What do you typically think about when you visualise going to the gym to do abs? You see that guy and/or girl in the corner doing crunches and sit-ups till the cows come home, right? The next visual you have when it comes to abdominal training is that aesthetically pleasing six pack which seems to be on every gym goers checklist of goals.
But for the most part the main purpose of the abs is to provide stability and work against movement. In other words, they’re meant to resist forces acting on your body. There is plenty of research, mostly done by Dr. Stuart McGill, on spinal biomechanics for flexion exercises and how much compressive force there is on the spine.
Because of this, you’re going to see exercises in this article that look like they don’t do much but have a tremendous impact on resisting movement and creating stability. I’m talking about anti-extension, anti-lateral flexion and anti-rotation.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
Basic Anatomy of the Abs
Think of your abdominal muscles like a cylinder or a box. You have your front (rectus “the six pack”), your sides (obliques), the back (multifidus/erectors), top (diaphragm) & bottom (pelvic floor).
When training the abs, we stick to flexion exercises like crunches and sit-ups because that’s what we know. However, that only trains one aspect or one muscle of the abdominals, rectus abdominus. There are other muscles that need to be engaged as well. We need to start thinking of training our abdominals as a unit if we want to strengthen all of our movement patterns and actions while exercising, as well as in everyday life.
Unfortunately, the importance of such training is severely underrated in a typical gym setting. If we think about how power and force runs through our bodies, the wave of contraction in all exercises and movements runs from our center, out to our extremities.
So let’s take a look at some essential methods to train our abdominals as a whole that everyone can benefit from by adding to their routine.
Rollouts– Can be done with a number of tools like the TRX, glide discs, or an ab wheel (yes those actually do serve a purpose). A great variation or regression to this exercise is performing slow negative rollouts where you resist the movement all the way to the floor.
This can increase your core strength and stability through a full range of motion till you are able to do a full rollout. Make sure you’re engaging your abs and your glutes. This will ensure your spine stays in neutral.
Dead-bug with Banded Resistance– The classic dead-bug exercise is great for creating anti-extension strength. Adding a band in, to fight extension of the arms will put a lot more demand on the abs, especially as you extend one leg. One important tip is to make sure your low back keeps contact with the ground as you extend the leg.
Chops– Chops can be performed in multiple directions with different effects on how your abs will work. At AMP we have a wide array of tools in order to do chops, from ViPRs, to bands, to medicine balls. The main two involve a downward chop and an upward chop.
In addition, you can perform these in a number of positions, including a standing position, to tall kneeling, to half kneeling. In this variation demonstrated, we’ll start in a split stance while chopping from high to low with a ViPR. The important thing to remember is you are trying to resist movement, not create it.
Horizontal Pallof Presses– Just like the chops, these can be from different static starting positions. You can progress these static exercises to more dynamic ones by adding in movement patterns, but for now let’s stick with holds. In this variation, the starting position is a half kneeling position with a band press out.
Anti Lateral Flexion
Carry Variations– I’m a big fan of loaded carry exercises, especially ones wherein you load unilaterally. In this variation, you’ll carry in an offset manner with a lighter dumbbell over head & a heavier dumbbell at your side.
Vertical Pallof Press– Just as with the horizontal Pallof press, these can be performed with various starting positions. In the exercise shown, we’re going to be in a tall kneeling position, while pressing a band overhead.
Breathing– This is usually one of the first drills I teach to my pre-natal clients, but works well for just about any client. It has tremendous carry over to other exercises, namely the Banded Pullovers mentioned earlier. This is an underrated and often overlooked exercise that can make your abdominals stronger.
Crawling– When was the last time you crawled around on the ground? This last exercise may not look like much, but requires stability throughout your entire body, especially your abs to perform. Integrate your entire abdominals with these slow beast crawls.
Next time you hit the gym, avoid the line for the ab machine, steer clear of the crunch marathon going on in the corner, and incorporate some of these into your routine instead.
An exercise doesn’t need to look intense in order to have an intense change on your body. Simple movement, or in this case, the resisting of movement, can be a great challenge for your body and give you the change you’ve been looking for in strength and aesthetics.
The abdominals serve a purpose, stabilising the pelvis & spine. If they can’t do what their intended purpose is, your body and your performance will suffer. Don’t have abs that are “all show and no go.” Make sure they can function as well.
And remember, no matter how much abdominal training you do, you’ll never see them till you get your nutrition in check.