Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ab Day? So Cliche

With fat gain season nearly over and fat loss resolution season (aka January) almost upon us, it is time for everybody to start studying the layout of their gyms so they know the fastest way out in case of fire.

What I really suggest doing is going to your gym just before closing, grabbing a bunch of foam rollers, medicine balls, barbells, etc. and just spreading them out all over the floor in a random pattern to model how crowded it is going to be starting next week. Think of it like an obstacle course. Grab your stopwatch, and then time your escape. You can never be too careful.

What bothers me the most about the one-monthers is not so much that they take up gym space... rather, it is the fact that they go to the gym without a plan and then get in the way. It makes me happy I train in a fully decked out garage gym. Anyway, this entry is about one particular thing that almost 100% of the resolution crowd does completely wrong... abdominal training.

Core training was the fitness buzz word of the past decade. Why? Is it because abs are sexy? Yes. Is it also because proper abdominal training is the key to sports performance? Yes. In fact, a ton of progress was made in the last 10 years on core training for sports. The problem is that a bunch of not-so-knowledgeable people decided they were going to get in and capitalize on the core training boom. This basically resulted in 90% of the regular population making no progress at all or regressing in their knowledge of the core.

Let me name a few ab training "products" that have come out recently that I believe are absolutely useless wastes of money:

1. Ab-Circle Pro
2. Ab Rocket
3. Ab Ripper X (Part of P90X, read my 3 part review there)
4. Ab Coaster
5. 6 Minute Abs
6. Ab Lounge
7. Bender Ball
8. Ab Flyer
9. Ab Doer Extreme
10. Ab King Pro
11. Hip Hop Abs

Those are just a few. There are probably between 80-372 others that I missed or don't remember the name of. I know one of them involves some long tube that you can use sitting and another has a head rest and two leg pieces and it clicks.

Anyway, there are only a few good abdominal training devices out there. They include the ab wheel, the ab dolly, your standard barbell, your body, and the invention that is sitting in my garage that I am working with Pat Rigsby and Perform Better to bring to market (finally, an ab product that doesn't suck!)

So, now that I'm finished going off on a tangent, I'd like to get to the whole point of this blog post, which is that having an "ab day" or an "ab workout" is incredibly stupid. We already know how I feel about bodybuilder splits for fat loss. Along those same lines, you absolutely do not need to perform 13 different abdominal exercises in a row until your abs burn and your back and neck hurt. Six minutes or more of direct abdominal work is overkill.

Why? First, the role of the core is to stabilize the spine (I talk about this at length in my low back pain series). That means we should train it to prevent movement. How many direct abdominal training exercises allow you to do that? Just a few. Planks and their many variations, rollouts and their many variations, offloaded exercises (single arm or leg), and anti-rotation exercises like Pallof Presses.

Second, there is no real purpose of training the abdominals to fatigue. We want a good, strong contraction without compensation. Training to fatigue really doesn't do all that much except trick people into feeling like they did something. Same goes for the muscle pump.

Third, the only real way to get a six pack is to get rid of the fat over your abs. Abdominal hypertrophy doesn't show unless the fat is gone. In fact, if you do have fat covering your abs, then abdominal hypertrophy just makes you look fatter. Direct abdominal training does not remove the fat from your abdominal region! I can't believe this myth still exists... and I can't believe people that make infomercials repeatedly tell you that you can get a 6 pack by performing abdominal exercises. It is ridiculous. The only way to lose fat is to train for fat loss, and it just so happens that you know about one of the best books in the world written on that subject.

So, when it comes to abdominal training, stick with the basics. If you train 3 times a week, perform some anti-extension exercise for a couple of sets at the end of your first workout (planks, wheel rollouts, etc.), and then perform some anti-lateral flexion and some anti-rotation exercise at the end of your second workout (side plank, pallof press, landmine, etc.) The first week you'll have two workouts that include anti-extension and one that includes anti-rot/lat flexion. The next week will be the opposite. Ab training isn't complicated and it doesn't need its own day. More isn't better.


  1. How many times per week would you recommend training abs? I've read credible sources that recommend just once per week, and others twice per week...but rarely any more. Also, if you're doing upper/lower splits, do you think it's better to throw in abs on leg day, or upper body day? Why?

  2. A friend (who has your book btw) is a power lifter and showed me an article on The guy who wrote the article says that he does 2 week "ab sprints" where he'll work his abs for those two weeks in addition to his regular work out schedule and won't work them outside of those 2 weeks. due to the nature of his other exercises he doesn't need to work his core any more than that. interested in your answer to sausage's comment.

  3. @Sausage, honestly, I don't have strict recommendations. It really depends on what you are doing. My approach is that I break down direct abdominal training into anti extension and anti-latflex/rotation. If I hit each of those once or twice per week, I'm happy.

    Also keep in mind that a bunch of exercises that aren't traditionally abdominal exercises work the core musculature. You can't do a heavy squat or deadlift without having a solid core. Offloaded exercises (such as farmer's walks or lunges with a weight in only one hand) count as anti-lateral flexion. So, some people might say you don't need any direct abdominal work at all if you are getting it indirectly. I don't necessarily agree with those people but I understand their point.

    @Eric, there are tons of core training philosophies out there. Many are effective. I just don't understand "ab day" or 30 straight minutes of core training.


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