Ab Training 101: Training for Performance

Here it is guys! The last article on ab training. At least for now. If you haven’t read the first two articles on ab training, I suggest you click here to catch up. In the first two articles we introduced the muscles that are involved in the construction and movement of the abdomen. Following up on that article we discussed how one can train the abs for aesthetic purposes. Training, toning, and developing the abdominals in specific ways to create that tapered, “6-pack” look. The last article will only focus on how you can train your abdominals and midsection to optimize performance.

The midsection of the body is one of the most important pieces of our anatomy. It holds the majority of our vital organs, and houses some of the largest muscle groups in the body. The spine also runs through our midsection. The spine is a very important piece of the human anatomy. Not only does it protect our spinal cord, but it keeps us from being a flimsy sack of blood, muscle, and organs. The muscles surrounding the spine play very important roles in sport and everyday activities. They brace the spine under load as well as assist in the spine in rotation, global flexion, and global extension.

It is important when training the midsection for sport, you train all ranges of motion and angles. Only training your midsection with farmer walks at your sides could lead to a weak overhead position. A weak overhead position often means an over extended lower back in pressing exercises and hanging exercises. An overextended lower back means sapped energy and power potential and an increased risk to injury. Train the midsection in both the anterior and posterior sides, as well as the lateral sides as well. Change it up! Make it weird. Carry a heavy dumbbell in one hand, and a light kettlebell in the other. Walk like that for 50ft., then switch. You want your midsection to be strong in all areas, thus being able to brace the spine and move in all areas, because in most sports very rarely does our body move in perfectly straight lines with slow, progressive increases in loads.

Some of my favorite exercises for midline performance are farmer walks, 1 armed farmer walks and carries, heavy barbell compound lifts, and occasionally rotational ab exercises. These all help in training the midsection as a whole and in sections.

Take a look at these sample workouts and see how they encompass all areas and sides of the midsection.

Midline Stability Workout 1:

5 Rounds:

100ft. Farmer Walk

100ft. 1 Arm Overhead Carry (Each Arm)

File:Farmers Walk.JPG - Wikimedia Commons
Farmer Walks with Strongman Axles (Sub with DB’s/KB’s)
1 Arm Overhead Carry.jpeg
1 Arm Overhead DB/KB Carry

This first one is a simple one I picked up from world record power lifter and weightlifting coach, Travis Mash. It is a simple workout that address both stability in upright positions in movement as well as overhead stability in movement. Perform this workout during a deload week or on a active recovery day. These carry exercises, when loaded appropriately, don’t beat you up as bad as would a deadlift or another heavy compound movement that requires a lot of midline stability and bracing.

Midline Stability Workout (Wrestling):

5 Rounds:

100ft. Zercher Walk

5 Turkish Get Ups

100ft. Front Rack Walk

5 Turkish Get Ups

Zercher Walk.jpg
Barbell Zercher Walk
The Turkish Get Up
KB Front Rack Walk (Barbells and DB’s can also be used)

This is a great wrestling workout that will not only develop your midsection and ability to brace properly, but also increase endurance in shoulder stability when moving in awkward positions underload. The Zercher position for all grapplers. It forces you to hold the barbell essentially with two underhooks which any grappler knows is a staple position in grappling sports. Turkish get ups are another great exercise for learning how to support a load over head while moving. The transfer it has to wrestling is huge. Even though you might never find that exact position in a wrestling/ jiu jitsu match, you have to constantly find a way to get back to your feet if you are underneath someone with a devastating and heavy top game. Front rack walks are brutal. If you’ve never done them before, start light and start slow at first. To walk in a front rack position means you have to keep your chest up and elbows high, and not letting the weight pull your chest down and your back rounded over. In a match, when you are tired at the start of the third period, you need to be able to keep your head and your chest up and not get easily broken down. If you are a wrestler or jiu jitsu athlete who gets snapped down and put into the front head position, this is an exercise for you.

