Core Training 101: Part 1 of 3:
Everybody wants that nice defined and well-developed midsection. Diet is critical, but proper training is necessary to make those abs pop! But let's be honest, there is an overload of information out there. How do you know what exercises to do?
Well in these next three blogs I will guide you through the 3 important areas of abdominal training and cover some of my favorite ab exercises.
So let's start with the very first section; the rectus abdominis; or as it's commonly known, "the six pack".
It's important to note that the physical structure of your abs will not change. This is genetic. So if you have 4 large cylinder blocks and then a flat plain all the way down to your treasure box, then you probably don’t have a full 6 pack (by genetics). On the reverse side, some people have 10 cylinder blocks for abs, they just need to lower their body fat enough to make them visible. So, train your abs hard, stay focused on nutrition, and uncover your personal blueprinted design given to you at birth.
The Function of the Six Pack:
If you haven't noticed already, I strongly believe in teaching the functional purpose behind muscles. That way you aren't just moving around in a pattern, you are training that muscle to do its job.
The six pack is simply in place to bring your ribs to your hips and your hips to your ribs. Think of an accordion. The sections get closer to each other and the distance between the two sides of the instrument decreases. And just like the accordion, exhaling is a key part of making this movement work efficiently.
My top 3 exercise picks:
The Classic Crunch
Despite the popularity of this exercise, it is more commonly performed incorrectly. The main mistake here is the speed and quantity that people think they need to do. Sure! You could do 100 crunches and feel a burn...or you could do 12 properly and feel like you're dying. Quality over quantity.
If it's a bodyweight crunch, I prefer laying my back on a bosu ball (those inflated balls at the gym or the ones with the flat bottoms; picture below). This allows my torso to stretch completely and therefore increase the distance between my ribs and hips. That means there is more range of motion and more time for the abdominal muscles to be under tension. So more work needs to be done and you are training your abs to perform their designed function.
Keep your hands by your years. I like to point my elbows outwards when my body is extended for a better stretch. Then, when you are performing a rep, put pressure through the heels of your feet and exhale throughout the entire motion. Exhale hard, and think of your torso as an accordion. More importantly, think of bring your hips towards your ribs as well as your ribs towards your hips. Make sure that the bottom and top are working to meet in the center.
Aim for 10-15 reps, slow, controlled with a deep exhale every single rep. Perform that for about 3-4 sets.
You can do these virtually anywhere; on the floor, hanging off of a bar, or on the captain's chair (picture below) at the gym.
My favorite is on a captain's chair. For this exercise the same principles apply as the last. The goal is to close the distance between your ribs and your hips and exhale in the process.
The biggest mistake that I see with this exercise is that people just move their knees up and down and think that they are working your abs. If you are just moving your legs up and down, your hip flexers (a tiny muscle in between your hips and thighs) are working hard but your abs are resting up. The key move that makes the world of a difference is getting your lower back to leave the rest on your back. That curl of the spine is what taxes your abs to work. Exhale and keep the movement controlled. You will notice how much harder this exercise is once you focus on lifting your lower back off of the rest.
Again, 10-15 good reps for 3-4 sets is plenty.
Jackknife Crunch (v-sit)
This exercise can be performed on the floor or (my favorite) on an elevated step (picture below); the ones used in aerobics classes.
The elevated step lets you drop your legs below ground level increasing the range of motion.
Your legs can be slightly bent throughout the motion and your arms can support your balance by resting on either side of your hips. The main objective remains the same; hips to ribs, ribs to hips.
Ultimately, this exercise is a combination of the two exercises listed above. Exhale hard, move your knees up and bring your torso towards your knees at the same time. Increase the curve in your spine throughout the movement and keep the movement controlled. I recommend pausing for a second or two at the top of the movement (when your body looks like a V).
Same deal as before; 10-15 reps, 3-4 sets.
Include these in your ab routine and feel free to cycle through them. I personally pick about 2 out of these three per ab workout.
Don't do this every single day. Give your abs at least 48 hours to rest and heal before hitting them again.
Stay tuned for blogs on how to train the other parts of your midsection!
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