There is so much misinformation out there when it comes to training it is amazing anyone actually does anything.
The ‘core’ and ‘abs’ is probably one of the best examples of how a lack of basic physiology knowledge contributes to REALLY shitty training.
Here is a video – yes a little longer than I intended – that will show you HOW the ab muscle works and WHAT it is supposed to be doing!
Why is all of this important? In order to know how to train yourself, or for you trainers and coaches out there, your clients, it is extremely important to understand how things work.
Once you understand how the muscle functions and what it is supposed to be doing then you are in a far better position to know what advice you should be taking and what you should throw out with the latest Kanye mag. Just not worth your time.
Here are the 6 key points you need to know:
That’s right. Just because you feel an isolated ‘burn’ in a muscle doesn’t mean it is a better exercise. In fact in my training with clients there is almost NEVER an isolated burning feeling. I do not believe any of your muscles are meant to work in isolation.
As we have seen in the video and I describe below, most ab exercises actually overwork the hip flexors. The reason you feel the burning in your abs is because you are isometrically flexing them – holding them tensed.
This is NOT how they are designed to work. So just stop it.
More detail in the next point – but I really want to emphasis that your abs are not designed to crunch or to do a sit-up. These are just shitty exercises that over time have come to be associated with ab training.
Will these exercises ruin your life? Probably not. Could they? Yes. Over enough repetitions crunches will ruin your spine. Will you ever do enough? Maybe yes, maybe not. If you want to risk it, go for it.
Check out the work of Dr. Stuart McGill. He is THE MAN when it comes to spine health. Want to learn the science: here is an awesome 12 page article by Dr. McGill – there are very few pictures.
Dr. McGills article
Really should check the video for this point. The gist of it is that your abs job is to stop you from twisting around too far and bending too far backwards. Additionally to this, they are there to stabilize the spine during movement, you know, like walking, throwing, swimming, and getting up out of bed.
Planking is good. But it isn’t the best. There is no movement to it. And your abs are designed to stabilize during movement. This is why we use a variety of carries and anti-rotation exercises to train the core.
Overhead carries and cable chops are some of the best!
Easy to see. What is moving: the hip joint or the torso. Think you are training your abs? Look at the body move.
If the distance between the ribs and the hip bones barely moves but the hip joint itself gets larger and smaller – BAM! – more hip flexor than ab muscle. Your abs feel it because they are holding a flexed status.
We spend WAY too much of our lives sitting. Seriously. Work. Car. Eating. TV. Watching sports. You name it – we are always sitting. This is very bad for you.
This flexed hip position wreaks havoc on your hip flexors. Why o why then are you working those hip flexors even more when you train? Argh. Stop it. Overworking the hip flexors exacerbates so many hip, knee, and back issues. It is terrible for you.
Get rid of anything that overworks your hip flexors.
But you want a sweet set of sexy awesome abs you say?
Anti extension/rotation, lots of carries, deadlifts, squats, and stir the pot is everything you need to achieve that goal. Well, and you have to have great nutrition to slop off all that fat covering your abs.
They say the proof is in the pudding.
Well here is one of my clients who used to have a soft pudgy mid-section. I think you would agree things have changed. And guess what? No crunches. No hip flexor dominant exercises. In fact we NEVER do ANY ab specific training.