In Part 1 of this series we covered some pretty important concepts when programming and executing ab exercises during your workout. I shared that I believe it’s very important that we train the core for health —> performance –> physique. Core training needs to address default movement patterns, postures, and weaknesses before you worry about burning those suckers out.
I can tell people over and over again that a six pack of chiseled abs comes from 6 sets of not eating so much crap (t-nation.com reference) and not 1,000 crunches and Russian twists. If we can get you away from eating like the average Joe, and more like a Spartan, then the exercises in this series will compliment that lifestyle nicely, and probably take you to your dream stomach more quickly.
As I mentioned in part 1, we train the core with the spine in mind. We train it for better movement and more performance that will translate to everyday living as well as strength that will enhance other movements and active endeavors. We train to be a more efficient human, a more useful human, and a much more powerful and attractive human.
Hard work we know can help us improve anything. However, with the abs, we must be smart, keep our spine in mind, and accomplish many things at once. We all want to “feel the burn” and get sore, but we must address movement and stability problems simultaneously in cahoots with that hard effort. Here are 5 new exercise combinations to take this “Intelligent Core Finisher” series a step further.
This is one I use quite frequently with my clients, as it teaches them to own a couple important positions that are key to master in the rest of my other programming. The first position, as you can see in the barbell sit-up is a controlled descent that never loses anterior core tension, consequently allowing rib flare. Basically, I never plop to the floor. I have constant tension as if I’m bracing for a punch or flexing my abs in the mirror. the second position in the hollow body hold (second video down) is the awareness of the pelvis slipping into posterior tilt. It would be easy if I didn’t force my low back down to the ground to allow that area to arch and lose total tension of the lower abs. In the plank, I firmly believe that it’s effectiveness is determined by the strength of the contraction, position of the ribs/pelvis, and power of the breath. I tell my clients to squeeze their abs and glutes simultaneously try to make their bottom ribs touch their hip bones (hard contraction). Usually 10-15s holds and/or 3-5 deep, powerful breaths in through the nose and out through pursed lips.
What to do – Start with the barbell sit-ups for 10-15 reps, then take your feet out from under the dumbbells and hover them over top of them. Come up into a wide V position and hold for 10-20s. Flip over into that hard contraction in the plank, and complete 3-5 breath cycles.
I call this an intermediate dragon flag because you’re not getting into that full on straight body position from the top back down to the bench like a true Bruce Lee flag. You can see here that I separate the movements, kicking out the ceiling, then lowering my butt back to the bench. From there I lower my legs which are locked out, to the point where I almost, but don’t slip into pelvic tilt (back arching off bench). The reverse crunch is another great move for us lifters and gym goers that happen to be stuck in that extension of the lumbar spine. Add in part of the “deadbug” which is where my legs are moving out away from me, and you got yourself a challenging core sequence.
What to do – Perform the intermediate dragon flag (or advanced dragon flag if you’re a boss) for 8-10 slow reps. Hop off the bench, and grab a kettlebell or heavy medicine ball. Get into that neutral/flat position on the ground with your hands on the KB as shown in the video below. From there, you crunch back to your elbows or close to it, and control the descent back to the flat spine position on the floor. Rotate 3-4 times and you’ll get plenty of work in.
Stir the pot is one of my all time favorite core drills to both coach and perform. It’s challenging for everyone, and can be progressed by simply making the “stirring” motion larger. This is an advanced plank variation, and will require a stability ball. The plank reach simply forces you to hold position in that plank with one arm, so you’re getting an anti-rotation effect as well as anti-extension. You’ll feel your obliques, and also the rest of your midsection getting crushed on these exercises.
What to do – Get into the plank position on the ball with one hand making a fist, and the other holding the fist. Brace your body hard and make slow, controlled circles on the ball using the forearms and fists. After 6-8 on one side, switch directions for 6-8 more. Get down into plank position lock yourself in hard, and reach straight out with as little side to side movement as you can. Alternate arms for 6-10 per side or until you feel break in form.
Some of the best ant-lateral flexion and oblique work is demonstrated in these two exercises. The side plank row is a brilliant bang for your buck exercise that is both a horizontal pulling move and a lateral spine stability move. The Side Plank T Reaches challenges both your rotary stability as well as your obliques in lateral flexion.
What to do – Attach a band or lower a cable about 6 inches from the ground. Move out into side plank away from the band or cable, but facing it as shown in the video. Do a row like you would standing, but make sure to never lose your scapula and shoulder, meaning don’t let it jerk you toward the cable column or where the band is attached. Stay in control. Do 8-12 strict reps per side then let go of the band and go right into the side plank reaches. Again, slowly reach over to touch the floor, making sure to resist the desire for your upper body to collapse to the ground. 8-10 touches is fine, then switch sides, going back to the rows.
This is most likely going to be the most popular combination of this series, because most of you have probably already done thee exercises or at least seen some pretty ripped people doing them, so you figure they are legit. Well, you’re right, but only when you’re controlling what you’re doing. I don’t want to see any of you flailing around like a newborn baby giraffe holding onto a bar, so here’s what to do.
What to do – Clearly these exercises will test your grip and the control of your midsection, so you’ll need a pull-up bar and some tough hands. In both the up and overs and knee raises the most common issue I see is using momentum of the swing back to lift the legs. Sure, you’ll feel a burn after awhile, but you really won’t get as much out of the exercise as you could with locked in form. Wide grip works best for both of these, but neutral grip works too. On the up and overs, keep your legs locked out, and pretend there is a barbed wire fence you at belly button height that you need to go over. 5-6 times over and back is plenty. From there, drop from the bar for 10 seconds, grab the bar again, and do 10-15 hanging knee raises making sure not to swing. Tap your feet on the ground for a split second if you’re tall enough, or keep a bench behind you, because it’s paramount that you do not swing. Do 3-5 rotations and you’ll get you’re “ab” fix for the day.
Thats all for this installment. Let us know how you like some of this stuff. Check out part one here for the first installment where I go over what makes these exercises intelligent in the first place, along with demonstrating 10 other core awesome exercises.