Last week on the Darkside Facebook I posted a status that read like this:
“If you want to SEE your abs, then eat chicken and rice and broccoli and shit. If you want to USE your abs, then get your breathing game tight.”
I feel confident in saying that is the beginning of ab or “core” work. However, what about all of the traditional core exercises that people have been using to get a strong core for years and years. It is typically unwise to discount things that have worked for years just because research has disproven it.
The Doc and I have an analogy that we use when we are coaching or teaching at different seminars and things. The “core” should be like a coke can, the bottom (pelvic floor) should be parallel to the top (diaphragm) and the sides (abs,low back) should be maintaining that relationship. If you dent a side of the coke can, then you lose the strength.
This position is going to help to maintain what is called the “Zone of Apposition” The ZOA is key in your ability to properly breathe and brace. Without achieving optimal ZOA the ability of your diaphragm to properly function will be diminished and your bracing sequence will be compromised. All of the situps in the world aren’t going to make your abs strong if you are our of position. Therefore, Step #1 when talking about Ab work is going to be using your abs for your breathing and maintaining position.
In order to re-establish position and correct diaphragm function we need to eliminate variables by moving to our 90/90 position. The stability provided by the floor and the wall in this position allows the client or athlete to learn to correctly breath and use the abs free of the burden of resisting gravity. THIS IS THE STARTING POSITION FOR EVERYONE. I would recommend that you get in this position and do this before every training session for at least the first two weeks of adding it in. Try adding in variations such as the hip lift, banded dead bug, or shoulder screwdriver. After the first couple of weeks you should be able to feel your breathing a little better and get yourself into a good position without going all the way back to the 90/90, but most people will still benefit from returning to these drills a couple of times per week.
The next major function of your abs is to maintain stability through the trunk during alternating reciprocal movement. If you watch some people walk, or even worse, watch them run, then you will notice differences in how much their hips “swing” or how much rotation occurs in their lumbar spine. If you are someone who catches a serious pump in your back after walking for a while, then the chances are that you have far too much rotation during your stride. This is where farmer’s walks, waiter’s walks, or, for the true beginner, just plain ole walking can be important training for your abs.
These movements are often added in toward the end of a workout when people traditionally do their ab work, however, I would encourage your to add some light weighted carries into your/your clients warmup routines after they have utilized the other developmental positions. At this point I like to really focus on head position by cueing tongue to the roof of the mouth, and to focus on being able to exhale and feel your hips underneath of you.
The abs are a force transducer. In lifting, it is the task of your abs to translate force into the bar. When you back squat, your legs produce force as you push into the ground and your abs must resist this force and maintain rigidity so that this force may translate into the bar so that you may stand up. When you snatch, same deal. Overhead Press, clean, jerk …etc. This is why some people will say that you don’t need extra ab work. As long as your abs are maintaining correct position, then every lift that you train (assuming you aren’t hitting the machines) is training your abs to do what you need them to do.
What about “direct ab work?
I feel that the sit up has been somewhat villianized over the past couple of years as being useless, or, even worse, DANGEROUS.
I know that it seems like as much as we talk about breathing and whatnot that you would think I would be on the “Sit ups are the devil” team. Few problems here though:
Really strong guys have done direct ab work for years
the easiest way to increase the contractile strength of a muscle is to increase its size (hypertrophy)
calling exercises “dangerous” is part of the pussification of America.
Direct ab work is not the the devil. It is not a jumping off point, and typically when we tell someone they have weak abs, direct ab work is not typically the answer. As long as you are spending time making sure that your abs are doing their job, then increasing the size of your abs can help them do that job by increasing the force that they can produce. If you are not spending time making sure that your abs are doing their job then you are likely compounding the problem with your direct ab work and you need to go back and fix yourself.