Abdominal Training 101
The importance of strong abdominal development is vital if you are looking to add strength and size to your physique. Great abs seem to be what everybody wants, yet only a few ever achieve them. Why is it so many people 'give up' on their abs? The abs are the first thing your eyes are drawn to when you look at the human body, and a well developed, lean set of abs indicate hard work and excellent physical conditioning.
The first thing I explain to clients is the importance of developing the entire 'Trunk' which make up the 'Core' muscles surrounding your torso. Imagine your 'trunk' as a safety vest you wear everywhere you go, which is designed to protect your vital organs, give stability to your body and connect your limbs together, enabling you to move. Your trunk essentially provides balance, and we all know how important balance is, so neglecting to train the other 'core' muscles is a HUGE mistake, and can lead to injury in the long run.
Antagonistic Muscle Groups
Let me explain 'antagonistic muscle groups' because it is fundamental anybody involved in resistance training is aware of this term.This relates to movements of the body, which muscles these movements use, and 'antagonistic' meaning the opposite movement from the one in question. Confused? Don't be.
Simply put, the two basic human movements are the 'push' and the 'pull' which are referred to as 'antagonistic' (opposite) movements. Look at each muscle in your body and what job it does. The Biceps are used to 'pull' your hand towards your shoulder. Directly opposite the Biceps, are the Triceps, which are used to extend the forearm from the elbow, and in all manner of 'pushing' movements. The Biceps and Triceps are therefore 'Antagonistic' in location and performance. Another example is the Chest and Back muscles. Again they are directly opposite on the human body. The primary chest exercise is the 'press' or 'push, whereas the back muscles are used to 'row, pull up/down' or 'pull'.
When targeting your abs, the antagonistic muscles are the Spinea Erector and Thoracolumbar Fascia (lower back).
|hanging leg raises|
The ABS are contracted when you flex your hips towards your shoulders, or shoulders towards your hips, in a sit-up or hanging leg raise movement.
The Lower Back muscles contract to extend the upper body backwards in relation to the lower body, and lower body backwards in relation to the upper body, as in a 'hyper-extension' or 'rear leg extension'.
In each of the listed exercises, both the abdominals and lower back muscles are used for stabilisation of the trunk, as well as the serratus and obliques. This is where the importance of a balanced core training programme becomes critical.
|Doctor Frank Columbo|
Lets take the number 1 back exercise which is the Deadlift. This movement places a lot of emphasis on the lower back muscles, but without strong abdominals becomes very dangerous. Have you ever heard or somebody tearing a hole in their abdomen whilst doing a Deadlift? Well I know people who have had this injury, commonly known as a 'Hernia' this will mean NO TRAINING OR LAUGHTER for 3-6 MONTHS, oh and did I mention the operation to stitch your insides to prevent your stomach popping out the hole? Let alone the agony of the injury itself!! Even when doing a normal sit up or crunch, you can injure your lower back if it is underdeveloped in comparison to (antagonistic muscle) the abdominals, of course perfect bio-mechanics will help strengthen and protect all the muscles involved.
Training the Core
Now you know the importance of core stability as a whole, and what it takes to safely train the abs. Lets look at some of the best core exercises and training splits.
Hanging Leg Raises - Crunches - Squats
Leg raises can be done in many variations depending on your stage of development. Starting off with single knee lifts, double knee lifts, and working your way towards full straight leg raises. Crunches are great at hitting the 6-pack area but are often over used and people are so sure than 100 crunches will give them what they want, but variation is the key. Try decline crunches instead of normal flat crunches, perhaps hold some weight on your chest a few kilos and really lower your body very slowly to the floor for added intensity. Squats we have discussed before, and the reason I include it as a direct abdominal training exercise is because of the sheer amount of weight that can be used. This means that when you squat, your abs will effectively be stabilising the most amount of weight possible, giving another dimension to the abdominal power you seek.
Erector and Lumbar (lower back)
Deadlifts - Hyper-Extensions – Rear Leg Raises
Deadlifts are a great exercise for developing complete body power, strength and stability, and place emphasis on the lower back. It is most commonly used as a heavy exercise (5 or less reps) for its muscle building properties. In the early stages of training, low rep deadlifts could be risky, as mentioned before if the 'Core' is not in balance you could have problems. 20 rep sets with a comfortable weight will have you upping the weight in weeks and feeling your posture more upright when relaxed. Hyper-Extensions are a favourite of mine as they allow you to target the lumbar and stretch your back together. You can hold some light weight in your hands or to your chest, making sure to keep control and a tight midsection throughout. This movement also hits the hamstrings so make sure you have warmed up and stretched all the relevant muscles beforehand. Rear Leg Raises hit the lower back in a slightly different way, and allow you to balance the glutes, hamstrings and lower back together, straightening your leg backwards and towards the sky keep your head and shoulders up and lower your leg slowly to the starting position of feet together.
Serratus and Obliques
Stick Twists – Bicycles – Ankle Touches
Stick Twists and all kinds of torso rotations will stabilize and rip up the muscles covering your ribcage, which add to the appearance of the abs. Keeping your feet together and your head straight, holding the stick behind your neck and rotating from side to side. You can also bend your knees and lower your torso towards the ground, which makes this tricky movement even harder. Bicycles are a favourite of many and for good reason as they are definitely effective! Lie flat on any surface, bring one knee to to the opposite elbow, repeating on both sides for 30-45 seconds, the slower the better, but you can throw in some sped up sets for a change in stimulus. Ankle Touches, assume a normal crunch position with your knees up and back flat on the floor. Instead of crunching forward however, take your right hand and bend round the side of your right leg, attempting to grab your ankle. Repeat both sides, this movement is so simple, and gives an outstanding contraction to the obliques.
Creating a good training programme for your CORE is not so difficult. The group of muscles are very dense, similar in part to the calves. The core is used all day, along with the calves, in supporting your upper body, as the calves support the lower body. This type of muscle fibre, mainly slow twitch, responds better to high repetition training, with shorter rest periods, to go along with their fast recovery rates. More reps and less rest, means core training is a muscle building frenzy and can serve as a great warm up for any training split. An example of Core training is listed below. This is a routine I set for a client, and within 2 weeks he had moved from knee raises, to full leg raises for 10-15 reps. Impressive, but only when you consider that he was training his 'abdominals' directly, only 1/3 of the time.
Single knee raises – 30 seconds
Bicycles – 30 seconds
Rear leg raises – 30 seconds
1 minute to stretch and drink water
Double knee raises – 10 reps
Stick Twists – 45 seconds
Squats – 20 reps (bodyweight)
90 seconds water and stretching
Hyper-extensions – 15 reps
Jogging on the spot with high knees – 45 seconds
Full body stretch – 3 minutes
This routine takes approx 10 minutes, and provides all areas of the core with great stimulation for adding strength and balance.
Variations of these sets means you should actively look to play about with the order, duration, weight or bodyweight, rest periods and other factors to find your body's unique boundaries. Once you have discovered what your core can and cannot do, you have the platform to progress from, and your RIPPED 6-PACK is just around the corner!
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