Amazing Abs 101 – Core Training System
by Caleb Lee on February 13, 2009
amazing-absIf you wanna get amazing abs, then this first article in this core training system series is going to be just what you’re looking for… and… totally different than anything else you may have read before.
1. Because I got great abs now and I know how I got them (cause I did a lot of crap that didn’t work for YEARS!)
2. Because even though I’m just 23 years old, a “youngin” compared to a lot of people, I’ve already pulled my lower back once in my fitness career. But instead of becoming weaker, being crippled for life, or accepting myself as someone with “a bad back” — I found out how to fix it.
And I’m stronger for it now… plus, I got great abs on top of it all So what I’m going to do in this series of articles is first show you why you get lower back pain and how to get rid of it (or avoid it if you’ve never had it)… while at the same time… get stronger abs and that six pack you’ve always wanted!
Your Lifestyle Is Hurting You
lordosis1And it was hurting me too. See, most of us in the modern world suffer from muscle imbalances. If you’re suffering from lower back pain you’re probably suffering from Lordosis, illustrated in the picture to the side (image credit: losethebackpain.com).
(not to be confused with what scientists call “lordosis behavior” which is when the female in the species arches her back in an extreme manner to attract “mates” and make intercourse easier — although thinking of how a hot stripper in heels puts an extreme arch in her back might help you visualize your problem.)
What causes lordosis? Pretty much all your daily activities:
* Sitting at a desk all day shortens your hip flexors (the muscles in the front of your hips)…
* Hunching over your key board makes your upper back weak…
* Overall the front of your body is stronger than the back of it…
Then, when you exercise (especially when you’re training your abs), you are making the problem worse:
* You only train the muscles you see in the mirror, the front of your body, and increase the problem…
* Your quads (front of your thighs) get stronger while your posterior chain (back of your body muscles) don’t get trained (from not squatting below parallel, doing too much direct quad work without direct hamstring and glute work)…
* You do too many crunches and situps which both shorten your abs and shorten your hip flexors even more!
Your tight hip flexors and stronger quads pull your pelvis forward and down… while your weak glutes and tight lower back allow your pelvis to tilt forward. So the main enemies you’re fighting when it comes to back pain is:
* Weak posterior (back of the body) chain: with emphasis on glutes and hamstrings
* Shortened hip flexors on the front of your body
* Shortened and tight abdominals from crunching movements
* Tight lower back from all the above
The Problem With Conventional Ab Training
Most people when they think of ab training think of doing hundreds (or even thousands!) of situps, crunches and exercises like that.
But this is bad because it compounds the problems above:
* Tight Hip Flexors — situps work your hip flexors more than your abs (that’s why they invented crunches), but crunches don’t solve the problem…
* Hunchback Look – Instead of training you to keep your shoulders back and down with good posture, you’re constantly rounding your upper back and tilting your head forward…
* Round and hurt your back — most people do situps by arching then rounding forward their lower back on each rep–not good for your back in the long-run…
* Kyphosis – upper back rounding is created in the long term with so much crunching down on the rib cage like with crunch exercises…
* Weak glutes – your already weak glutes get weaker with every rep because your hip flexors are strengthened with every rep (when a muscle on one side of a joint is activated the opposite and opposing muscle relaxes — reciprocal inhibition is what they call it)
Not only that, but your abs were not designed to primarily “crunch” your torso together (or sit it up for that matter). Think about it: how many times do you “crunch” your torso forward in daily life? Once or twice a week? Your abs primary responsibility is to stabilize your spine and keep your torso upright and in the correct position as you move through space.
What To Do Instead?
So because 1.) traditional ab exercises are bad for your posture and cause muscle imbalances and 2.) your abs aren’t designed to work that way anyways, we’re going to take a different approach to ab training.
It’s a two part approach designed to train your abs in the way they were meant to be trained and to also do direct ab work in a way that avoids the down-sides of typical ab training.
Who do you think has some of the strongest abs in the world? How bout Olympic Weight Lifters, the light-weight ones, who routinely rip 200-300lbs off the floor and shove that weight over their heads… think they might have a strong core?
Olympic Core Training Secrets!
olympic-abs(note: image credit for all olympic lifters from Dehwang)
As you see in the picture above, Olympic lifters not only have really strong cores — but they have great abs too! The function equals form — if you’re going to lift something heavy over your head then your abs are going to have to work double time to keep your torso upright and stabilized.
The first thing I want to point out about this is full body compound joint exercises like the 8 I recommend in my DoubleYourGains’ 3-5 Beginners Strength Training Routine are going to give you a lot of indirect core work. So just lifting heavy with deadlifts and squats is going to get your core strong and give you tight abs.
In fact, I spend a maximum of probably 15 minutes TOTAL each week training my abs (and this is a recent thing in the last couple months because over the past couple years I’ve done virtually no direct ab work at all–and I still got a six pack).
Secret #1: Core Stabilizing Strength.
oly-core-strength1Since the primary job of your abs is to stabilize your spine and keep your torso upright and in position, the first way you should train your abs is with stabilization exercises.
What are stabilizing exercises? It’s exercises where your force your abs to do what they do best — to keep your torso upright and straight — and add resistence when it gets easier.
These light-weight Olympic lifters do stuff like support weight on their stomachs while they’re laying over two chairs, making their abs a “bridge” for the weight and forcing their whole core to stabilize and work to keep their back straight.
This is the same idea behind planks and other stabilizing exercises I’ll be showing you.
oly-hanging-leg-raiseSecret #2: REAL Ab Strength
Instead of doing hundreds of reps of easy situps and causing so many muscle imbalances, un-even weaknesses and strengths… if you’re going to do ab exercises to train your abs to contract your body in half… you should do harder ab exercises.
Plus, you should focus on a lot of lower ab work. Most people have weaker lower abs… especially compared to their upper abs. This is because you probably do too much crunches and upper ab work like that.
Add to that you’re getting posterioral problems and muscle imbalances from doing so many situps and from crunching your ribcage down and you need to work your abs in a different plane of motion.
Also, if you do any heavy weight lifting (like I recommend) you’ll welcome an exercise that serves the double function of strengthening your abs… while at the same time… decompressing your spine.
An example exercise is The Hanging Leg Raise and its variations because it’s really hard for most people to do (correctly). Olympic lifters do these ALL the time and for good reason:
* They strengthen your abs…
* They decompress your spine…
* They stretch your back…
* They help Correct Lordosis by training you to tilt your pelvis posteriorly and up…
So that’s the basic idea with how I’m going to teach you to train your abs. I’ll show you how to stretch those tight muscles, strengthen those ones that are weak and train your abs the way they were meant to be trained: primarily as stabilizers and only with harder “contraction” exercises.
That’s the Amazing Abs 101 – Core Training System in a nutshell, and in the next part of the series we’ll go into the actual exercises and how to do them.