PLEASE NOTE: We are undergoing a name change. Unleashed Training is now Sprint Ninja. We still offer high quality strength and conditioning along with personal training, with our specialty being sprint training.
Abdominal programs are a dime-a-dozen now days. Just about everyone wants a nice six pack to show off at the beach or a flat stomach to look good in a bikini. The problem is that most programs and fancy machines and gizmos tend to focus solely on the image. This is no accident. Many people are looking for abdominal training methods for this very purpose, to look good. So it makes sense for a business or website to promote something that delivers what people think they want. Don’t blame the promoters of these programs and gizmos, blame the people searching for answers. It is the demand that has the market flooded with thousands of so-called “solutions”.
Abdominal Programs, The Truth
Abdominal muscles are called the core for a reason. They serve as the core of the body’s strength storehouse. You can have extremely strong limbs but it serves little purpose if you have no strength in your core to support and transfer that strength. The core also does not just mean the abdominal muscles, it includes the lower back. Even the “glutes” could be referred to as part of the core due to their centralised function. By training your core for function you have the added benefit of appearance. A functional, high performance body actually looks good too.
Knowing this information, well-meaning people go out and concoct various methodologies for training the core. It is assumed that core training in any capacity will be beneficial to overall strength and function. But here’s the problem, core training is not just about doing crunches and then expecting massive results.
The core forms the foundation for a much larger, more complex network of muscle groups and movement patterns. It is rare that you will ever require the use of your abdominal muscles in an isolated fashion. So why is it then that most abdominal programs focus on training the core in isolated exercises? Beats me.
The core is designed to transfer strength and power to other areas of the body for more efficient movement. This then, is how the core should be trained. There is such a diverse range of possible movements that can be made using your core. For this reason an abdominal program needs to focus on developing the core in context, meaning that the movements you are likely to encounter should be prepared for.
In my opinion the fitness industry these days most definitely does not have the best interests of the consumer at heart. This industry used to be focused on providing solutions to real physical development. Now the fitness industry is no longer about training healthier, more physically efficient people, it’s about developing the illusion and appearance that a person possesses these attributes.
How do we develop strength and stability?
Crunches are most certainly not going to do it. What about your obliques? Side crunches maybe?
Contrary to the belief of the general fitness industry, low load, high rep training for the abdominals is NOT the most efficient way. In order for an abdominal program to be effective it must activate the muscles in the core in a way that matches that which they will encounter within the context of a real-world activity.
Here I will provide a number of tips and techniques for developing the core through effective abdominal programs.
1. Stop thinking of the core as needing a stand-alone abdominal program. The body is one piece and must be treated as such. Your body does not work in isolated segments. An effective abdominal program is one that integrates core training into contextual movements and makes it a part of the whole.
2. Move dynamically. Most fitness programs, abdominal programs included, tend to focus on very controlled and straight line movements. In sport and everyday activities the body moves in unpredictable ways. This should be reflected in your training. Dynamic, maximum velocity power movements are best for training the core effectively. Try doing a workout of standing long jumps. The next day when you're abdominal muscles are sore you will see what I mean.
3. The only separate core program you should engage in are exercises that promote an actual function that the core needs within the context of dynamic activity. The core's job is to absorb and transfer strength and power, so it must be treated as such in training and add to this overall function. So things like spinal stability can be trained with leg lowers/raises and effective rotation can be trained using the Russian twist.
4. Training the core is not a separate activity. Your training should, at least in part, involve movements that force your core to activate. A bicep curl will not provide this, whereas, for example, mastering various gymnastics moves will. Aim for high speed movements engaging most of the body and multi-directional, multi-plane exercises. These will contribute to core strength and will provide the added benefit of a nice looking six-pack.
5. Lastly, if an individual abdominal program is necessary due to the need for highly developed core strength, there are a few exercises that should form the bulk of this.
a) Leg lowers: Lie on your back, feet elevated, pull the arch of your spine flat to the floor and tilt your pelvis upwards. Maintain that tension as you lower your legs as far down as you can without losing the tension. Return them to the starting position.
b) Plank: We all know the plank, just make sure you are holding a neutral spinal position.
c) Hollow rocks: Research hollow position, learn it andunderstand it. Lay on your back, establish hollow position and rock back and forth without breaking the position.
d) Roll-outs: Get an ab wheel, make one or use a barbell. Simply look up on youtube how to do roll-outs. Ensure hollow position is maintained.
e) Russian twists: These can be done standing or the sitting version. Again, youtube has a lot of videos on this. Research both the standing and sitting versions.
Many of these exercises are not generally used with Unleashed Training. The reason being that Unleashed does not contain any abdominal programs. What we do, in context, tends to develop core strength and a great deal of abdominal development simply through the dynamic power movements contained within our workouts.
Overall I hope you can take something from this. Core training is not something that should purely be treated as an afterthought. The core , when conditioned effectively, will go a long way towards improving performance in all areas.
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YOUR COACH – Chris Lyons
Chris Lyons is an experienced strength and conditioning coach, having trained athletes of all ages and levels since 2002. Chris specialises in coaching athletes for speed and power specific to fast-moving sports such as rugby league, rugby union, soccer, Aussie rules football etc. Since 2002 Chris has conducted close to 15,000 hours of training and coaching directly with athletes and members of the general population. From this experience comes Sprint Ninja, based on tried and tested training methods combined with up to date research. Chris continues to challenge himself not only as a coach, but also as an athlete, competing in sprinting events, strongman and Olympic-style weightlifting.