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One of the first things people do when they start working out is focus on their abs—crunches, sit-ups, leg lifts, bicycles, and the like. I mean, who doesn’t want a six-pack? Entire fitness schools have sprung up around the idea of targeting your abs with direct work. Take Pilates. In its purest iterations, it’s considered a “total body” philosophy, but the way most classes seem to go you end up spending all your time doing a bunch of complicated crunches and other targeted ab work (and grimacing every time you cough for the next week). Let me make a radical proposal here. All this ab work isn’t necessary. Don’t get me wrong. The “abs” are extremely important. Not only do they round out the physique and look great, but abdominal strength also provides stability, supports good posture, and improves movement. Strong abdominals allow and enhance the full expression of a person’s athleticism. Running, jumping, lifting, throwing (balls, spears, or punches), and basically any movement all require—and are improved by—strong abs (i.e. a strong “core”). When you think about training the abs, consider what the abdominals’ purpose is: to provide a stable foundation for the rest of your body as it moves. They can move, but it’s not their primary function. As such, the way most people train abs is completely superfluous and ignores that essential function—maintaining stability and resisting movement. When you think about it that way, crunches and sit-ups don’t make a whole lot of sense. What Kinds of Ab Work Make Sense? Deadlifts make sense because your hips are designed to hinge to allow you to pick up objects. Squats make sense because your knees are meant to flex and extend under load. Pull-ups make sense because your lats and biceps are designed to pull your body’s weight upward. But crunches? Abs are best at holding steady and supporting all the other tissues and limbs as they move through space. Using your abs to move heavy weight a few inches is just weird. It “works,” but is it ideal? No. If you insist on direct ab work, focus on movements where the abs don’t actually move all that much. Instead of crunches (abs moving), do bicycle crunches (abs stationary, legs moving). Instead of sit-ups (abs moving), do hanging leg raises (abs stationary, legs moving). In both cases, you’ll be blasting the hell out of your abdominals, but you won’t be flexing and extending your spine. Okay, with all that out of the way… What Do I Do For Ab Work? I don’t do much direct ab work. You won’t find me doing crunches or bicycles. Instead, I’m using my abs all the time. When I’m doing pushups, I’m tightening my abs. A strong, stable, cohesive abdominal complex makes my pushups better and stronger. Do a pushup without tight abs, and your hips will dip toward the ground. You’ll be sloppy and weak. When I’m doing deadlifts, I’m tightening my abs. My abs are resisting the pull of the heavy bar. … Continue reading “Why an “Ab Routine” Isn’t Necessary (and What I Do Instead)”
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