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Ab Training

March 31, 2010

By Gerard Bochese

I often have clients ask me to advise them on the best ab exercises. To answer this question, we have to look at the function and anatomy of the abdominals.

Function: To optimally train the abdominals we must think of how they function in real life:

First and foremost, our abdominals are designed to create, control, and decelerate rotation from a standing position. This is why 86% of our abdominal muscles run in a diagonal fashion, like an “X”. We use this diagonal pattern frequently in real life, whenever we swing a golf club or tennis racquet, throw a ball, or push or pull an object with one foot forward and the opposite hand pulling or pushing.

Our abdominal muscles also connect the upper and lower body and transfer force between them. While we’re standing, walking, running, or playing, our feet are in contact with the ground and we are in an upright position. During these activities, we utilize “ground reaction forces” and coordinate movement from our lower body through our core into our upper body. The abdominals also keep the trunk over the pelvis as we constantly change our center of gravity (by reaching, bending, rotating, stepping, etc.)

With these two main functions in mind, it’s best to train your core while standing in an upright position and using diagonal (chopping) patterns. Examples of these types of exercises include: cable chops and lifts, medicine ball chops, medicine ball throws, and tubing extensions.

A word on crunches:

Flexing the trunk (crunches) is only a minor action of the abdominals, but including crunches in your workouts for aesthetic reasons is perfectly fine. I recommend that crunches not be done from the floor but rather from a stability ball or bosu ball because crunches from the floor only allow 30 degrees of flexion. Crunches from a stability ball, on the other hand, allow an additional 40 degrees of extension over the ball and therefore, the stability ball crunch allows for 70 degrees of total movement. Essentially, you get more work out of the same movement, and reap more rewards.

NOTE: When you are lying on the ground doing crunches, it is the ground supporting your body – the rest of the day it is your core that is supporting your body and therefore, it is a good idea to train it in the upright position.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 2, 2010 11:10 am

    A word of caution.
    I agree with Mr. Bochese that functional training (doing exercises that simulate movements performed in activities of daily living, hobbies or sports) is an important aspect of affective exercise.
    However, the current research literature strongly recommends against any repetitive flexion of the lumbar spine as suggested in this article. I see disc injuries every day in patients who thought they were strengthening their core, when in fact they were damaging their spine. Unless you are a competetive athlete, most people should stay away from any abdominal exercises that involve repetitive flexion movements. The research shows us that there are many other core endurance exercises that are safe and will develop abdominal stability without compromising spinal health.

    • Gerard Bochese permalink
      April 23, 2010 11:40 am

      Mr. Daub is correct that repetitive flexion movements in the spine can result in injury. It is for this reason my clients are not doing that much flexion but rather rotation movements. To further protect my clients we are very cautious on how we do our rotation movments. Because the lumbar spine has only approximately 12 degrees of rotation available before the movment becomes negative, we perform our band and cable rotations the following two ways:
      1) If the feet remain anchored during the movement most of our rotation occurs in the thoracic spine (between the shoulder blades) where there is considerably more safe rotational movement and the lumbar spine acts as more of a stabilizing anti-rotation device.
      2) if we are increasing our rotational movement to replicate a swing we allow a pivot in the rear foot which allows the hips to rotate which essentially keeps your lumbar spine within the 12 degrees of rotation.

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