Midline Stability Workout (Bodyweight):

5 Rounds:

30 Hollow Body Rocks

30 Superman Rocks

Hollow Body Rock
superman rocks.jpg
Superman Rock

If you do not have access to any weights to do midline stability work, you can always throw this simple body weight superset at the end of your workout. The hollow body position is a very common position from gymnastics that will help with your pull up mechanics, shoulder stability/overhead position. Superman rocks help isolate the glutes and the erectors of the spine which for many athletes can go severely underdeveloped. So many people focus on training the muscles that they can see. Arms, chest, the front of the shoulders, and in most cases the rectus abdominus or what most people consider, “abs”. Superman rocks help strength the erectors and glutes which work together with the transverse abdominus to stabilize the spine.

Depending on what your goals are and what kind of athlete you are, throw these midline stability workouts in on your active recovery day or at the end of a workout once or twice a week. If you train your midsection in this fashion consistently you will find that your main lifts will improve, you won’t fall out of your wrestling stance at the start of the second period, and overall lowerback health will improve. Feel free to email me at settlagesac@gmail.com if you have questions on any aspect of ab training.



Ab Training 101: Training for Aesthetics

As mentioned in the first article of this series, the “abs” are some of the most coveted muscles to have and a popular characteristic of what would be considered a fit physique. Again, here’s a big secret for everyone. You ALL have abs. If you didn’t, you probably wouldn’t be able to stand let alone sit up straight without falling backwards. If you did not read the first article on ab training which goes into great detail on the muscles of the abdomen and their functions, I suggest you go back and check it out here.

Now on to how to train your abdominals in regards to bodybuilding, body composition, etc. Let me start off by saying a common phrase I first heard from IFBB Pro Men’s Physique competitor, Steve Cook. According to Steve, “Abs are made in the kitchen.” I have always told my clients this phrase any time they ask about abs. If your diet does not reflect one of a healthy lifestyle, no amount of crunches or hanging legs raises is going to help you see your abdominals. In order to have a visible rectus abdominus, you need to have a low percentage of body fat. If you have diet consisting of foods that lead to an increased amount of body fat, it’s no wonder you can not see your abs. It’s simple, you cannot out train a bad diet.

Let’s assume you are eating clean to begin with and you have established a relatively low level of body fat and are wanting to further develop your abdomen through specific training. There is a lot of information out there about all these different ab machines, exercises, training techniques, and most of it is hoopla. Not that those trainers on the internet do not know what they are talking about (some of them certainly don’t), beginning to train the abdomen is much simpler than it’s made out to be.

If you are just starting to train the abdominals directly, a good place to start would be to throw about 3-5 sets of ab specific training at the end of your workouts, 3-5 times a week. A simple ab finisher could look like this…

3-5 Rounds:

25 Crunches

10 Hanging Leg/Knee Raises (or 25 Reverse Crunches)

This basic workout inspired by Arnold’s own beginning ab workouts, trains both the upper abs that insert into the rib cage, and the lower abs that insert into the pubic bone. Many people often only do crunches for endless amounts of reps. Essentially half of the rectus abdominus is being left untrained! A basic ab finisher should train both the upper and lower end of the abdominals.

Once you have trained your abs consistently for about 4-8 weeks, it is time to introduce new movements that also train the oblique muscles as well as an increase in ab training volume. The ab twist/seated twist/broomstick twist is a great exercise I picked up when researching training techniques from three-time Mr. Olympia, Frank Zane. As mentioned in the previous article, Frank Zane had absolutely amazing abs. It is noted he would do 1,000 reps of ab exercises when training for the Mr. Olympia competition! The ab twist as I call them is not an exercise designed to build up the obliques like a weighted crunch would for the upper abdominals, but more so to tone and tighten the obliques to add to the small waist illusion. Frank Zane trained his obliques so hard with twisting exercises that his obliques nearly “disappeared”. Training and developing well constructed and developed abdominals requires hitting all sides of the abdomen with different stimulus and ranges of motion.

