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Ditch The Crunches And Learn To Really Work Your Abs

Posted May 20 2009 9:12am


You Don’t Need To Work Your Abs From Sixteen Angles

So I was in the gym today and noticed an advertisement for a new fitness class. I can’t recall exactly what it was named, but basically it was “Ab Blaster” or something like that. It was touted as “30 minutes of direct core work.” And my only thought was “What a waste of 30 minutes!” Yes, that’s right, I said it…spending 30 minutes working only on your abs and lower back is a waste of time, time that could be better spent doing something like actually getting in shape.

Let’s do some quick math…the average gym-goer is in the gym for about an hour, 3 days per week. If 30 minutes of one of those workouts is abdominal work, they’re spending 1/6 of their gym time working a single muscle group, a muscle group that can get plenty of indirect work with other exercises.

And that doesn’t count the time they spend before and after talking to the other attendees. In fact, I’d be willing to be a sad portion of people attending one of these classes goes to the class and then goes home. Is there any wonder progress isn’t being made?

Even better was this line: “Schedule your workout to do this class either before or after your regular workout.” [emphasis mine] Why in the world would you want to tank your abs before your workout? Is it really smart to tire out the very muscles that are used for stabilizing my upper body in the rest of my workout? That sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.

“But I Need A Strong Core”

Nice snake

Nice snake

Yep, you do need a strong core. You need strong abs and lower back for everyday living. But a gajillion crunches isn’t going to get you there. You don’t need to do 300 reps for your abs multiple times per week. I probably spend a total of less than 5 minutes per week doing direct abdominal work, just the occasional plank or L-sit when the urge hits me. And I don’t do it before my main workout! Just thought I’d reiterate the point that heavy, compound exercises should be done first with any form of isolation work done last.

Yet, I have visible abs (which don’t come from doing crunches, but from eating right ) and I’m pretty sure they’re rock-solid. What gives me that idea?

Well, I can ace this abdominal test (T-Nation, girls in bikinis, probably not work-safe) without doing any of those exercises (other than for the test, obviously). A bigger indicator to me is that I can squat nearly double my body weight and deadlift nearly 2.5 times my body weight. Without strong abs and lower back, I would crumple under the weight. And I haven’t done a crunch in I don’t know how many years.

Time For An Entertainment Break

If you have a minute to spare, allow me to brag for a second. Here is a video of me from this past Friday in a track meet at the University of Louisville. I’m the little black speck way out in lane 7. I know, I know…I need a better video camera (this was done on a digital camera). If you have suggestions on a good video camera in the $250 range, let me know! I ended up in 2nd place at 53.36 seconds (over 4 seconds faster than I ran it last year), a PR that I think I can drop by another 1.5-2 seconds in the next couple months.

Now back to discussing the abs.

How To Really Get A Strong Core

One for the ladies

One for the ladies

There’s no question amongst anyone that is into fitness that the “core” (how I hate that term!) is an absolutely important piece of being in shape. But somewhere along the line, we went from treating the body as a whole to working individual pieces of it and unfortunately the core is no exception. Ab classes, millions of dollars per year spent on the newest ab gadget ( Ab Chair, Ab Rocker, Ab Roller…I could probably literally go on for days )…the amount of time people are spending on their abs is ridiculous. Unfortunately, I’m not seeing too many chiseled mid-sections when I look about.

I’ve mentioned my favorite exercises for keeping my core strong: deadlift, squat (of any variety), plank, L-sit, and reverse hyper. If you do these exercises, you’ll have no need for crunches and 30-minute ab classes and ab routines that encompass over 300 moves. You’ll have rock solid musculature that’ll keep you from needing to put on a weight belt to do curls. And you won’t throw your back out picking up your toddler or helping your neighbor move a couch either.

Here is another easy way to work your abs while you do your workout: stand up! If you’re doing overhead press, do it standing instead of seated. You’ll force your abs to stabilize all of the force that your body is pushing down through the floor to lift the weight.

Two New Exercises I Found

If you notice from the exercises I like, the abs are mainly used in a support role to keep the trunk stabilized. I recently found two more exercises that I’ve incorporated into my routine a couple times a week after working out. These can be done most anywhere and are very effective.

Ab 45s - The first is called the Ab-45. You basically anchor your feet like you’re going to do situps, lay back with arms overhead, and bring your torso to a 45-degree angle, which you hold for 5 seconds. Lay back, breathe, and repeat 4 more times. Click here for a picture

Oblique 45s - The second exercise is the Oblique 45. Similar to the Ab-45, you bring your torso up and hold for 5 seconds, but with your elbow touching the outside of the opposite knee. Click here for a picture

Skip The Classes, Get In Better Shape

Seriously? This is what the Navy is doing?

Seriously? This is what the Navy is doing?

So I could go ahead and rag on most of the trainer-led classes held in your average gym, but I won’t. I will say that you’re better off working with a good trainer or heading over to CrossFit (for the more hard-core). Or like me, you can just lift heavy and run fast. Regardless of what you choose, you’ll get more results without having to lay around on the floor for 30 minutes running your abs through about 1/2 of their range of motion.

Don’t waste the little free time you have performing workouts that aren’t getting you closer to your goals.

So what’s your “ab routine”? How do you keep them strong without wasting half a workout a couple times per week?

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