20 Aug Do We Need To Train Our Abs? (How To Escape Ab-Obsession)
I know pretty much everyone wants the six pack abs thing.
After all, that is a sign of peak physical condition and aesthetics, right?
This article may shock a lot of people, but I want to build a strong case for not directly training our abdominals at all.
There are a couple of things I stand for.
The truth, fundamentals, and science.
Let me ask you this.
If you want 6 pack abs, do you really think you need to do crunches, oblique work, or sit ups?
You probably know better, but surprisingly, many people still do these exercises.
In my experience and opinion, there are much better ways to bring out the six pack and also significantly improve our overall spinal stabilization, strength, and performance.
Yes, I’ve become contrarian, but building and developing a strong midsection comes down to just a couple of simple principles.
Proper nutrition is essential, of course, and there’s no way to get lean and reveal the 6 pack without rock solid nutrition for fat loss.
To reveal the six pack, body fat percentages typically need to be in the single digits for men (<9%) and in the mid teens for women (<15%).
The other thing is simply to focus on trunk strengthening as a whole.
What I mean is focusing on the spinal muscles, the hip complex, the abdominal group collectively (not just the rectus abdominals) and all these important “core” trunk muscle groups and stabilizers.
THIS is the key to a strong midsection and where we should put the emphasis in our training.
Strong spinal erector musculature is what prevents injury in the spine, yet the perception is on strong abs and many focus on training the abs with high reps and low intensity training (which is proven not to be the optimal way to build muscle anyway).
If we really want to develop muscle and strength in our abs, then we should be doing high loads and low reps for strength and hypertrophy (as we do for other muscle groups in strength training).
But, no one that I’ve ever heard of trains the abs this way.
You know why?
Because most train the abs with high reps and low intensity thinking that this is the best way to get the six pack.
So, what is the BEST way to train our abs?
- Military press
- Kettlebell swing
- Turkish Get Up
- Bottoms up carries
- Bent Press (much more on this one coming)
- Barbell power clean
- Barbell snatch
- Fundamental movements like rolling and crawling variations
- And, other full body lifts and exercises
You get my point.
Train the body with the “big lifts” and high value fundamental exercises and you’ll develop your abs and get much more strength than you ever would by doing sit ups, crunches, and all the other six pack ab “fluff” exercises.
Personally, I haven’t specifically trained the abdominals in years now and my “core” is stronger and leaner than it was when I competed in bodybuilding and spent all the unnecessary time doing crunches and direct abdominal work.
What about the ab wheel?
I love it because we’re working all the trunk muscles I mentioned and it’s great for shoulder strength and stability, as well.
How about hanging leg raises for the abs?
I don’t consider that an ab exercise at all, but a total body strength and stability exercise, at least the way I do it.
And, the plank?
The plank is another excellent total body exercise and great for trunk strength and muscular endurance (I would say much better and safer than high rep crunches for muscular endurance).
Every exercise I do is for total body strength.
I simply don’t do any isolation exercises anymore because there is no need to.
I train the body as a whole, not the body parts.
For six pack abs there are 2 things you must do.
1-Have your nutrition dialed in for fat loss.
2-Train full body lifts and exercises that seriously strengthen your entire trunk musculature.
Focus on fundamental movements.
If you’re reading this, you probably already do that.
But, since abdominal training is so heavily emphasized, I wanted to share the truth about six pack abs.
Do I believe direct abdominal training is a waste of time?
Well, you won’t catch me doing crunches, that’s for sure.
Performing endless reps of low intensity training for our abs doesn’t offer a strong rationale and research supports this (see Strength and Conditioning Journal, Vol, 33, No. 4, August 2011, “To Crunch or Not to Crunch” p. 8-15, Contreras and Schoenfeld).
There are better ways to develop the six pack and build a strong midsection, which I’ve discussed in this article.
One final note.
Direct ab exercises (such as crunches, for example) are pretty much useless in translating to improved function and performance, especially compared to the major lifts I mentioned above.
We simply don’t have a need to perform repeated spinal flexion in our every day function or athletic performance.
Yet another reason to consider ditching them from the serious strength and conditioning program.
Escape the “ab-obsessed” and get stronger, leaner, and ripped with fundamental total body lifts and good nutrition, that’s it.
Told you I was a contrarian…
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