frank-zane-posing.jpg The next progression for ab training would be up your minimum for ab finishers to five days a week like they did in the 70’s. Often times, Arnold, Franco Columbu, Frank Zane, Ken Waller, and the gang would perform ab exercises at the beginning of their workout as a warm up (more on that later) as well as at night five days a week. An intermediate level ab routine could look like this…

Monday, Wednesday, & Friday:

3-5 Rounds:

25 Weighted Crunches

10 Hanging Leg Raises

Tuesday, Thurs, & Saturday*

*If you regularly train on Saturday

3-5 Rounds:

25 Reverse Crunches

25 Ab Twists (Each Side)

After another 4-8 weeks of consistent ab training in this fashion, it is time to introduce a new stimulus. More volume. The abdominal muscles respond incredibly well to volume when prescribed correctly. I mentioned before how people will attempt to create better abs by doing hundreds upon hundreds of crunches and not see any results. If that is the only ab exercises they are doing, the muscles of the abdomen will adapt and not be changed or affected by the repetitive stimulus they are given.

During the Golden Era of bodybuilding, many famous bodybuilders would use ab training as a warm up. This technique is still used today, but is rarely seen. I personally read about Arnold warming up every workout with 500 reps of Roman Chair Sit Ups, as well as specific ab training at night, but never gave it much thought until recently. During the last training cycle before the 2017 GrapplingX Brazilian Jiu Jitsu NorCal Championships, I began doing some simple ab work during my warm ups and before my heavy squats. After two weeks I saw an incredible difference. My abs were thicker, my waist was slightly smaller, and my lower abs were more defined than they were during the 2016 Tahoe Show! These “warm up” abs were also paired with my nightly ab routine that I do 4-5 times a week. Keeping the awesome results I saw in mind, I am continuing to train my abs during the warm up of my workout even during this bulking phase I am currently in. The goal is to develop them so much that even when I am at the peak of my bulk with some expected bodyfat gain, they are still relatively visible. When it’s time for the cut back down, they should in turn look better than ever.

Once you have gone through the first two sample ab workouts listed above, and you’re looking for something new, or want found that your ab training is growing stale, I highly suggest you take note of the bodybuilders of the Golden Era and do ab training both as part of your warm up and at the end of your workout or a night. It is a great way to increase the volume of your ab training as well as hit all parts of the abdomen without keeping you in the gym forever. 15 minutes in the morning, and 15-20 minutes at night has been my recent formula when training my abdominals for aesthetics. When I was training for the 2016 Tahoe Show, I would perform about 100-300 reps of weighted crunches and about 50 ab wheels every night before bed. Cory Gregory is most famously noted for his #Squateveryday, or #Squatlife training methods, although he also does weighted crunches and ab wheels almost every night before bed. His abs are self labeled, “bricks” that are similar to Zane’s ab development.

Taking from Arnold, Zane, and Cory Gregory, this is my current ab routine that has helped me develop my abs during my preparation for the 2017 GrapplingX BJJ tournament (I know you don’t need perfectly sculpted abs for jiu jitsu, but I still enjoy training to maintain my physique as well as train specifically for sport). The results of this ab training yielded results for my abdominal area even better than those at the 2016 Tahoe Show!

AM Ab Training: 6 times a week before each workout mixed in with the warm up.

3 Rounds:

15 Back Ext

5 Bodyweight GHR

10 Hanging Straight Leg Raises

25 Ab Twists (each side)

PM Ab Training: 4-6 times a week either right when I get home from Jiu Jitsu, or before I go to bed.

3-5 Rounds*:

30 Weighted Crunches w/ a 25lb plate

10 Ab Wheels

*Sometimes I will throw in an additional ab exercises to changed things up a bit. For example, reverse crunches following the ab wheels for 30 reps.

Stayed tuned for the next and final article in this series, Ab Training 101: Training for Performance. To have abdominals that look great is one thing, but having an abdomen that is both strong, stable, and sturdy is another. This upcoming article will focus on how the abdominals brace the spine and different methods of training to strengthen the midsection.