What training your abs can do for you
- Prevent injuries
- You will be better at sports activities like swinging a golf club, running, and many others
- You will get better at other exercises like squats, deadlifts, or pullups
What improper training will do
- Fail to provide the above benefits
- You will get hurt
What ab training (by itself) will not do for you
- Produce visible abdominal muscles (a six pack)
Unfortunately, doing ab exercises alone will not do anything for the appearance of your midsection if there is fat covering them. Plus, the way most people go about training their abs (laying on the floor doing crunches) is probably the least effective thing you could do to lose body fat. If you want to see abs, clean up your eating and do some sprints.
So Then What’s The Point?
Well, for one, the benefits listed above. Strong abs (or anything) are always better than weak ones. The good news is that most people are aware of the importance of having strength here. The bad news is almost everyone screws up the actual training, doing movements that feel good but have little or no carryover to everyday activities. Even worse, doing enough bad training will get you hurt.
Abs, Core, Six-pack
For the sake of simplicity, in this post I’m just going to refer to any type of training targeting your midsection as “ab” training. It’s no different than saying “core,” or stomach, or any other popular term referring to the same thing. The fact is there are a ton of muscles that interact with each other to do the job of the “core”, including the abdominals, obliques, transverse abdominus, spinal erectors, and many more. Also playing a major role are some muscles that you may not think would be so involved, such as the hip flexors, quads, glutes, and lats.
Isolating any of these muscles is practically impossible, and when you consider that they are almost always functioning in conjunction with several other muscles, it just doesn’t make sense to train that way. Instead of thinking about working specific muscles, here are some movements (or anti-movements) you should try.
More often than not, your abs are actually working to RESIST movement. If they didn’t, your body would topple over as soon as you picked up your foot to walk forward, or if you carried something heavy in only one hand. In an activity like running, if your abs aren’t strong enough to resist movement, you will see the shoulders twisting side to side – inefficient form that will slow you down. The majority of your training, therefore, should consist of exercises where your abs are “bracing” and resisting movement, instead of common exercises like crunches, where your abs work to flex your spine.
Anti-extension is just what it sounds like, it is when your abs prevent your lower back from excessive extension, or arching. The most basic anti-extension exercise you can do is the plank. It is also the most commonly screwed up exercise you’ll see, usually performed with an extended neck and lower back, or with the hips sagging toward the floor. The following picture shows correct form (chin tucked, lower back flat, straight line from head to toe) and these two common errors. If you are unable to get in to the proper position, or unable to maintain it, you need to choose an easier exercise. Planks, or any of the following exercises, SHOULD NOT HURT YOUR LOWER BACK. If they do, you are doing them wrong!
If you are unable to get in a good plank position, this is a good place to start. The key to this exercise working is you keep your lower back pressed against the floor. Keep the reps slow and under control, and only progress when you can successfully do each version with your back on the floor and no pain.
In order to do any of these exercises you MUST be able to maintain a good plank position. Doing these too soon will only get you hurt.
The Ab Wheel
This is a cheap, great tool when used the right way. In the video I show two common mistakes first, and then the correct way to perform them.
Do some type of anti-extension exercise every time you train your abs (2-3 times per week should do). You can still do other things like crunches and situps, but start with these.
In the next part I’ll show another important movement, anti-rotation, and several ways you can combine anti-extension and anti-rotation for some very challenging ab exercises.