cut back on the alcohol, no matter how many red wine studies you’ve read. Up the water instead.
  • Make man boobs a mortal sin instead of a funny joke or reason not to wear white Under Armor to the gym.
If you’re having trouble wrapping your head around this big picture stuff (not surprising, did you know soy also affects brain development?), here are four of my favorite training routines to generate big time Testosterone-stimulating tension.
The first two ramp up T by adding weight to the bar, and the last two remind you to use the most important piece of equipment you have – your body.

Sadiv Sets

This workout is named after Rich Sadiv, my training partner and mentor. Sadiv is 47-years-old with a lifetime drug-free 694.5 pound deadlift at 195 pounds,

Perform the following deadlift workout once a week:


  • Load a barbell with 60% of your deadlift 1RM and set a timer for 12 minutes.
  • Perform as many single reps as possible in 12 minutes, shooting for a minimum of 20 reps.
  • Each rep should be performed with maximal speed from the floor.
  • Release the bar completely between reps; rest until you’re ready, and repeat.
  • Once 12 minutes are up, retrieve that lung you expelled around minute 9 and record your score.
For example, let’s say you used 305 lbs. and hit 20 reps in 12 minutes. It doesn’t matter if you did it in 4 sets of 5, or 2 sets of 10. It’s still 60% of your 1RM for 20 hard, fast reps and that’s a ton of muscle-building tension. Next week, get 21 reps.
You can also do Sadiv sets with bench presses – just raise the intensity to 90% and drop the timer to 10 minutes. This time only shoot for 10 reps.
For example, last week I hit 340 for 10 reps in 10 minutes. 340 pounds is a weight I can usually only get for a double. The result is 10 reps with a very high percentage of my 1RM. Can you say tension?
People often ask why 60% for the dead and 90% for the bench? It comes down to the maximum weight that can be performed on each lift versus the minimum number of reps I’ve prescribed.
For instance, Rich has almost a 700-pound deadlift. 60% of that is 420 pounds. To be able to move fast and get the number of reps (20 minimum), through trial and error we’ve found this to be a good percentage to use.
As for the bench presses, why 20 reps instead of 10? There’s more muscle mass used in the deadlift so we doubled the number of reps.
Need some inspiration? Check out the videos below:

Terrible 275’s

If you’re doing more than six reps, you’re doing cardio. Since fat loss and muscle gain are two of the most common desires of men in the gym, here’s my version of cardio that will jack up both your arms and heart.
  • If you weigh 200 pounds, set up 275 pounds on a flat bench press, 275 pounds on a deadlifting bar, and place a 75-pound dumbbell by the dip and chin up station.
  • Hit the bench for as many reps as possible. Rest 30 seconds.
  • Do the same thing with deadlifts, weighted dips, and weighted chins, and record your total number of reps for each.
  • Rest five minutes and repeat for 1-2 more sets.Not only will you hit all the big muscles, you’ll get a great workout in less time – with a cardiovascular benefit, too!
If 275 pounds is too heavy, try starting at body weight or even by adding five or ten pounds to body weight and work up from there.
Check out the video below for inspiration.

Make Your Plank A Pushup Instead

For the past four years I’ve made pushups a regular part of my routine. I do a minimum of 100 three times per week – that puts me at more than 60,000 over that time and I’ve never felt better. In fact, last month I set a raw state record of 355 pounds in the bench press at 198 pounds. So, although you might think that the pushup is child’s play, my results suggest otherwise.
Pushups are a great core exercise and by changing the angles of movement you’re able to hit the muscles differently and access more strength. If you dream of doing a five minute plank – and those people are out there, believe me – but can’t imagine doing five pushups, time to turn off The Bachelor, get on the floor, and start banging out some reps.
The challenge in my book, Ultimate Warrior Workouts, was to see if you could do 100 pushups in four minutes. If you nail that one, see if you can hang with me on my newest four-minute challenge. (See video below).

Get Your Sprint On

Train Like a Man!

There’s something about running a good sprint. Maybe it connects us to what we were designed to do or reminds us that our bodies are built for hard work? All I know is it works.
Sprinting hits a ton of musculature, fires up fast twitch fibers, and burns fat like an inferno. Who wouldn’t want to look like an Olympic sprinter anyway? Instead of plodding along on the treadmill like a zombie, get on the track and move!
If you haven’t sprinted in a while, common sense is key. Going out for the first time since high school and trying to rip off ten 100-meter sprints will probably rip off both hamstrings instead. Just like you wouldn’t throw 400 lbs. onto the bar for your opening bench workout, ease into the sprinting.
After a good 20 minute warm-up, hit six 10-yard sprints. The next day or two, see how you feel. If that was okay, rest two days and move the distance up to 20 yards and build from there. Continue to ensure you take a day of rest between workouts and gradually work up to 40 yards as a maximum distance, then learn to control your intensity.
So, the first few times you run 40’s, start at 60% and undulate intensity according to your plan in the continuing weeks. Sprinting 40’s will work your body like you can’t imagine and have you thinking about those high school days (unless high school meant playing Nintendo and skipping gym class).
Six to eight sprints per workout a couple times a week (again, use common sense) is all you need.

The Wrap

Martin Rooney doing Chin Ups
The exercise suggestions above are my opinion. Like most opinions, I believe in mine and have seen them work for thousands of athletes, including many of the top performers in the world.
Granted, if there was a guaranteed “best” thing to do to produce muscle, strength, and confidence gains, we’d all be doing it and the Internet would be shut down. But research and countless hours of hands-on experience suggests that nothing works better than heavy hard work to pack on muscle and strip fat. So whatever your end fitness goal is, that seems like a great place to start.
Of course, if you’d rather spend your gym time hitting a hard set of planks while you dream about your post workout soymilk latte, go ahead. I suggest maybe you make that plank into a pushup if you really want to be a man.
After all, the late Jack LaLanne, the godfather of fitness who greatly influenced my decision to make my passion for fitness a career, banged out 1,033 push-ups in 23 minutes to set a world record.
1,033 pushups in 23 minutes? Doesn’t that also mean he did a 23-minute plank?
Until next time – train like a man!
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