Why you need to train your abs:
1. Injury Prevention
2. Improved Posture
3. Improved Gym Performance
Strong abs are important no matter what you lifting goals are. When most people talk about their abs or “core” they usually are only referring to their abdominal muscles. In reality your “core” includes the abdominal muscles as well as the muscles of the back and spine. Contrary to what most think, the abdominal and other core muscles are not meant to create movement, they are meant to prevent it. Their primary function is anti-rotation, anti-flexion, and anti-extension. In order for the abs to do their job properly then the joints surrounding them must be doing their as well. Fairly often if you look at someone with back pain you’ll see that the hips are locked up tight and their upper back (thoracic spine) is locked up tight as well. This forces the lower back to compensate for the lack of mobility in those two areas by loosening what is supposed to be a very stable area. This coupled up with a steady diet of crunches, sit ups, russian twists, and improperly performed back extensions is a recipe for back pain and dysfunction.
If you didn’t follow along with all that here are the cliff notes:
1. Loosen Up Your Hips- Defranco’s Agile 8 among other things works great and is easy to perform. FWIW, if you have back pain and are blaming it on tight hamstrings you need to think again. Most likely your hip flexors are far to tight which rocks your pelvis and low back out of alignment forcing your hamstrings to get tight and stay that way. Stretch your hip flexors and see if that doesn’t help.
2. Pick Abdominal STABILITY Movements over Mobility Movements- Start with the basics like planks then move into something where you move around a stable base such as Stir the Pots, Pallof Presses, or Body Saws.
By focusing on those 3 areas you will then actually be able to move your hips, shoulders, and upper back through proper ranges of motion and allow your core to remain nice and stable like it needs to be. Once you have those three taken care of then you can move into some more advanced movements but until you can create stability then don’t try to create movement!
Ever since we started researching diet, exercise, and health we’ve always tried to find the one thing that will answer most, if not all of our problems. That’s why we every month we end up demonizing one particular nutrient or training method and blame a whole host of problems on them.
Over the years we’ve demonized fat, squats, and all other kinds of stuff. We’ve also tried taking a single nutrient or training method and painted them as the end-all-be-all of fitness and health.
Guess what, it’s all wrong.
We spend so much time breaking everything down and trying to find the one element of each that is either causing all the problems or creating all the benefits that we forget one important aspect:
The Sum is Greater than the Whole of It’s Parts
There is a reason that a man made antioxidant supplement doesn’t work nearly as well as actually eating a large variety of high quality fruits and veggies. It’s not about one single cog, it’s about how it works with the rest of the machine. Even though we’ve been making and researching supplements for the past 20+ years, we’re still rank amateurs compared to mother nature. Weighing and measuring poor quality food will get you far less results than focusing on eating the highest quality, highest nutrient per calorie foods.
That’s why leg pressing is an incredibly poor substitute for squats and the lat pulldown and the pec dec are poor substitutes for chins/pull ups and dips/push ups. They may use the same muscles, but the hormonal response, adaptive response, and calorie expenditure for each exercise are COMPLETELY different. If you want to build a great body with just machines you’re going to need to spend a couple grand and invest hours upon hours in the gym to get there. Conversely you can spend a fraction of that time and money to build an even better body (in my opinion) with some simple tools like barbells, body weight, and sandbags and focusing on big movements like squats, deadlifts, cleans, pull ups/chins, push ups/dips, and loaded carries.
What’s the point of looking good if you are still weak and not able to perform when it counts? Put down the psuedo-foods and step away from the pseudo-fitness machines and opt for more organic fruits, veggies, meats and fats then kick your fitness into overdrive with some squats, dips, pull ups and sled dragging! There are no magic bullets or shortcuts. It’s time to do the work!
Let’s face it, we spend a ridiculous amount of time sitting down. Even those people who work physical jobs spend most of their down time sitting. This can lead to major postural and strength issues if it’s not balanced out with the proper movement.
Most people have similar posture to the above picture. We round our shoulders and upper back forward, and push the head forward. When we’re standing up we’ll have a pronounced arching of the lower back and the gut will stick out. We have chronic neck, shoulder, and lower back pain. We also can’t even squat down to set in a chair without our lower back rounding let alone picking anything up off the floor. Instead of addressing the actual problems we pop more pain killers, limit our movement so as not to aggravate our back pain, or attempt to just stretch our way out of it. The problem is, those are either just temporary solutions or in the case of stretching, not even the problem at all. As Gray Cook says, “Don’t lengthen one area without strengthening another.”
Here are the real issues we face when addressing posture-
Weak Posterior Chain (upper back, spinal erectors, glutes, hamstrings)
Tight Hip Flexors
Poor Hip Mobility
Poor T-Spine Mobility
Crappy Movement Patterns
Now, for those who are starting at square 1 in addressing all this it can seem like a daunting task to get everything back in order. What I’m here to do is break it down in the simplest terms and make it easier to apply.
The very first thing that has to happen is improving the quality of the soft tissue in the areas you are trying to manipulate. This is done via foam rolling. Foam rolling helps to break up the adhesion’s in the muscle fibers as well as the surround fascia. This will allow for better extensibility of the muscle as well as helping to improve blood flow to it and the surrounding tissue. This step is very important. The areas you’ll want to focus on are the upper back (avoid the lower back), glutes, piriformis, hamstrings, adductors, IT bands, quads and calves. This video show how to do pretty much all those properly.
Foam roll for a couple weeks before starting with any hardcore mobility type movements. Initially foam rolling is going to be incredibly uncomfortable but after a couple sessions it won’t be quite so painful. I personally look forward to my foam roller because I feel much better after I’m done. Eventually the foam roller may not be hard enough to to do the job anymore (unless you get one with the stiff core) so you’ll need to move on to something like regular PVC pipe, lacrosse balls, or softballs.
Beginner Mobility Movement: The Goblet Squat
Read the article and begin with just your body weight. Once you can Goblet Squat just your own body weight you can move on to the other mobility movements.
For those that have been foam rolling for awhile and are ready to move on to some more specific movements these are two I really like.
#1- Squat to Stand with Reach (Hips/T-Spine): 10-20 reps
#2- Ankle Mobility (Ankles): 5 straight forward, 5 over the big toe, 5 over the little toe (don’t change foot placement)
#3- Hip Flexor Stretch: Hold 30-60 sec per side
#4- Naked Get Up (Shoulders/T-Spine): 10-15 reps per arm
If you have a job where you spend a large amount of time sitting, work up to doing this twice per day. These are also great warm up exercises before hitting the gym! Like the title of this post eludes, these are quick movements you can do to really help out your movement without taking up tons of time.