But when are we going to do abs?
“You’ve been doing them this whole time.” That’s my usual response to the ever present question which comes up with our individual sports performance clientele.
That question is like nails on a chalkboard for me. First of all, I dislike the term “abs”, and don’t love “core” either. They both have become synonymous with strict rectus abdominus exercises, i.e crunches, planks, v-ups, you name it… I prefer the term “trunk”, as defined as “ a person’s or animal’s body apart from the limbs or head.” A scientific definition- I like it.
What most athletes underestimate is the demands of the trunk during training and its demand for stabilization when performing basic strength movements. An understanding of the trunk’s role in sports is seldom grasped by most of our athletes. Far away, the trunk works in a stabilization/ isometric capacity. It is directly involved with breathing efficiency and skeletal equilibrium in locomotion. Rarely, if ever, do we actively go from a frontal plane neutral position forward (mimicking a crunching motion) in sport activity. So why do “professionals still train those movements.” Great question- I don’t know.
What I do know is when one is performing proper ground based strength with appropriate pelvic and spinal stability, your “abs” are working, especially as load increases. That means they are performing essentially the same job as when you are running, riding a bike, and kicking a soccer ball. This is direct activity carry over into sport. Not to mention the EMG (electrical signal, correlated with muscle activity) is extraordinarily high when performing deep squats, moderate load deadlifts, and the variations thereof. Its when an athlete does not use these sets of musculature during exercise where we start running into problems. Issues such as the dreaded “stripper butt,” or “butt wink” can start to arise, as well as groin/hip, and back pain among a laundry list of issues. Another unfortunate byproduct of inactivity of proper abdominal activity during training is that you are essentially leaving strength and by association, performance, on the table. More research is directly linking ground based strength with on field/ in activity performance, so if you are not getting the most out of your time in the gym, you could be compromising your athletic transference. Don’t waste your time in the gym- get your trunk right!
This is Lu Xiaojun - Olympic Lifting gold medalist from China. Do you think he “does abs”? I’ll save you the thought- he doesn’t. He lifts heavy ass weight which requires a ridiculous amount of trunk stability and activation. You’ll never see him doing crunches or sit ups. I promise.
As you can see, Lu Xiaojun is ripped. “Abs” for days.
When performing weighted ground based strength, to maintain a proper pelvic position and optimal activation of hip musculature, one should see a “drawing in” of their abdominal wall, as opposed to the much seen flaring out of the abdomen which happens when you try to “contract your core.” The former creates optimal spinal stabilization and allows your prime movers to push from a stable base. The latter destabilizes your spine and compromises your mechanics - when done under load, we’re talking pain and possible big time damage.
What I’m getting at- mind your trunk. If you are moving correctly, you are always using your “abs.” If you are looking for athletic cross over, don’t do crunches, of any kind, ever. Don’t do “abs.” Brace your trunk appropriately, lift some heavy ass weights, clap for your damn self.