There’s not a much more satisfying feeling in fitness than waking up with some nice sore abs from your workout the previous day.
I’ll happily attest to that, as I’ve never been one to naturally have abs carved out of stone and a super low body fat percentage. <– (Beer and too much chipotle have a lot to do with that too) Even though I absolutely know that ripped abs are 95 percent eating, recovery, and genetics, I enjoy my abs being sore, just as I do other parts of my body the day after training.
Everyone needs the feeling that they accomplished something at the gym, and moved slightly closer to the body and health they desire. It’s good for morale.
As I mentioned here in a Facebook video post yesterday, people are always looking for ways to “burnout” or make their abs look better through exercise. As a coach, it’s my job #1 get my student to see and feel results, and #2 do it in an intelligent manner that is best for health and performance in the real world. I understand that the abs are the part of the body that makes most people self conscious, and when folks come to me asking for great ways to train their core, whats my answer?
I mean sit-ups till failure will definitely get you sore, but is it in the best interest for long term performance and health? Probably not..
Russian twists will hammer your obliques, but is it going to make you lose your love handles, make you more athletic, and give you ripped abs? Not a chance.
Any dipshit trainer can make your abs sore, but it’s the great instructors that can make you feel better, look better, move better AND get you sore…..all at the same time.
The bottom line is that for me to be a trustworthy, competent, and successful coach, I must satisfy my clients, but do it in a manner that is effective, challenging, healthy, and fun.
In part one of Intelligent Core Finishers, I detail a few exercise combinations that will leave your abs worked, but in a way that is smart from a performance and health standpoint.
A good trainer and strength coach will always train their client’s abdominals from a real world performance point of view. They take into consideration one’s lifestyle, current resting posture when hanging out (both standing, sitting, and moving), and obviously appreciate one’s health/performance/physique goals.
When it comes to all things athletic performance when dealing with abdominals, my goto resource is Mike Robertson. He understands the mechanics of the spine, and the surrounding muscles that keep us performing and moving well. Here is a great read from him on 21st century core training
If I’m working with someone 3x/week, based on what I see from a postural standpoint, I make it a point to train their midsection accordingly. If their aren’t any glaring issues, I’ll train their core in 3 different ways throughout the week (Anti-Extension, Anti-Lateral Flexion, and Anti-Rotation), and make sure the rest of their program challenges their core (fuck I’m sick of that word) in ways that suit their individual needs. If you don’t express to your client that this is the proper way to train, and that abs are made mainly in the kitchen, you’ll wind up with a frustrated person who will sneak off and do crunches when you’re not looking.
If you’re successful in breaking down the mechanics of great abdominal training and get your client on board with what you know is right, you’ll end up with a very strong, very healthy, and potentially shredded individual in the long run.
However, with that being said, you should always train your torso for health and performance first, but having sore abs is still necessary and important at times.
Here are some creative ways in part one to end your training session with more ab work, designed intelligently for your longterm health.
#1.) AB WHEEL ROLLOUT + BODYSAW COUNTDOWNS –
Planks on steroids are what you going experience in this one. Here, we are training the anti-extension aspect part of your spine. We are resisting the force that is trying to pull us down into excessive spine extension. On both of these exercises, it’s important to brace you core and glutes hard, simultaneously. This will keep your whole body tight, allowing you to go through full range of motion with a nice neutral spine position.
In this finisher, I like using the countdown method. You’ll pick a set number of reps for both movements, lets say 8. You’ll start with 8 ab wheel rollouts, then switch over to 8 body saws . Rest for a few seconds, then go back to ab wheel rollouts for 7 reps, then body saw for 7…and all the way down to 1 rep. By giving yourself this little break and switching exercises, you never really get to the point of poor form or failure. Pick a smaller number to start out if you’re new to these exercises, but keep this countdown method in mind. It’s fun, you’ll feel an incredible burn, and you’ll train yourself way smarter and harder than anyone else at the gym. You’ll need a ab wheel or barbell w/plates, and Valslides or as I used here, folded paper towels for the body saw.
#2) TRX BUSDRIVERS + TRX FLUTTERS –
Here is another anterior core/anti-extension combo. Again, I love the countdown method for this one. I started with 10 reps on both sides of the bus driver (top video), then took a couple seconds and proceeded to do 10 reps on each side for flutters. Not only are you getting serious ab work here, but your arms are getting a helluva workout too. Bracing here is important as you can see. Without proper tension, you’ll just collapse that spine. By thinking of squeezing your ribs down and holding your glutes in, if you’re strong, and ready for something new and challenging, you’ll enjoy this finisher. In the bus driver, you’ll use the TRX to make a big arc with locked out arms like a windshield wiper or big bus steering wheel. Flutters are best by starting with a pushup position with arms locked out right under your shoulders.
#3) ONE ARM FARMERS CARRIES + 10 SECOND SIDE PLANK
Here we are resisting lateral flexion of the spine. These exercises are way more effective and efficient than your traditional side bends, Russian twists, and side crunches. You’ll get the added benefit of getting your heart rate up with the heavy walk, and way more intense fatigue in your obliques when you do a strict side plank against the wall. Notice how I walk very upright and tight with the dumbbell off my body. Im trying to resist that flexion of the weight pulling me down. If you’re struggling to keep the weight off your leg or failing to stay tall, it’s to heavy. The heavier the weight, the tougher it is to stay out of lateral flexion. Walk 75-90ft with the DB in one arm then get to the ground against the wall for a 10 second side plank with deep inhale and hard exhaled breaths for even more activation. Stand up, switch hands, and walk back down to the next wall 75-90 ft away. I like to do 3-5 rounds/side in assistance to my lift to feel like I met my “abdominal quota” for the day. It won’t burn off your love handles, but you’ll be sore in that area for sure.
#4 OVERHEAD DUMBBELL PULLOVERS + MOUNTAIN CLIMBERS
This is a fun one because it combines some heavy duty anti-extension work as well as some faster anterior (front) core pump. The biggest mistake I see with people performing pullovers (the top video) is that they are always arching their back to reach further back with the dumbbell. While you’re still getting good lat activation and development potential, why not keep those glutes turned on and resist those ribs from popping up? It’s way more bang for your buck. Notice my ribs staying down on the pullover. It’s because I’m squeezing the hell out of my abs and ass. Use these as a superset pairing or continue to use the countdown method. I guarantee you’ll get more than just your abs working on these two.
#5) KNEELING BAND ANTI-ROTATION CHOP + KNEELING BAND PALOFF PRESS
Here is our first anti-rotation pairing. This one is perfect to do counting down, because traditionally you’re arms will give out before you’re core starts rotating, so you’ll need that extra few seconds and less reps as you go to end up having a long set to achieve that fatigue you’re after. Important cues here are keeping you’re belly button in the same place the entire movement as well as locking your abs in like you’re bracing for a punch to the gut. Keep you’re butt engaged as well. Arms must be locked out the entire time for the anti-rotation chops (left video), and always get your ams locked out at the end of each Paloff press rep.
Give some of these pairings a try instead of your crunches and twists, and other exercises that will compromise posture and spine health. If you’re an athlete, you better be worried more about performance than physique, so these exercises have some huge value for you. If you’re just looking for new core exercises and consider yourself pretty experienced with some strongish abs, these will deliver what your’e looking for as well.
I will be back soon with Part 2…