People find it hard to believe I have not done a crunch, sit-up or any direct abdominal training in over 20 years yet still can achieve a ripped, defined midsection.
Abdominal exercises are probably the most popular exercises you see people perform in any gym. People love to train them. They do so mainly in an attempt to try to bring out cuts or definition there and to try to spot reduce body fat there. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. The body will lose body fat from wherever it is genetically programmed to lose it from. You can't pick and choose where you want to lose it from. It is why you will never see a person with fat arms and a ripped midsection or while you will never see a person with a layer of fat around their upper abdominals but none around their lower abdominals.
Because of infomercials, social media, fitness magazines and other sources of information out there spreading misinformation and lies about training the abdominals many people still believe they can train their abdominals to lose body fat there. As a personal trainer and strength coach for nearly 20 years I can't tell you how many times clients will want me to program more abdominal exercises into their program. They believe it will help them lose body fat around their abdominals and bring out more definition. I can't fault them for believing this though. When you have been lied to thousands of times for so many years in magazines, books, fad training programs and on the internet it is much easier to believe the lie then one person preaching the truth.
Now while you can't spot reduce body fat in the abdominals or in any area of the body it is still important to train them. The problem is most people train them incorrectly. They tend to do the traditional abdominal exercises like crunches, sit-ups, hanging leg raises, etc. There are several problems with training the abdominals this way.
To train the abdominals correctly you first need to understand how they function. They perform 3 main functions. They flex the trunk of the body which is called spinal flexion. This is the motion you do when you do a sit-up or a crunch. The also posteriorly tilt your pelvis. This is the motion where the top of your pelvis (hip) is rotated backwards. Think of standing and squeezing your glutes by envisioning if you had a belt on and you are trying to draw your belt buckle to your belly button. This motion will also flex the spine which will cause the abdominals to engage. The motion of doing a glute bridge or hip thrusts also causes a posterior pelvic tilt and will work the abdominals too.
Now while the abdominals can do these functions it is not how they work the majority of the time. The only time you really ever flex your spine as in a crunch is when you get out of bed in the morning. So, crunches and sit-ups are not very functional and can be hard on the lower back for some people. Now while hip thrusts and glute bridges are good exercises they are mainly exercises for the glutes and hamstrings, not the abdominals. The other exercises people do to train their abdominals are hanging leg raises, v-ups and other exercises that flex the hip (bringing your knees in towards the midsection which is called hip flexion). The abdominals do not perform hip flexion. The reason you feel the abdominals when you do these exercises is because the abdominals have to work to stabilize the trunk and spine of the body. The other problem with traditional abdominal training is you are only really working one area of the body, the abdominals. So, you can now get an idea of why doing traditional abdominal exercises aren't a very effective way to train them and also aren't a productive use of your time in the gym.
The 3rd role of the abdominals and the best way to train them is training them in the role they perform the overwhelming majority of the time. That role is stabilization of the trunk and spine. The abdominals and core in general work to stabilize the trunk and spine in 3 main ways. They are anti-extension (so you don't over arch your lower back), anti-lateral flexion (so you don't tip over to side) and anti-rotation (so you don't rotate your trunk and spine to one side or the other). Exercises training the abdominals and core in these 3 ways is the most functional and best way to train them. It also works more than just the abdominals as the glutes, quads and several other muscles work when performing anti-extension, anti-lateral flexion and anti-rotation exercises.
So, what are exercises that work abdominals and core in anti-extension, anti-lateral flexion and anti-rotation?
Anti-extension exercises work to keep the lower back from over-arching. Examples of these exercises are front planks, ab wheel rollouts, body saws and push-holds. Push-ups and inverted rows as well work the abdominals and core in an anti-extension role as well as several other exercises.
Anti-lateral flexion exercises work to keep the trunk and spine of the body from tipping to either side of the body, Examples of these exercises are side planks, unbalanced carries and side plank hip drops. Any exercise performed in a half kneeling position also works the abdominals and core in anti-lateral flexion.
Anti-rotation exercises work to keep the trunk and spine from rotating to one side to the other. Examples are shoulder taps, chops, lateral bear crawls and anti-rotation band holds.
One of the best things about training your abdominals and core in the 3 main stabilization functions is many of these exercises you can do in progressions to make them harder and more challenging. You can also add an external load or weight to make the exercise more challenging and continue to progress in your training program. This is something that is harder to do with traditional abdominal training.
Try training your core in the 3 main stabilization roles it performs and it will make a big difference in your training program and you will get more benefit from the time you spend in the gym.
Many of these exercises are posted on my various social media sites that are linked on my website so feel free to view them for instructions on how to perform them correctly.
Before performing any exercise or exercise program it is important to consult your doctor before starting.
Thank you for reading my blog article. I hope you found it helpful and informative. If anyone is interested in personal fitness training or sports performance training reach out to me via my email Dan@eidensfitness.com or you can contact me directly at 702-521-6012.